Case in point:
When I arrived in HK it was at a kind of off hours, i.e. not crowded. And yet when going through customs I noticed that nearly all of the stalls had agents AND there were ample officers that were guiding people and steering the lines and making things run efficiently. E.g. There were attendents pre-checking documents in the line and at the head of the queue was someone keeping an eye and instructing you on which stall to go to. I passed through in what seemed like record time. When I went to Macau by boat, it was also equally streamlined and efficient.
Contrast that with when I got back to SFO, where I got through completely put off and downright pissed. I shall elaborate.
- There were only 2 agents handling citizens and permanent residents, maybe 3 or 4 handling visitors. With the ratio of visitors to non-visitors that actually seems reasonable to have more there, but still too few for all.
- There was one officer there floating around occasionally steering people here and there but absolutely failing to make things better. She let the long lines form like a grocery store, with a line of people behind each agent rather than a single line served by a next available agents like in HK and LIKE IT SHOULD BE. That should just not have been allowed to happen. Even the ticketing/checkin lines are single queue and the security checkpoints are mostly single-queue as well. It's just more efficient and fair and less frustrating. It can be proven mathematically that it is the best, quickest, and fairest system to those in the queue.
- So there I am lining up in one agent's queue and wouldn't you know it'd be the wrong one. The agent was just biding his time, chatting with passengers, making extra checks while his neighbor agent was passing people through efficiently at at least 3 times the rate. I was burning. By the time I reached the agent, the other queue was empty as was the bigger visitors queue.
- Not only that, another plane's worth of people that came in behind ALSO passed through in advance of me. In fact, the lazy attendant steered a good chunk of them to a temporarily open line (since the visitors were done processing) so even though they arrived later, they got through before me. That just really pissed us off.
- At no point could I (or my fellow line prisoners) reasonably jump out of our line because we'd have to go to the tail of the other line, which was long most of the time. In hindsight I still would have gotten through quicker had I done that.
Anyhow, going back to HK. With all the attendants around I was reminded at some point of Japan, which is dense country and the areas I spent some time in were also replete with attendants and very well serviced. The contrast is that Japan is a culturally polite society and the service there is absolutely astounding. Customers are always greeted and smiled at and well taken care of if needed. You can get that level in the US but only on occasion and certainly not on a national scale. HK was a bit more straight forward and reminded me more of the stereotype of service in, say, Germany. You're basically attended to, not impolitely, and generally without any fake warmth. It's just a way of being which is fine but I personally like the fake warmth because it just makes the environment better, to where I would argue the warmth really isn't all that fake as it's made out to be. I mean, a smile and a kind word is more likely to put people in a good mood and respond in kind and more open to being sociable. And I think that's a good thing.