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Author: William A. Stein
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From: Stein Dennis 
Date: Sun, 18 Jul 99 18:34:04 -0400
Subject: my diary
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Hi everyone,  

Here's my diary.  


Guatemala 99

July 3rd and 4th

I have now crowned myself the master of buying badly scheduled plane tickets. Philippe Duplat and Antoine Valdivieso drove me to the airport where which I took off at just before noon. About 6 hours later, I was in the Newark airport in New Jersey where I stayed for the next 17 hours. Buy this time, I already felt like I was in a Spanish speaking country, seeing as how all the signs were in Spanish (as well as English) and how the entire janitorial labor force in the airport only speaks Spanish. The next morning at 6, I left for Houston where I changed planes for Guatemala.

The final approach coming into the Guatemala airport is quite impressive. The plane flies over a high plateau cut with ravines on which the city is built. You almost feel like you are going to land on the buildings below, when out of the blue, appears the runway. As the plane taxied towards a small building, it passed joggers running along side the runway. The small building next to the runway is actually the international airport terminal.

Once I had passed through customs, I met Beatrice Hernandez from Paiz supermarkets and her husband Roberto and son Cesar. After a very short drive, we arrived at the Alamo apartment-hotel (10a Calle 5-60, Zona 9, tel: 332-0411). I soon found out that it was one of the buildings that my plane had almost landed on. The flight path is directly over my room making enough noise to wake up even the soundest sleeper.

After dropping off my bags, we went to the Paiz supermarket in the Pradera shopping center. Pradera is their newest and nicest supermarket. The aisles are wide and the store resembles any 2000 square meter modern supermarket. Paiz is part of the La Fragua group which is a family owned company. The name La Fragua (the forge) comes from the name of the town where the fonder is from. Other stores in La Fragua group are Hyper Paiz (three 10000 square meter hypermarkets), Despersa Familiar (40), Super Gala (3), and Club Co (1). Paiz is by far the leader in Guatemala. Some smaller competitors are Econo Super, Multimart, Torre, and Price Smart.

After a tour of the store, we ate at Pollo Campero, which is the Guatemalan version of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Next, we drove down the main avenues and through the downtown in Zona 1. After they dropped me off at the apartment, I ordered Dominos pizza for diner and went to sleep.

July 5th

I got up at 6:30, finished the rest of my pizza for breakfast, then started typing this. At 9, Beatrice picked me up on her way to the office. After arriving, she had me fill out a job application. Then she drove me to the Pradera store where I met the manager (Se�ora Etelvina de Gir�n � Dona Etel). She put me to work with Francisco in the buying office. Although they do have a distribution center, about half of their products are delivered directly to the stores by the suppliers. They are planning on doing away with direct delivery with almost all their products in the following year. The buyers job is quite simple. First they count the number of article on the shelves and in the back room. Then they figure out how many they sold during a certain period (usually a week) and order the proper amount taking into consideration seasonal changes in sales and promotions. The delivery people come to the office weekly to pick up the order sheets. Even though it is direct delivery, the suppliers do not determine how much to deliver as they did when I was in Thailand.

They are very slowly adding to the power of the computer system and programs. For the moment, they have an interesting mix of computer and pen and ink. They photocopy the product barcodes onto sheets where they note the amount in stock and the amount to order. This way, they have records on which to base their future orders. They scan the barcode which enters the code into a program called �Microsoft Retail�. Then they type in the number to order. This was my job for the day. After doing this for all the products for a specific supplier, they print the record. They will eventually do away with the pen and paper part and be able to have computer generated statistical listings. Every store has a buying office, but the products are chosen buy category managers at the corporate level.

They have a cafeteria for supermarket employees that is amazingly good. I had an avocado and rice soup, fried chicken, thick corn tortilla shells, and sugared bananas. And all this for only 9 quetzal ($1.15).

This evening I went to the bank to experience the thrill of being surround buy men with machine guns and to exchange my dollars. It was a rather large and prestigious looking bank, but they only accept dollars and travelers checks. If you have pounds, francs, yen or any other currency, the attendant said that you may be able to exchange them at the central bank. Afterwards, I went to the supermarket to by some food. On the way back, I saw a plane coming in for final approach at night just a few stories above the building tops. It would have made a great picture. I also saw a bus with the front window painted smaller, so the driver had only about a foot tall slot to look through. Most of the buses here are old American school buses.

