Oman, and most of the Gulf Countries for that matter, have a very low incidence of crime, including theft. But, whereas the more familiar types of street-crime and violence are largely subdued by a culture that relies heavily on a Quranic thou-shalt-not (or else!) mentality, white collar crimes, and shady-dealing in general, certainly occur.
The experience I am about to relate has been echoed and seconded by many of my friends and associates here in Oman. It’s not an uncommon one, even back in the U.S., although the scope of larceny and the almost invincible monopoly that car dealerships have here in Oman, with only one company licensed to sell each brand of car, makes the matter much more frustrating and lends a familiar (though larger scale) fleecing a definite air of being Not Quite Right.
Here’s what happened:
1. I took my Volkswagen Jetta to the sole VW dealership in Oman because the alternator died.
2. They tried to charge me 400 Omani rial, or 1038.96 US dollars, for a new alternator.
3. I looked online, bought one from a website and had it shipped here for about 300 US dollars.
4. The dealership replaced the alternator in an impressively timely fashion and even came in well under the labor estimate they provided me. I was happy.
5. Then, just as I was about to sign for the car, the sales rep in the maintenance department told me that the A/C unit was no longer working.
6. The A/C was working when I brought the car in.
7. They said it wasn’t.
8. I said it was.
9. I got mad and reverted to a stereotypical Type-A American neanderthal approach, going red-faced and making a scene in their precious glimmering showroom (they sell Audis and Bentleys from the same building).
10. The manager came out. We ‘discussed’ things. We had tea. He said he would personally check on the car.
11. I called the US Embassy to see if there was any legal recourse, any sort of consumer-affairs bureau or hotline I could contact in the event of being unable to come to terms privately with the manager or the company. (There is, actually, a newly established hotline that went into place after the recent protests here in Oman, one of the government’s responses to claims of ministerial corruption. The number, if you need it, is 2481-7013.)
12. In the meantime I asked the sales rep from the maintenance department for an estimate on how much the A/C would cost to fix (it has been 110F or more every day for the last two weeks here in Muscat, A/C is a lifesaver!)
13. Quote for new compressor, new condenser, new A/C fanbelt: 1800 Omani rial = 4675.33 in US dollars. The helpful sales rep, himself a hired Philipino worker who probably makes about 1/3 the pay a similar guy would make in the US, noted how much I had saved by ordering the alternator from America and had a good chuckle, with his Indian co-worker, about the outrageous prices his own company charges for parts.
14. I prepared to really dig-in my heels and fight with the management over the damage their maintenance workers OBVIOUSLY did to my A/C unit. My position, from which I told myself I would not budge: “The thing worked when I dropped the car off. It sure as hell better work when I take it home.”
15. With a smile on his face, the manager returned to me, maybe fifteen minutes later, saying: “All is fine. A/C is working.”
While, superficially, this was a great relief (I was able to drive the car home that day and have had no problems with it since then) I have come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a charade, a ploy to get me to do more work on the car, work that WASN’T EVEN NECESSARY.
If this sort of thing happened in America, on this scale, Ralph Nader would actually have a chance to win the Presidency. Blah. Not Right At All.