Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Aguinaldo!

In English, "Bonus!". It's Christmas time and Costa Rican workers are frothing at the mouth in anticipation of their annual, government mandated Christmas bonus - something about which I have mixed feelings. The amount is one-twelfth of what the employee has earned between Dec. 1, 2009, and Nov. 30, 2010. For most this represents a month's pay.

I'm in favor of bonuses. But they should be based on performance and not be of the outrageously huge type that corporate CEO's give themselves in the U.S. If you're doing a great job and are going above and beyond the call of duty, you deserve to be rewarded for it. But why should someone be rewarded simply for doing their job? Or worse yet, be rewarded for being an underperforming dolt ticking away the calendar days until his/her pension kicks in and they can finally start living life when most of it has already passed them by?

I had a great primer for life in Costa Rica working as a consultant for the Capital Improvement Program Manager at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). The paralyzing beaurocratic culture I had to deal with there on a daily basis was a real eye-opener. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. The lengths at which people went to avoid responsibility to preserve their job and pension were monumental. I would often think to myself, "If they could only channel all of that energy into being productive, they wouldn't even need me here!"

Costa Rica, especially at the municipal government level, is exactly like the CTA: Avoid responsibility in order to preserve your livlihood. Don't make any tough decisions that might rock the boat or interfere with your lunch hour. It's as frustrating for Costa Rican nationals as it is for foreigners like me to deal with these people. But, unlike me, Costa Ricans have an inherent ability to shrug it off - though, out of necessity, I have made great strides toward following in their footsteps. "Teach me, Obi-'Juan'" (see "The 20 Tico Rules of Pura Vida")

So the problem with aguinaldo - though clearly a potent vitamin injection for the national economy at the end of the year - is that it rewards those who don't deserve, as well as those who do. It's a slap in the face to those doing a great job and who truly deserve the extra appreciation for doing so. It's demeaning to the hard worker who wants to advance and be recognized for doing good work instead of being heaped in with the dunces.

But I digress... What the hell am I thinking!? I mean, in the end, who really cares? That's just the way it is. And it's the season of giving, right? So why shouldn't everyone from La Presidenta to my neighbor's housekeeper benefit from a stocking stuffer (excluding contractual workers, who are exempt)? ¡FelĂ­z Navidad! (See? I'm learning!)

¡Pura vida!