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Gotta lotta bottle

by Alex on Apr.09, 2009, under Blog

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the UK, or did but are too young to remember crap 1980s TV advertising, you can see where the title comes from below. For the rest of you, who are no doubt humming the tune or at least have it going on in your head, why not click away and return briefly to those halcyon days of dodgy perms, massive shoulder pads and day glo jumpers.

Click me

So, bottles… Back in the day, it was perfectly normal (in the UK at least) for drinks manufacturers to re-use their bottles. You’d buy some awful, sugary, carbonated, tartrazine-laced concoction from the corner shop and on returning you’d get your 10 pence deposit and probably spend it on a sherbet fountain or some Black Jacks (probably now called Chalk Jacks or White Jacks), bouncing home on a sugar high. Sadly, for those of an eco bent, the days of bottle reuse is limited to delivered milk, and who gets milk from the milkman (milkperson, bovine lactate product delivery agent) nowadays?

It is though common in other countries.

The other day, in San José (Costa Rica), Duncan and I headed to Mas X Menos to collect the deposit on some beer bottles that we’d finished with. Now, you’d imagine that this would be a fairly regular occurrence and therefore a pretty simply process. Hmm…

We approached a guy stood at the bag check just inside the entrance. ‘Bag check?’ I hear you ask. Well maybe shop management here thinks that anyone let in with anything larger than a purse would instantly proceed to fill it to the brim with high-value goods (such as Gillette Mach 3 Turbo Ultra with Aloe Vera replacement blades – why do they warrant having security tags on them? Oh ‘cos they cost about 4 quid each.) and do a massive runner. I’ve no idea, but bag checks seem to be ubiquitous here as does the advice that you’re not allowed to bring guns into the shop – I’ve taken to leaving my AK in the hotel so we were fine on that front. Anyway, there was a stack of crates filled with empty bottles so I reasoned that here was where we’d get our refund.

The guy looked at me a bit oddly as if I’d made an unusual request; I returned a similarly odd expression, not understanding what he was not understanding. He then asked me if we wanted the refund in money. He didn’t suggest an alternative form of payment and after weighing up whether to ask for the equivalent value in apples, or a dinner date with his mum, I replied that yes, we’d like it in money. He spent some time looking over our receipt and then proceeded to fill in a form, slowly. It took about two minutes. Marking the back of the receipt with two Xs he requested that Duncan write his passport number and sign. He didn’t check that the signature or passport number were valid, so that was kind of superfluous. After stapling the form to the receipt, he lead us to what must have been a supervisor. The supervisor reviewed the form and receipt, counter-signed the form, then got back to whatever it was that he was doing before, which appeared to be standing by the door, looking. Clearly his involvement in this ever more convoluted process was over. Guy #1 intimated with a kind of facial point ‘n’ pout that we had to go to a till to get our refund; thankfully we didn’t have to queue. The cashier wasn’t empowered to authorise the refund and so called the supervisor away from his standing by the door looking duties. Could he not have anticipated this? Did he not think ‘Oh, what happens next? Those guys are going to go to the till to get their refund and the cashier can’t do that so I’ll go with them to facilitate.’? Apparently not. So the supervisor presses some buttons and goes back to standing and looking and the cashier spends a while getting our cash and stapling some more stuff, eventually handing us our colons (that’s Costa Rican currency – she’d not got so annoyed with Mas X Menos’s shit business processes that she’d decided to go on some kind of disemboweling rampage). I then tell her that we need our original receipt so she tears it from the form and hands it to me – so what was the point in taking the receipt in the first place if it’s just given back upon asking ask? And that was that. We had our 2 quid back although were seriously wondering whether it was worth the hassle.

You know, there was a time when I thought that it seemed a little unjust that there are so many gringos here running hotels, trips and tours, taking money out of the country that could could go into locals’ pockets. If however the above is indicative of how things are done here, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that that was not an isolated example, I guess my sympathies will become less and less… sympathetic?

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