Pointless Jobs in Lima

Peru has experienced almost continuous economic growth since the 1990s - albeit from a very low starting point - and, not surprisingly, with that growth has come increased employment. According to the Central Reserve Bank of Peru the unemployment rate in the country was just below 7% in April 2015. 

At the same time, the National Institute of Statistics and Information (INEI) stated that of those in employment in Lima, only 60% have 'adequate employment', meaning that some 40% can be considered 'underemployed'.

So, for all the advances, Peru is still a land of under-employment.

From an anecdotal point of view, living in Lima and looking through the prism of British experience, one notices recurrent trends surrounding the workforce:

1) There are jobs that to my eyes, seem entirely pointless. In other words, the worker could be removed without any apparent impact on the business employing them, or the world around them.

2) Counter-productive overstaffing. Perhaps motivated by the unreliability of personnel, and the low cost of wages, businesses tend to employ many more people than seems necessary. Far from increasing productivity, this has the reverse effect of creating an atmosphere where none of the staff feels the need to take responsibility for the clients' needs, as there is always someone else who could deal with it.

3) Further diminishing workers' motivation and problem-solving ability is a strict hierarchy, whereby everyone has a certain role in the business, and is actively discouraged from acting outside their narrow remit. If there is one link in the chain missing, or busy, there is no way of side-tracking.

4) Not surprisingly, many employment habits are copied from the major industrial nations, most notably the USA. This can lead to some interesting hybrids, where the imitation process has not been exact, along with some good Spanglish terms.

The below, then, is an attempt to make sense of some of Lima's employment habits, focussing on those that I consider to fit into one or more of the four categories above:

Retail:

  • Degustadores: offer free sample of food or drink to encourage sale. 
     
  • Vendedores: sales assistants; not authorized to accept payments. 
     
  • Impulsadores: there are two types:
    • Those that give out free products, such as shampoo sachets. To be seen in large numbers at motorway toll booths (peajes) on the way out of Lima to the southern beaches in Summer. Also in supermarkets.
       
    • Those that don’t give out anything, merely hold the product in an alluring way or suggest buying a particular product when the shopper is browsing; particularly prevalent in supermarket booze sections, making the purchase of alcohol a quite terrifying experience of trying to justify purchasing the cheapest bottle available when surrounded by up to eight staff plugging a more expensive alternative.
       
    •  Both often expected to wear figure-hugging clothing and chosen for their appearance (apariencia).
       
  • Promotores: similar to impulsadores, but they need to be able to explain the product, such as a credit card, and therefore are required to have qualifications - either superiores or tecnicos. 
     
  • Despachadores / Griferos: Staff at petrol station whose role is to fill up the car with fuel and take payment; usually wear bright, luminous outfits; when filling up with liquid gas, they invite all occupants of the vehicle to get out for safety reasons, since standing next to the car is obviously much safer than sitting in it; often asked for change by taxi drivers.
     
  • Ticket givers: larger, more ‘modern’ companies, such as LAN Airlines, Claro telephones and Banco del Credito have installed an automated, ticketed queuing system. However, they don’t trust people to understand it, so employ at least one person, often two, to press the appropriate buttons on the machine and hand over the ticket that is dispensed.
     
  • Cajeros: Cashiers are the only people allowed to accept money in most shops and restaurants, and are accordingly seated in a booth with protective plastic in front of them. Ratio of cashiers to sales staff is very low which often slows down the purchasing process; use a calculator for all sums, however basic; very rarely have change; check notes carefully for fakes; at the end of this solemn process, seldom keep the money in a cash register - more often a cardboard box.
     
  • Embolsadores: Bag-fillers in supermarkets; are extremely enthusiastic in the number of bags they use eg two items will often necessitate two separate bags; food and non-food items can never be in the same bag.
     
  • Jaladores: beckoning people into shops, restaurants, even on motorways eg copy shops, Papa John’s at Lima Airport (see also under Transport). 
     
  • Acomodadores: Clothes folders: employed by larger department stores (eg Ripley, Saga Falabella) to re-fold clothes that customers have looked at and discarded; they are not allowed to sell or have any knowledge of prices or offers; often students employed on a part-time basis.
     
  • Heladeros: Ice-cream salespeople; often equipped with a bicycle which has been specially modified to include a large cool-box containing the ice cream; always equipped with a small plastic trumpet (cornetita) with which they fanfare their arrival; to be found in huge numbers whenever the sun shines; it is not known, where they go in inclement weather.
     
  • Cruceristas: Salespeople at busy junctions, traffic lights; some have been formalised with a bright vest (eg yellow in Surco); still many informal vendors, selling some very unlikely impulse buy items eg toys, earbuds, rugs, uniforms, gas cooker spares, ornamental ships, books ... along with the more standard eg drinks, snacks, chewing gum.
     
  • Canellitas: Often to be found at crossroads, but also on beaches during summer, these itinerant salespeople specifically offer newspapers.
     

Hospitality: Peru in general, and Lima in particular, has excellent gastronomy and nightlife, which necessitates a wide array of staff descriptions and titles: 

  • Mozos: Male waiting staff in uniform; most eateries employ far too many, so they are usually gathered in a group talking to each other, rather than serving customers; if not chatting, often to be found folding paper napkins or wrapping cutlery in toilet paper; are seldom aware that good service would result in bigger tips, especially from foreigners.
     
  • Azafatas: female waiting staff.
     
  • Barmans / Bartenders: as the name suggests, but need to have a qualification to do this; often considered a long-term career.
     
  • Ayudantes de Barmans: Cuts fruit, prepares ice and drink decorations (el garnish), washes glasses; on no account does he serve drinks.
     