July 6th

The day started out with a short walk to the central office, affectionately known as �El Mall� which is the abbreviation of two Spanish words that make up its full name. Coincidentally, the building used to be a mall. Every month a different department holds a sort of pep rally where they sing the national anthem and the company�s anthem and talk about their achievements and goals. This month was the administration�s turn. It was a special occasion because it was also the ceremony for the new president of the company. They carried flags, gave motivational speeches and unveiled pictures of the past presidents. I saw Jose Carlos from afar (the person who Fran�ois meet at the conference in the Netherlands), but still haven�t actually met him.

After the ceremony, I went to Beatrice�s office to finish my �curriculum� � a document showing the classes I have taken and other projects. She wanted this in order to decide what I will do during the second month of my stay. Then Beatrice dropped me off at the Pradera supermarket.

I finished off the morning in the buying department with Francisco and Aura. The different suppliers that come to the office are interesting. Some work for big companies like Pepsi; others are farmers. About 70 come each day and spend about 5 minutes each in the office getting their order. It will be much more efficient when they received only one big order which they deliver to the distribution center.

After another exceptional lunch, I went downstairs to see the store operations. Their was very little to do, so after about a half hour of putting food on the shelves, I talked with the supervisor. The 2000 meter store has 22 cash registers and sells about 3500(25000quetzal)worthofmerchandiseeachday.Theyareopenedfrom8a.m.till8p.m.andareclosedonSundays.ThebusiestdaysareMondayandTuesdayintheevening,andthe1standthe15thofeachmonthwhenpeoplearepaid.Supervisorsmake3500 (25000 quetzal) worth of merchandise each day. They are opened from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. and are closed on Sundays. The busiest days are Monday and Tuesday in the evening, and the 1st and the 15th of each month when people are paid. Supervisors make 5040 a year (3000 quetzal a month). Regular workers make about $1680 a year. They are not familiar with Unilever, but Pepsi is the leader in the soft drink market. There is an amazing number of American brands and the labels are not always printed in Spanish. They had fun asking me what some of the product descriptions mean (like fresh, sliced, diced�). The storage room in the supermarket is rather large, so they have few problems with out of stock products. One person is responsible for making sure each aisle is clean and well stocked. The entire team of eight people goes through the store in the morning and in the afternoon. If a product is out of stock in the storage room, they alert the buyer. The system seems very effective.

I finished off the day in the buying department, then took the bus home for 1 quetzal or 14 cents.

July 7th

I spent the day at the loading dock checking making sure that the invoices match what is actually delivered. At the loading dock, there are two well armed guards. As the goods arrive in small delivery trucks from the suppliers, someone from the store counts every single item. Then the quantities are entered into the computer. The suppliers then put their products in the storage room or in the store depending on the product. The store employee signs the invoice which is sent to the main office and is paid. The price on the invoice can be different than the price on the order and will still be accepted. They said that they are going to make this impossible in the future. If the bar code does not work the product is not accepted. If a product is missing, the invoice is given back to the deliverer who must deliver the missing products within three days.

Around 11, Beatrice came by the store and informed me that she had found a less expensive place for me to live. I would have been paying 650(4800quetzal)amonth,andwillnowbepaying650 (4800 quetzal) a month, and will now be paying 350 (2500 quetzal). She asked around at the office and got in contact with Juanita Sanabria who has two rooms that she wants to rent out. They are much nicer than the hotel where I was staying. My new address is 45 avenida 3-72, Zona 11, Tesoro, Banvi, tel: 502-595-3845. After seeing the room, we drove by the hotel to pickup my things, then back to the house to drop them off.

Once back at Pradera, I finished off the day in the storage room. The bus to get to the house was overflowing and I was basically hanging out. The only difference with the tram in Brussels is that the doors stay open.

July 8th

At 6:30 I ate a great breakfast prepared by the lady that cleans the house here. Scrambled eggs, cereal, fruit � the works! Her name is Alisia and she spent years working as a baby sitter for American embassies in Colombia, Washington, New York, Guatemala� She runs 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) a day and works in the evenings at trinkets store in Tikal Futur, an upscale mall in the Hyatt hotel building.

I arrived at the supermarket at 8 a.m. and spent the morning in the fruits and vegetables section. They have me the order list and one of the people in the department showed me everything I wasn�t familiar with. I helped them put the products on the shelves until 1 p.m. They have quite a few people that are paid by the suppliers, but are under the control of the department managers. These people are responsible first for their products, and take care of other products when they have time (which is quite often).

After lunch, I went to the butchery where I will be all day tomorrow. Tonight I have to study the vocabulary for tomorrow.

