Internet in St Martin / Sint Maarten|Finding Wi-Fi

12 Jul

I started to write this blog from the TELEM building in Phillipsburg, but have since returned home and completed the post. So, you will have to bear with me as you read it through.

This is an impromptu blog from Telem. For those of you that don’t know, Telem is one of the phone and internet providers for the Dutch side of St Maarten. I am here to open an account for the new shop in Bobby’s Marina. This is my third attempt! As I sit here, it makes me wonder if anyone knows how difficult some things are to accomplish here on our little island. I have story after story but right now, this feels like a perfect example.

My first attempt at getting internet installed was last Tuesday. I arranged my whole day around going to Telem to sign up. With businesses on both sides of the island now, I have to plan carefully or I would end up driving around the island 5 times each day. I need to take into account traffic, which side of the island I need to be on, whether the offices are open (most government offices close at 12 and most of the time there is some national holiday on either side of the island). Anyway…. after driving around for 45 minutes trying to find the Telem building (which is basically in the middle of the Salt Pond) I found it. I parked the car, locked up and walked over (it was about 2 pm in the afternoon). I was quickly turned away by the security guard who informed me that the office was closed due to a funeral. This makes it kind of hard to complain, but imagine walking to your local AT&T office and there was a note on the door that said “Closed for a funeral.” I left feeling disappointed… FAIL #1.

The second time that I came was on Thursday, the office was open. WIN WIN WIN. I had all my papers ready. First objective: Figure out how to be seen as quickly as possible. You see, first of all you need to find out if you are waiting in the right area (“customer service” versus “cashier” versus “technical support.”) It may seem obvious, but I have learned after wasting many hours sitting in buildings on this island, that it isn’t. For example, I was waiting for over an hour at the water board once, to pay a bill, only to find that I was waiting on the wrong line. Then, you can’t just cut everyone and go to the front of the line that you should’ve been on. No, you have to wait again at the back of the correct line.

So, find the right area. I asked the security guard. “Where should I wait to open an account?” No, that isn’t right, that wasn’t the first thing I did. The first thing that I did was to say “good morning” to everyone. It is really important here. Usually I just say “Morning” in a sort of friendly, casual way. Like “I know I wasn’t born here, but I have lived here awhile and I know the score, so be nice to me.”

She told me “Sit in those chairs over there.” I saw a line of red chairs all lined up in front of the Customer Service Desks. There were three booths, but only one lady working and three people already sitting down on the chairs. Not too many people ahead of me.

Now, I had to figure out the system. Each office / government building is different on the island. You have to figure it out. For example, in the bank on the french side you could stand on line, but then there are all these people sitting down and they will just stand up and go to the counter right before you. When I first got here, I was like “Hey, I’ve been standing here on line, like a good little girl for 45 minutes and you just cut me!” Now, I understand that you have to go into the bank, say “morning”, then find out who is the last person. “Bonjour, qui est la deniere person, s’il vous plait?” (french side). On the Dutch side, it is totally different. They line up in a very orderly fashion, so don’t lose your spot or you are going to the back! That is the banks though, every place is different.

Other places use a ticket system. Which is really important to notice. I have stood in line at the French Social Security office, in full knowledge of who is the last person, only to find out 30 minutes later that I need a ticket! I went to the security guard “I am really sorry, I didn’t know that there was a ticket system and I’ve been here for 30 minutes and loads of people have come in after me, and I should be behind that lady over that, she was the last person before me. What can I do?” Without even making eye contact, they replied “Get a ticket.” Big sigh. Don’t even get me started on the French Tax office!!!

OK…. Back to Telem, I am getting confused. So, there were three people sitting there, and I noticed that they weren’t sitting next to each other in an orderly fashion, which made me think that it is more of a “who is the last person” situation. Then I noticed a ticket machine. I took a ticket. I looked at the ticket and it said 72. The number in red displayed on the wall said 07. Hmmm, somethings not right. There can’t be 65 people waiting. What is the system here?

“Ummm, excuse me, is anyone taking these tickets here? Or are we just figuring out who is next?”

A nice lady sitting down says “no tickets.”

“Thanks.” I sat down.

“You are behind that guy over there.” She pointed to someone who wass in the first seat in the row.

Then, these two people who were sitting over in the comfy chairs by technical service (I guess they want these people in a relaxed mood before talking to the Technicians….) piped up “Sweetheart, I am behind you right?” This was to the nice lady. “Yes, she is next, then her, then that guy, then me, then you, then that guy, then her.” I was the final “her.”

Alright, it was going to be awhile. So much for 3 people ahead of me. I watched as each person goes up (plus random people that just show up and walk to the desk, not sure what “system” they are using and why they can cut the line like that. No point arguing though, just take a deep breath instead).

I sat there for about 35 minutes, not too bad really. I had my laptop. I take it everywhere, along with all the papers I could ever need AND a drink. You never know how long it will be. Plus I can do emails when I’m not online, and just upload them later.

