American culture is quite different than Hispanic cultures, which are Latin in root. Obviously there are strengths and weaknesses between different cultures. American culture is work-centered, and time is linear and a carefully divided. Hispanic culture is relationship-oriented, and time is organic and flexible.
Our friends Hal and Cheryl took us to the top of some rugged, green El Salvadoran mountains to a restaurant hidden among the coffee plantations called Cabana de Aponeca. It was a long drive on narrow, winding roads and we got out to stretch our legs. Flocks of green parrots, fluttered overhead, and the iridescent blue and purple butterflies magically filled the air, with hundreds sitting on the ground with wings together. It was supposed to be an afternoon trip and then we would return to Oscar and Pati's house for dinner. At least that was the plan.
We ordered colorful drinks of coconut, guava, lemon, orange, and talked and reminisced about old times. They were Americans that had lived in El Salvador for 25 years and had established a large, growing institute where people learn life skills and life principles and values for living.
It was a privilege for me to be there to teach on the topics of finances, stewardship, planning, and micro-businesses and home businesses. As time went on, my son Caleb got very hungry, though we just had lunch several hours earlier. I reminded him that Oscar and Pati were having us over for dinner in a few hours.
You know, we Americans generally make a plan, stick to it, watch the clock, and if we are on the way to work and we see someone we know, the tendency is to quickly say "Hi", and say something like "I'm late for work, can't talk now." They accept this as normal and let us go. It says "work is more important than you right now." Time is a commodity, diced and measured, plotted and tracked. Time is "money" and we "live to work." Our American values are quite different than Hispanic cultures, which are Latin in root. If I met a friend on the way to work I'd stop and talk because the relationship is the most important value. It would be an insult to tell say I can't talk because I have to go to work. Why? Because the message is interpreted as "You think work is more important than me as a person!" How differently we view the world.
As we talked, Caleb got increasingly hungry. Hal got him a menu, and I thought we were making a special case for him, but soon everyone was looking at menus! It took a lot of years for me to learn this principle, which is in Hispanic cultures the relationships are more important that work or time schedules. Time is not linear but it organic and flows naturally, and promptness is based on the relationships and people you are with. It can be unacceptable to leave for another engagement because it sends the message that "others are more important then you."
If you think Oscar and Pati were offended that we arrived very late, and not as hungry as we could have been, think again. They know this and it is acceptable to go with the flow and not be on time. In America, if a worker comes late, it may be offensive and the worker may be thought to be lacking in character, or they had better have a good excuse. If we come late to a meeting, we apologize, and there are actually degrees of apologies needed if you are 1, 5, or 10, or 20 minutes late! (a sorry look, verbal 'sorry', 'really sorry', 'sorry and a good explanation,' etc. It is good to know, however, that some cultures are not ruled by the clock, but by the love of friends and family. Work is good but it doesn't rule lives to the point edging out social relationships and, again, family. Obviously there are strengths and weaknesses between different cultures. One culture can manufacture anything and dominates the economic landscape, the other fosters close family and familial ties that not only define who they are but it is also their social security safety net. One culture tends to have less-connected families and friends, and the other is has an economy that may plod along more slowly.
Frequent trips to Latin America have me questioning work, relationship, and other values as an American. I decided I could use a little more time with friends and family, a little more relaxing at the coffee shop, and learning more of the art of conversation were all good things to strive for. However, it's important to stay relevant to the culture you live in, and since I live in America I'll try to be on time for that dinner date. But, I'll also be more understanding when my Hispanic friends are late.
Here is some suggested reading:
Distant Neighbors - A Portrait of the Mexicans, by Alan Riding
The Germans, by Greg Nees
Au Contraire! The French, (another Latin culture...), By Gilles Asselin and Ruth Mastron
About Rich Kimura:
Rich Kimura is a freelance writer, married father of 4, chemical engineer, and entrepreneur. He has authored numerous technical papers, has 1 patents and 2 patents-pending, and 24 years experience in the nuclear and chemical industries. Rich started 6 micro-businesses, received financial counseling training by Crown Financial, and teaches on both subjects. To see more free tips and sharing of personal experiences in home businesses, work, money, finances, relationships, spirituality, and other topics, visit Cirrovista at http://www.Cirrovista.com