Life in the “Slow” Lane

Upon my arrival to Buenos Aires, it was clear that I was in a rush. I went into a café and request a large coffee to go, but quickly realized that the store was packed to the gills with people slowly sipping small cups of expresso and chatting with their friends. The same slow manner of life became present in the restaurants; my perceived idea of what makes a good waiter went out the door. Everyone strolls around, food comes out slowly, and the check takes forever. However, nobody seems upset with this. People really do take their time in leisure situations; Argentineans are not focused on what they have to do in the next hour like I am in the US. You see the slow pace transfer from the restaurant to the way people walk on the street in many neighborhoods.
However, what strikes me the most is how the slow lifestyle translates to business processes. I walk into the office 30 minutes late and there are still people dragging their feet. I make my rounds, giving everyone either a fist bump or a kiss on the cheek, then head to my desk in a relaxed fashion. There is not sense of drive and urgency in the office, every seems content with the way things are going. Small talk is how the day starts and ends, with many disruptive exchanges in between. It may be because everyone sits in a small room together in a circle and the employees are friends. Although the environment is friendly and I never feel hesitant to ask a question if I’m unsure of something, it is missing the competitiveness that I’m used to in the typical US workplace. The contrasting speed and urgency in the workplace creates many hardships.
One of the major sources of a difficult experience is the communication efforts. The language barrier creates an instant and ongoing challenge; the majority of my collogues have limited to no English-speaking capabilities; any clarification that I receive isn’t easy to understand completely. Although this is certainly an invaluable learning experience, it makes getting concrete projects established difficult. In fact, I tried to figure out what I can do for the organization that could add value for the first few weeks before anything gained traction. I’ve never been in a position where I am constantly trying to find things that I am assigned; it is the exact opposite problem that I have encountered in previous business roles. Although freedom to explore different areas can be beneficial, adjusting to this management style has been a difficult process.
The language barrier isn’t the only frustration; lack of communication and vision from top level management trickles down to everyone else. As a young professional that has extensive experience in American based manufacturing organizations with strong business practices, there are noticeable differences in leadership. Leaders should have an attitude that inspires creativity and motivation. However, I don’t get the feeling that managers and employees are constantly seeking to improve processes in place. If you aren’t constantly striving to be more agile, smart, and efficient, you are not going to thrive as a corporation in a competitive industry.