Finally, it was my go. I walked up with joy, finally. We went through everything, it took a bit of time to explain to her what it was I exactly wanted to do. When she found out that my husband was not a resident on the Dutch side of the island (we live on the French Side) things became difficult. We needed to leave a $1,500 deposit in cash, to get the account set up. “Wow, that seems like a lot.” I responded. She responded with silence. Then we went through the paperwork. She needed our business license (I had that), She needed the Excerpt from the Chamber of Commerse (I had that), she needed our lease (I had that) and then she asked for Chris’s Passport (I didn’t have that.)

“I don’t have that.”
“Well, then you have to come back.” OH THOSE DREADED WORDS!!!! “You can’t get an account without the Managing Director’s passport.” She said it like I was the most idiotic person in the world. Obviously it is impossible to sign up for internet without the managing directors passport, I am only the owner!

You may think that I would have been really upset, but to be honest, I know this island, I know how it works. Two attempts isn’t enough.

So, I took my papers with me, along with the application paper and left. FAIL #2.

Fast forward to today and this is my third attempt. I am a bit of an expert now, so I know exactly where to sit, what to say, I loudly greeted everyone in the office and asked who the last person was. Now I am sitting here waiting to be seen. I have been here for about an hour and a half at this point (hence being able to write this). The person in front of me is just finishing…. Oh…. it’s my turn. Fingers crossed.

Well, I have since returned home to finish this post. I am no longer in the wretched place they call the Telem Building. I did manage to see one of the ladies behind the customer service desk. I handed her the application paper and my husband’s passport, and then she looked at me and said “But your husband hasn’t signed it.”

And I said “But the woman I was speaking to yesterday didn’t tell me he had to sign it.” (At the bottom of the application it says “I authorize Telem to blah blah blah” but it DOESN’T say “MUST BE SIGNED BY MANAGING DIRECTOR.”

Then the woman who was sitting in the booth next to us, behind the desk (they have it so that if you are sat at one of the booths you can’t see the next one), stands up and says “I recognize that voice, and I did tell her that her husband had to sign.” She had some attitude. I would like to emphatically tell all the readers, that she did NOT, in any way, say that my husband had to sign. She simply told me I had to bring his passport. Now, I always carry around with me a Power of Attorney so that I can sign things for Chris, however, it is in French NOT Dutch. So, they wouldn’t accept it.

I think I let out a big sigh and found myself in a position of either going nuts and yelling at everyone, or accepting the situation as something that is just beyond my control. I walk outside and call Chris.
“Well, that was a complete waste of my morning!”
“Why is that?” He said.
“You have to sign the stupid paper!”

(Now, I will tell you that in the past, I have just signed things as Chris. Not only do I have Power of Attorney to do this, but I don’t know why my signature isn’t just as good as his. However, the last time I needed his signature at the post office (to pick up a ridiculously useless piece of paper from French Social Security) I left the post office, signed it outside, and went back in. The post office lady went mental “YOU JUST SIGNED THAT! YOU CAN’T DO THAT! SO, IS HE OUTSIDE? BRING HIM IN!!!” “Sure, he’s outside in the car. I’ll go get him.” Then I left….)

Chris said he wasn’t far, so would come by and sign the paper. Ten minutes later I make him come inside Telem, in visual of the ladies at the counter and say loudly “You have to sign here.” I made sure everyone could see him signing it. Then I became one of those people that mysteriously pushes in the line, no one knows why, but they get away with it. Someone said “I thought I was next.” I just replied with “I was already here this morning, I’ve put my dues in. I AM NEXT.”

I get everything settled, Telem will now graciously come to the building and see if we can have internet there. “But the previous lease holders had internet with Telem. Can’t you just turn it on?”
“No, it doesn’t work like that. A technician will be out in about two weeks to see if it is possible.”
“Yes, there is a back log right now.”

Then in two weeks time, if they deem that we can have internet, we can hand over $1,500 cash for the privilege.

Attempt #3 FAIL.

Two days later, Chris calls me on the phone and says “I just had a really good chat with the internet people. They are going to cut us a deal.”
“Wow, that was fast! Telem said it was going to be 2 weeks.”
“No, not Telem. The guy that runs the internet in Bobby’s Marina. He gives us an account to access their wi-fi and it is $50 a month. Easy.”

So, for $1 more than Telem a month, Stefan (the internet guy for Bobby’s Marina) created an account for us that same day, and now we have internet. The Telem technicians haven’t even come yet. They may never come. Sigh. Is this my life?

I just thought I would give you one small insight into my life right now. “Move to the Caribbean” they said. “Open up a diving center” they said. “You can go diving every day” they said. Maybe one day, but today is not that day!

I hope I haven’t wasted too much of your day. No more than Telem wasted of mine. I didn’t intent to write this much about a silly trip to get internet. But there you go….

(Sally wrote this blog.)

One Response to “Internet in St Martin / Sint Maarten|Finding Wi-Fi”

  1. kathiryn January 4, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi Sally,

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I was feeling frustrated along with you, but had to smile for the engaging and entertaining way you wrote the story. Was all that rigmarole just for an internet account? Jeesh!

    My husband and I are purchasing a home on SXM (Dutch side) and we’ll be mindful of these challenges.

    Hope your connection is working well now.