A guest blog post by Don Rutherford and Ellen James
During our recent Cultural Detective Tenth Anniversary meetings and celebrations in Mazatlán, Mexico, some of those attending used a free hour in the program to walk out into the community to conduct short ethnographic studies—to practice their detective skills. Below is a summary of what interested one group.
Click here for a link to the instructions for this activity; you are most welcome to adapt them for your own purposes! Just think how frequently we travel to very different places for work, and how often we don’t take the time to interact with the local people in ways that help us get to know them as people. The same can be said for the beautiful places we travel as tourists. Let’s make a point of practicing our Cultural Detective skills wherever we are, building cross-cultural respect, understanding, and friendship!
Eva is a candy store manager in Mazatlán, Mexico. Her tidy shop offers an amazing array of candy and treats including freshly roasted and flavored peanuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and more. Coconut-based treats are also available, as are some sweets imported from other parts of Mexico. Truly a treasure trove of goodies for those of us fond of sugary treats! Although not overly crowded, the store had a steady stream of happy customers during the time we were there.
We met Eva as she was stirring a delicious smelling vat of cacajuatos garapinyatas—peanuts in syrup with sesame seeds—the scent and the lovely old copper kettle drawing us off the street and into the open-front store. She says the production of the sweets is fairly easy, though she showed us a couple of scars on her arm from burns that are “hazards of the job.”
Eva was quite serious when we first met her; however, she was more than happy to give us a tour of her shop and answer our questions. She was also gently patient with our very rudimentary Spanish. When we couldn’t find the right words, she was able to elaborate in English—as her English was much better than our Spanish.
She is 25, confident, pretty and wears really high heels, as do many fashionable women we saw in Mazatlan. The store belongs to her uncle (who lives in Puerto Vallarta, six hours south), and it is located near the cathedral in the Centro Histórico District of Mazatlán, an area that draws many tourists. Eva, herself, is from Guadalajara (five hours into the interior of Mexico), where her immediate family remains. She moved to Mazatlan to run the candy shop four years ago as she felt there were more tourists, and, therefore, more work opportunity. The other employees in the candy store are not family members.
Having recently reviewed the CD Mexico core values with Rossana Johnston, CD Mexico author, we pulled out our Cultural Detective magnifying glass and took a look at our interaction with Eva.
- Familia y relaciones/Family and relationships: The family gives its members stability, support, and protection in economic, emotional, and social spheres, and also gives a sense of belonging to and a permanent connection with others from the same group. This value was easy to see in action—Eva works long hours for her uncle, who owns the business. He trusts his niece to successfully run his candy store and manage the other employees. Eva understands the importance of relationships in everyday life, and we think this influenced her willingness her take the time to patiently answer our questions and help us when we struggled with our Spanish-language facility (or lack there of).
- Hay que cuidarse/Self-protectiveness: This common Mexican expression and attitude can be understood as a certain level of doubt about each other’s honesty, reliability, competence, and care. Trust does not normally come easy outside of the family. We noticed that Eva was very formal and reserved when we first started speaking with her. As we chatted a bit more and she understood our purpose, she seemed to become more friendly and open in her manner and conversation.
- Mañana/Tomorrow: Time in Mexico tends to be perceived as elastic, circular, and flexible—what cannot be done today, will be done some other time. Any moment in life can be impacted by colliding factors, many of which are out of one’s control.
Candy is a simple pleasure—enjoy life now—eat the sweets—who knows what tomorrow will bring?
- Cantinflismo/Affable circular communication: Mexican patterns of communication are generally cordial, chatty, and informal. Mexicans are quick to strike a joke to set a harmonious tone. Initially, Eva seemed more serious than some Mexicanas, but once engaged in conversation, the smiles emerged and she was joking about her scars.
- Sentirse agusto/Feel good about someone or something. One’s sense of feeling accepted, acknowledged, respected, and within a comfortable atmosphere is an important gage of one’s emotional comfort level with someone or something. We found Eva competent and confident in her abilities, and she seemed to be respected as the manager by the ways in which other employees interacted with her. The atmosphere in the candy shop was very comfortable and welcoming. Even though she is on her feet all day, Eva wears high-heeled shoes—she knows who she is and feels good about it!
We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Eva, and certainly bought and ate more candy than we would have without the “assignment.” Turning the Cultural Detective magnifying glass on ourselves, we clearly evidenced the Canadian values of “Task and Project Orientation,” as we sampled a variety of candies and sweets to make sure the quality was maintained throughout the range of products! We took “Individual Initiative” to do this, and used our value of “Informality” to help create a relaxed and comfortable conversation with Eva. As good practitioners of “Global Citizenship,” we wanted to do the right thing and make a positive contribution to the global community. So we bought candy treats to take home to friends. And finally, our value of “Consensus” was in evidence when we couldn’t decide on exactly which kind of candy to get for ourselves. We ended up getting both of our favorite kinds!
Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com
Glad you thought so, Anna! It was beautiful for me to see the connections to the local community that were made in less than an hour of free time. We are all so influential in our daily lives, if we put our minds to. We can learn, teach, dialogue… build cross-cultural respect and understanding so easily, in the course of our daily activities.