Cultural Shifting: Understanding the Other

I want to bring up something that is sensitive for me, and that is my observation about how our cultures are so different. We hold different views about time and urgency, I think. Los Estadounidenses are in a hurry, are business focused and want to get things done and completed quickly. We are time oriented, like plans, arrangements made in advance, everything neatly organized and packaged, have a lower tolerance for taking it easy when things get a little messy. Visitors to Oaxaca are usually coming from these faster cultures where they are used to getting information quickly and where they make a decision based on service and responsive communication (or the lack of it). I notice that we (meaning those of use from the USA) are used to doing business this way and it is an expectation. Oaxaquenos know how to take it easy. It’s not a crisis if it doesn’t get done today. “We went to a baptism.” “It was my cousin’s birthday and there was a celebration.” These are not one or two hour events. They take all day and the entire family participates, so other things get pushed aside. Imperfection and “work in progress” is a way of life. It’s the process that matters most to Mexicans — the process of relationship. It is not about completing the task in record time. Work quality and excellence are priorities and standards of workmanship among people who love their craft are comparable to any fine crafts-person around the world.

So what, you may ask, is an El (La) Estadounidense? Mexicans say they are North Americans, too, so indeed they are Americans. They are also organized as the United States of Mexico, as a republic, in our model. They feel it is a geographic and political misnomer when those of us from the USA call ourselves Americans as if we had ownership rights on the term. So, those who are politically and culturally savvy call us Los Estadounidenses — the people from the United States, inferring USA — a useful term for cross cultural understanding.

2 responses to “Cultural Shifting: Understanding the Other

  1. Jim, thanks for the feedback and great addition to my commentary. I also appreciate the correction to my spelling of estadounidense. I heard it spoken in rapid Spanish, and made the assumption as to spelling. I stand corrected and will make the edit in the blog post. My best, Norma

  2. I am enjoying reading your Oaxaca Cultural Navigator.

    The cultural differences do require some effort for us to understand. As for a label for those of us from north of the border, in my Spanish classes at UNAM CEPE we were taught, ” el
    (la) estadounidense”. Of course this is difficult for us to pronounce, so “norte americano” or “gringo(a)” are more common. Fortunately we don’t see or hear the label “anglo” applied to everyone with Europen ancestry. Likewise we don’t see or hear the label “hispanic” applied to los mexicanos, argentinos, etc.

    This is a country of contrasts. You are correct on your observations of time and urgency. However, a friend from Houston, on his first visit to México observed, “Los mexicanos are never in a hurry until they get behind the wheel of a car.” This is especially obvious in el Distrito Federal.

    As for arrangements in advance, last Friday a caterer told me that a woman called and gave her five hours notice that she was having a dinner party for 12 people. The guests had a weeks notice, but not the caterer. This approach to planning is quite apparent driving in the D.F. where someone driving in the left lane, when arriving at an intersection, will make a right turn in front of two lanes of traffic.

    Keep up the good work.

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