On the way home, I stopped in a travel agent to see if they had a city map. City maps are surprisingly difficult to come by. One of the travel agent employees that had just gotten off work showed me where I could buy one. He had previously studied accounting in college and is now studying to be an accounting professor. Once at home, I called home and talked to Dad.

July 9th

I spent the morning wearing a hard hat and rubber boots cutting meat in the butchery. They eat almost exclusively beef, pork, and chicken. They place a salt like artificial powder on the meat to keep it from changing color. The butchery room looks very modern, but is not refrigerated. A native Guatemalan who�s first language is not Spanish was in training along side me. He had just moved to the capital a few weeks ago. He had gold stars on two of his front teeth where dental work had been done. Many people have a gold band around one or two front teeth where they have been replaced. One of the girls working their has two brothers that have been illegally working in Illinois for the past four years and saving money. They are planning on returning to Guatemala this year. The delivery arrived in the afternoon. It was half of a cow and weighed 160 pounds. I watched as we cut it up into its 22 main pieces that will be cut up smaller tomorrow. I would have learned more about the butchery if they spoke English, but of course this wasn�t my goal anyway.

I spent the end of the afternoon in the client service area. Here�s what I learned: A �planograma� comes from the central office showing them how many facings each product has. Sales promotions are also decided upon at the head office. In the early afternoon, there are few clients and the shelves are already stocked, so you can find quit a few employees standing around doing nothing. There is no electronic anti-theft system. Instead, they have many guards watching. There are no displays over the cash registers like in Belgium. When a client doesn�t speak Spanish, there is usually another client around to translate. The customer service manager is not aware of anyone in the store who speaks English. Customers can pay their utility bills in the supermarket. Few people smoke in Guatemala. The people who bag the groceries push the shopping cart to their car. These people are paid almost nothing by the store, the majority of their earnings coming from tips.

In the bus on the way home, the driver had set up a big stereo and was playing Latin dance music.

July 10th

I was in the client service department all day. The biggest bill in Guatemala is 100 quetzal or about 14 dollars. Clients can pay in dollars at the cash register. Ambassadors are exempt from sales tax (IVA) which is included in the price indicated on the shelves. They subtract this 10% tax for those people with an official document showing that they are exempt. Clients check the dates on canned products to make sure they are still good. Canned food from the US does not always have the date indicated or the date is in some sort of unreadable code. The cigarettes are at the customer service desk so that people do not steal them. The cash register at the desk is broken which means that customers have to pay at the case register and go through the line again. I made a sign stating this fact because many clients were unhappy to find this out after already having gone through the line once. A lady who only spoke English came to the desk to buy cigarettes. I was happy to help her even though I couldn�t advise her as to which cigarettes are similar to the usual brand that she buys in the US. When a credit card is not accepted by the computer, they call a service that checks on available funds. They also have a CB radio that they use to call in these verifications. A cellular phone card cost about 18 cents a minute. Edgar from the butchery took some pictures of me in the store and gave them to me. The lady at the service desk that has worked there for 9 years earns 1800 quetzal (252)amonthandpays300quetzal(252) a month and pays 300 quetzal (40) a month in rent, or 17% of her salary. Another 7% goes to bus fair.

July 11th

As I stepped out of the shower, I felt like my head was swaying as if I had gotten up too quickly. I heard a few creaking sounds, so I got the feeling that it might not have been my head. Their was a small �temblor�. The house gently swayed for about 10 seconds and that was all.

Then we (Beatriz, Rodrigo 1, Rodrigo 2, and Cesar) went to Antigua, a town of 30000 people that was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. It is about 30 minutes from the city by car. Three volcanoes surround the city: Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango. Agua gets its name because the crater in the top broke open after a lot of rain and flooded the city with mud and water. Upon arriving in the city, we went to Casa Santo Domingo, a very nice hotel in a well preserved 16th century colonial atmosphere. Rooms are about 55 dollars a night on Sundays, and 100 dollars on other nights. Their internet address is Next we went to some ruins in the city called Capuchines and Santa Clara which are ancient monasteries. The price is more expensive for foreigner: 10 quetzal as opposed to 2 quetzal (1.40,1.40, .28). Then we went to a restaurant called �Al fondo de la calle Real� where a traditional band was playing. The menu is easier to read than in a French restaurant because the food is simpler as well as the names given to the foods. When Bill Clinton came to Guatemala in February 1999, he stayed at Casa Santo Domingo and went to the Al fondo de la calle Real restaurant. It started to rain, so we went to the Radisson hotel which is more modern than Casa Santo Domingo, but still quite nice. It was still raining, so we went to their house and watched the American soccer tournament �Copa Am�rica�. Then I checked my e-mail and tried to send a message, but I would not get the page showing that the message had been sent, so I�m not sure that it worked. All day church bells have been ringing. People are very Catholic here and I have been asked many times what religion I am. I don�t ever recall people talking about this in Europe.