  • Anfitrionas: these are ladies, chosen on their looks, who welcome guests to a restaurant or bar. If custom is slow, will beckon people in from the street. Do not take orders or serve food.
     
  • Delivery a construcciones: these ladies bring their 'hospitality' to construction sites, in the form of cheap meals - mainly consisting of rice - and home made juices for the workers.

Security: a rich field in a city which suffered through a decade of terrorism, and is now perceived to be suffering from a crime wave:

  • Policia / Tombos (sl.): Can be found in a number of locations:
     
    • At traffic lights, where their job is to assist the traffic lights, by waving traffic on (wearing luminous green gloves) and whistling when the light is green and stopping traffic when it is red.
       
    • Employed by banks, and other large businesses, to stand outside their premises, wearing a bullet-proof vest, as security. Usually work in conjunction with a security guard. Often to be found using their mobile phone to alleviate the boredom.
       
    • In a parked police vehicle, looking at a computer. Purpose of this is unknown.
       
  • Tombas (sl.): Policewomen: fulfill same role as traffic policemen, only they do so while wearing tan jodhpurs. Do not stand outside banks, as not perceived to be a deterrent to thieves.
     
  • Serenos: these are security men, employed by the district council (municipalidad) in local security (serenazgo): they carry no weapons, are not licensed to make arrests so are quasi-decorative - in the event of a crime, they merely call the police, so in effect are an intermediary between the public and the police; to be seen cruising the district on bicycles, motorbikes, in pick-up trucks ... and now, on segways!
     
  • Guachimanes: a bastardization of the English word 'watchmen':
     
    • De empresa: wear a uniform (often brown) and carry a gun - they are licensed by the Armed Forces.
       
    • De barrio: work in residential areas; don’t wear a uniform; armed only with a whistle, which they use as often as possible eg whistling at dogs when they relieve themselves, whistling at passing cars!
       
    • Spend up to 12 hours a day essentially watching stuff. 
       
    • Those working in places of business, such as banks, may additionally act as a queue coordinator and/or door opener ... and to ensure that one takes one's cap off and doesn't use a mobile phone.
       
  • Porteros / Vigilancia: every apartment block has two of these, on rotating shifts, to open the door, do some light cleaning and record the comings and goings of the building. Much time is spent watching the small TV they have at their reception desk. They are experts at sleeping in a chair.

Haulage:

  • Cargadores: in markets
     
  • Botones (literally 'buttons'): hotel porters
     
  • Estibadores: stevedores ie dock workers.

Transport:

1. Ground Transport:

  • Cobradores: bus conductors. As well as collecting fares (by shaking coins in passengers’ faces), they also serve a vital role in road safety by waving their arm out the window whenever the driver is about to undertake a life-threatening, swerving manoeuvre; shout out names of major streets on the bus route so as to attract fares.
     
  • Llamadores: shouting assistants, employed, for a tip, to shout, beckon and encourage people onto buses (combis, micros) at bus terminuses and busy bus stops (paraderos).
     
  • Jaladores: similar to llamadores, but actively seek bus passengers in an area, and do not stay in one place. Also receive a tip from bus driver for their work.
     
  • Dateadores / Controladores: shout numbers to bus drivers as they drive past - the purpose of this is to let driver know how close they are to the bus in front; drivers speed up or slow down accordingly (usually speed up).
     
  • Terramozas: bus hostesses. To be found on the better, more expensive, long- distance bus lines. Jobs include serving a nourishing hot meal of rice and not much else, followed by jelly soup; operating the bus’s DVD player so that passengers can enjoy Stephen Seagal’s acting in Spanish at full volume; dispensing and collection of blankets and pillows - collection needs to be undertaken at least an hour before arrival at the terminus; bingo caller on Cruz del Sur buses.
     
  • Cuidadores de carro: parking agents; wave a rag at passing traffic to show they have a parking space available; once parked, will keep an eye on your car, and even clean it for you (hence the rag) or call a lavador de carro to do it, for a tip.
     

2. Air Transport:

  • Individual Check-in Assistants: in Lima airport, charged with helping passengers at the automatic check-ins, thereby rendering them non-automatic
     
  • Flight hostess (pronounced ‘fly hostes’ with guttural ‘h’ in hostess and 'o' as in 'hot'): female cabin crew.
     
  • Guard who checks passengers’ tickets before entering check-in area: largely redundant as most airlines are now ticketless.

Bureaucracy: in a country renowned for the extent and inefficiency of its red tape, it is not surprising that an industry has grown up around this.

  • Tramitadores: to stand in queues for people and facilitate the obtaining of paperwork (tramites); it is vital to have a good tramitador on one's books, with plenty of 'friends' in government institutions, in order to get anything done.
     
  • Notarios: notaries can be found in any country in the world, but in Peru they are omnipresent. No contract, however small, can be done without their services. Notaries need a law degree to practise, but are essentially well-paid photocopiers.
     
  • Digitadores: modern day scribes, who offer their services as typists (formerly on typewriters, but now on computers) for people needing official documents, letters etc.

Miscellaneous Others:

  • Cambistas: there are bureaux de change (casas de cambio) in Lima, but most money changers operate on the street. They wear distinctive sleeveless jackets, that vary in colour according to the district they are operating in, but which always have a big $ on the back. Are a target for thieves, owing to the large amounts of cash they carry with them; as a precaution, they take their official jackets off, before going home.
     
  • Recicladores: these workers perform a valuable service of going through rubbish, looking for recyclable materials, usually plastic bottles. They then sell these for roughly s/.1.50 per kg. Their mode of transport is often an old bicycle, such as a Raleigh Chopper, with a customized front basket, on which they balance their bag of recyclables. Or a larger tricycle, with a wide load carrier at the front, as in the photo.