Mexico and Central America, Part 4: Tempo, El Jefe, and Notarios

While it is expected that new business associates will arrive at the appointed time, “la gringa” or “Norteamericano,” meetings typically won’t begin until everyone arrives, or at least the decision makers. Though this is not the standard for social gatherings, where it is acceptable to be late up to an hour. (Arriving sooner at these social events may interrupt the host’s own prep time.) Time is organized around what has to get done for the day, and it is usual that workers will stay past the typical workday to get projects done. Since decisions are made with the group (family) and relationships (obligations to friends) in mind, the clock takes a backseat. It is this same approach to projects and deadlines that put relationships over the rules of the clock. It matters how things are accomplished just as much as the final result. Central American cultures are more risk averse than risk taking, and would rather it “measure twice, cut once,” hence the tedious decision making process. The decision process is a subjective one, deriving from gut instinct to personal beliefs, and relationships.

Subordinates’ attention to detail and the perfection of form, which elongates the completion of projects and meeting of deadlines, is exacerbated by the creative use of resources and the navigation through bureaucratic hoops. Hierarchy dictates, subordinates are to follow decisions of their superiors and provide detailed information. Bosses or “los jefes” are expected to disseminate information, provide guidance, and make decisions. As the father, the head of household is the primary decision maker and the children are the subordinates; the Central American business organization operates in a similar manner as a household. The rigid hierarchy also dictates that proper protocol must be followed if you are to speak with the senior business associate, provided that you are deemed important enough. So first begin with becoming acquainted with the children (subordinates) then proceed to addressing the second in command (the wife or woman of the house) and then proceed to pursue a meeting with “el jefe” (head of the house).

Due to the penchant of Central Americans distaste of saying “no” to requests, in order to prove their ability (and preserve their pride), it is best to have a trusted contact on the ground before departing for home. Notarios are responsible administrators who serve as local intermediaries; they act as liaisons between you and the people you are meeting with. If we want to talk about it in terms of the family, consider this a mutual friend, who acts as an intermediary with you and the family and is willing to give you an honest opinion (with both interests at heart).

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