The language here is very different from �dictionary Spanish� or Castilliano. I think the differences are greater than those between England and the US or between France and Quebec. Half the words that I note are not in the dictionary. It�s quite annoying because you have to learn the dictionary word and the word they use in Guatemala.

July 12th

The managers of the two stores I have been to are women. Apparently there are quite a few women managers, but still much less than 50%. When I arrived, the manager of the grocery section took me on a tour of the store. It is about 6000 square meters or 65000 square feet. They have 52 cash registers and 1000 parking places. They are opened from 9 in the morning till 9 in the evening from Monday to Thursday, till 10 in the evening on Friday and Saturday, and from 8 in the morning till 9 in the evening on Sunday. Weekends are the busiest. They have general merchandise and clothes in the front of the store. In the back, they have perishables and dry foods. The client thus has to walk past the higher margin, lower rotation items to get to the lower margin, higher rotation items. There is no big clock in the store to let you know what time it is. I think people are less time conscious here because they do not leave work at a specific time. Because of my Pepsi jacket, everyone thinks I work for Pepsi There is a big Pepsi ad campaign with Ricky Martin and Janet Jackson. Pepsi seems to be number one here. If they don�t think I�m from Pepsi, they think I�m a trainee from El Salvador. They will be opening a Hypermarket in El Salvador around the end of September, so a lot of people from there are here for training.

I spent the afternoon in the bakery. Customers serve themselves on trays like in Thailand and must have their products priced at the counter before paying for them at the cash register. They say that the cashiers don�t know the products in order to type in the price at the cash register. This may be the case at the beginning, but it seems as though the cashiers have done quite well learning the codes of the fruits. They also say that by pricing the products at the bakery, people will pay for the products if they happen to eat them in the store (which is prohibited, but not enforced). One solution would be to put the bakery closer to the cash registers. At 6 in the evening, they bake the bread that will be sold the following morning. The bread has a three day shelf life. When clients ask for a cake, they have to wait for it to be put in a box. They can�t put boxed cakes in the refrigerator because the boxes would get wet. They have gotten into the habit of leaving the ovens on all day, even though the ovens are only used in the morning and evening and heat up in 30 minutes.

July 13th

I spent the morning in the bakery and the afternoon in the kitchen where they make prepared foods for the deli. The Puratos supplier came from Costa Rica. Puratos is one of the biggest flour and bread companies in the world and is based in Brussels. He came to show the team how to prepare the new wheat breads. An Italian-American and his American partner used to make Italian food for the deli. The American was in Vietnam and explained to the kitchen staff that gringo comes from people yelling at the soldiers wearing green to go home, thus Green Go. The prepared chicken that they sell has a 2 day shelf life under a heat lamp. To dispose of the buckets of chicken grease and drippings, they pour the semi-solid waste down the gutter outside in the parking lot. The uniforms of the people working in the store, but paid by suppliers, are all different. Employment at Paiz, seems to be very stable. I haven�t talked to anyone who has worked here for less than a year and many have been here for 5 to 20 years.. In the production areas, they wear ball caps or hairnets. The pots that they use to cook with are old and beat up. The cooks don�t follow a specific recipe, so there may be differences between what one cook makes and what another cook makes. To see if the food is still good, they rarely use dates, but prefer tasting the food. When I went to eat lunch, I stopped in the bathroom to discover about 15 people all brushing their teeth. It is customary here to brush your teeth after every meal. I would have liked this to have been the case when I had braces. At college, they have 1 month of vacation during the summer and 1 month during the winter. They have multiple tests during the semester and homework and projects to turn in. They have about 20 to 25 hours of classes each week. Outside the store is a kids� playing area. After work, I went to the Tikal Furtura shopping center in the Hyatt hotel building. It is an upscale mall.

July 14th

Today I helped stock the shelves in the grocery department. They start at 6 a.m. and must be finished by 9 a.m. when the store opens. It is not necessary to work at night because everything can be done in the morning. Everywhere I have been in Paiz, there is a big problem with �use before� dates and translations of contents on imported products.

Just before lunch, I went to Price Smart (competing cash and carry club warehouse), Club Co (cash and carry club warehouse run by Paiz), Multi-Mart (competing supermarket), and Ferco (non-competing home remodeling store). All these stores are within 10 minutes of Hiper Paiz by foot.

