Thursday, August 08, 2013

In Line At The Bank: Culture and Personality

Funny what a change in perspective does. I almost laughed. I was at the bank to make a deposit. I stood in line for maybe three minutes. When I got up to the Teller window she thanked me for my patience and apologized for the long wait in line.

My darling wife and I were in Antigua, Guatemala three weeks ago. While there we had to go to the bank to exchange our dollars for Quetzal. It was a Monday and the line went from the Teller counter straight back along the bank wall and then along the back wall until the doorway. We stood in line about thirty to forty-five minutes. When we finally got to the counter we waited another good fifteen minutes until our transactions were completed. Nobody apologized for the wait.

Different personalities as well as different cultures see time and experience differently. Some see everything defined by the clock. Thus one always has to be on time. Meetings start on time and end on time. Get togethers with people are bound by time; “I can give you ten minutes but then I have to run.” Some define life by the experience; by the here and now. Thus when you get to a party is when the party starts. When you stop and talk to someone in the market that is the most important time of the day—not the appointment that you have to be at next.

Guatemalans live much more in the present and the experience as opposed to ‘making the most of their time.’ When you go out for a meal the table is yours until you actively request the check. The waitress doesn’t attempt to shoo you out so the next person can get the table. In my mind it is a more experiential culture which lends itself to person-to-person interaction better than our American culture does.

Since returning I’ve tried to cultivate more of a Guatemalan attitude. I try to not get freaked out by timelines though people push me to do so. That is why I found the encounter at the bank so funny. The wait hadn’t been long. The building was air-conditioned. The Tellers weren’t goofing around—they were assisting other people. Not one of those truly requires an apology. When I got up to the Teller and she apologized I smiled. I told her it was nothing. I was positive and cheery. I hope that gave her pause to step outside of the time pressures of her job and enjoy the moment. That seems the better cultural and interpersonal choice.

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