Maybe it’s a small thing. I’m honestly not sure but I am fondly amused at how these hard-working Ecuadorians put their personal priorities over and above anything that may be business related. I know that is a broad statement and there are exceptions, no doubt. I’m talking mostly about the working class entrepreneurs who have small businesses. In general terms, the Ecuadorians (and perhaps others in South America) maintain their priorities, placing their personal happiness and that of their families first, over and above business and customer relations; something totally opposite from the business culture typically found in North America, Asia and Europe and many other business models across the globe. Again…this is not a complaint but rather an observation of a model others might consider. Let me provide a couple of examples:
After several hours of work had been completed on my car last month (making some modifications and installations I wanted) it was time to settle up with the owner. The time was about 12:15 and the mechanics were cleaning up and preparing for their lunch break which is often 2 hours and often includes a nap. I found the owner in a hammock in the back corner of his shop, a nearby radio tuned to the stern warnings of a hell and brimstone preacher… in Spanish of course. I approached softly and asked him how much I owed. He pointed to his watch and asked me to return at 2 P.M. I was free to go…taking my not-yet-paid-for car. His lunch-time schedule was maintained. Even taking a 3 minute break to collect my money was not important enough to interrupt his mid-day break. He took care of himself before tending to his business.
Another time, I went to a small store or tienda to purchase a bag of sugar. Again, it was mid-day. I approached the window which had metal bars welded across it (customary) and stepped over 4 men sitting in plastic chairs on the dirt sidewalk, peering inside the small store and cheering. I noted a man in a hammock hanging strategically in a corner with a clear view of the soccer game in progress on a television. I stepped closer to the window and asked which teams were playing. It was a close match. The man in the hammock made no move to get up. After a few moments of watching soccer, I asked the man in the hammock for a bag of sugar. He ignored my first request so, I waited a couple of beats and asked again. This time, he looked at me as if I had interrupted something sacred…and perhaps I had. He yelled for his wife to come from the rear of the store, where I could now see she was eating. She put down her bowl and came to assist.
I suddenly felt terrible having interrupted their meal and rest period. I apologized and asked, once again, for a bag of sugar which she delivered through the bars with a large smile. I paid and stayed a few more minutes to watch the end of the game with the men on the dirt sidewalk. I offered a few cheers at the appropriate moments but in truth, I cared nothing about the game and everything about showing them I wasn’t a complete gringo idiot. I left with my sugar feeling marginally forgiven. There have been numerous other examples of going to town to purchase something we specifically needed only to find the store owner had not yet arrived to open… at 10 A.M. Other times, businesses close on a whim to go swimming or take the family on an excursion to a nearby town to visit relatives.
These days, I completely respect and understand the mid-day break and wholeheartedly approve of putting self and family above business. I am grateful to have now lost most of the North American business intensity I arrived with. There were hundreds if not thousands of times when I have answered my cell during dinner, a date and have re-arranged my schedule to honor business engagements over and above my personal life…and I now deeply regret having done that so often. I virtually sold out to the corporate and business world and even my own business ventures, placing my life and those of my friends and family behind making money.
I am still tempted several times each month to get back into business and have had some very interesting opportunities to consider, even on a small or part-time effort. If I should ever decide to take the bait, I have promised myself to conduct myself a bit more like those whose country I have recently claimed as my home. Developing nation? Maybe, but they have much to teach me about the important things in life and I want to continue to be a willing student!