There are a lot of lovers in the streets here. People here touch each other a lot � more than in Belgium. Women sometimes kiss on the cheek to say hello, but men only shake hands. Younger people or friends shake hands with their finder pointing up instead of down� its like the �cool guy� hand shake in the US.

They get 4 days off a month and 2 weeks of vacation per year. Most regular employees work 7 hours a day with 30 minutes of breaks, 12 hours on Sunday every other week.

On the way home I got my shoes shined. Then I went to the relief map in a park near downtown. It is a map about the size of a large house showing the mountains of Guatemala and its cities.

July 15th

Each day I am more and more impressed with the public transportation here. You never have to wait more than 5 minutes and only have to pay 14 cents per ride. Of course you are crammed into an old school bus, but I like the atmosphere and practicality. They are very service oriented because they stop when you ask them to or when they see people waiting next to the road. You may have to jump into or out of a moving bus, but you won�t have to walk 5 blocks just because an official bus stop isn�t there. A lot of people ride the bus instead of driving, so they are very crowded. Unfortunately the buses are old and eject large quantities of black exhaust gases.

When I arrived at Hiper Paiz, I checked to make sure that the prices in the flyer were the same as those posted on the shelves. I spent the remainder of the morning with the jolly people in the buying department. One of them (Israel) was quite motivated to learn English. He had no fear of trying to speak and would note the words that he wanted to learn. Many people are taking an English class paid for by the company, but are too scared or not motivated enough to try to talk.

I spent the beginning of the afternoon in the shoe department. For imported shoes, they only receive a shipment once every three months. For locally produced shoes, the delivery time is very short. A pair of sports shoes is 33 dollars.

With many products (shoes, small things in the sports department, earrings�), you have to go to the cash register with a ticket to pay for it. The cashier will then call someone to bring the product to the cash register.

July 16th

I spent the day at the cash registers. In the morning, the cashiers receive a locked cash drawer containing 300 quetzal (about 40 dollars) in bills and change. They are not allowed to count it (for some odd reason � confidence in other people working in the company), but some do anyway. They accept many forms of payment, but the most common are cash, credit card, and check. The checks have to be verified with a check guaranty card issued by Paiz or by calling a service provided buy the bank on the telephone. Debit cards are not accepted. Walkie-talkies are used for price checks in the store. Often the prices for specials will not be correct at the cash register because the bar code was not updated quickly enough in the computer system. All the programs they use (ordering, receiving, cash registers�) are Microsoft Windows programs. The cash registers have two conveyer belts so that one client can bag their food on one side while the next client in line is being checked out. Clients bag their own products. On pay days (15th and end of month), there are lines of people in front of the banks and long lines in the store. Apparently it is not because of inflation, but because many people do not have any savings and need the money to live on. In the evening, cashiers count the money in the cash drawer, but do not know if it corresponds to the total sales because they are not given this information. If the amount is less than the total sales, they will have to pay.

July 17th

This morning I attended one of their customer service classes for the store employees. We did the hoky-poky as an ice breaker. That was kind of corny, but the rest of the class was well done. In order to keep their competitive edge in face of new competition, they are concentrating on customer service. Many new competitors have entered the market in the last few years or may enter the market in the future. Of course, when you almost have a monopoly on the market, it is easy to get soft and loose out when efficient competitors enter the market. Now that viable competitors exist, Paiz has to make and extra effort. During the class, they showed three videos of the top management talking about customer service. The video quality was mediocre, but the message was good. The videos were filmed in an office. It be better to film them in a store to show that the management is not detached from the real work. Thelma, the manager of the clothing department, was very motivational and enthusiastic. The best thing about the class was that it was also an opportunity for the employees to let the managers know about problems like price checks, sales with a maximum number that are not well indicated, sales with a minimum amount of other products that the customer must buy� One of the most important thing that they didn�t emphasize (but did mention) was that you have to adapt your approach to the mood of the client. Certain clients want fast service ; others want to chat. One thing that may be useful is a notepad with the heading �problems and suggestions� that is easily accessible to note ideas and problems when they occur and before they are forgotten. These notes could be deposited in a box and read by the store manager.

Later I was in the pharmacy. One interesting difference with the US is that customers can buy individual pills whereas in the US you have to buy the entire box.

July 18th

This morning I went to the Catholic church a few blocks from the house. The Catholic mass ceremony is the supposedly the same all over the world, but the feeling is much different in a 500 year old European cathedral.