Forcing USA values on other countries…REALLY???

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by Kenneth Justice

~ “They hire illegal U.S. workers because they show up to work on time” he said

Last week on my trip to Costa Rica I talked with a number of different U.S. men and women who own businesses in Costa Rica and asked them why so many restaurants and hotels in Costa Rica employ young adults from the States; despite the fact that it is illegal to do so.

One restaurant owner told me it comes down to work ethic, “The law says that we have to hire local Costa Rican’s to work for us….but the locals are on Pura Vida time; they show up to work hours and hours late, but if I hire a 19 year old from the States he will show up right at 8 oclock as he is supposed to” he said

In college I had to write numerous essays on the famous sociological book, “The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” by Max Weber. The fundamental principle Weber points out is that the (then) Protestant United States exuded a strong work ethic which involved punctuality, hard labor, and no complaining…….many believe that it was the work ethic that Weber observed that made the United States into the country it became.

And it is that type of work ethic which leads many business owners in Costa Rica to break the law and hire illegal employees from back home in the States.

For many of us; it might drive us a little nuts to have employees show up at any hour of the day……we here in the United States take it as second nature to show up on time, work hard until our shift is done, and to obey our managers to a “t”………

BUT, could it be that our U.S. work ethic is merely a type of golden calf that we have all been worshipping……and now we expect other cultures to join in on our worship?

I don’t have a problem if companies in the United States want to operate their businesses by-the-clock…….but perhaps some people don’t want to be a slave-to-the-clock?

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about schedules and it was interesting how many people live their entire life based on schedules….even right down to scheduling their friendships……yet other people don’t believe in schedules at all.

Isn’t it okay for both people to exist in the world;

—) Some people will live by their schedules
—) Other people will not

And doesn’t the same thing apply to time management? Isn’t it okay for an entire society to exist that isn’t a ‘slave-to-the-clock’? Isn’t it okay for Costa Rican society to practice their pura vida life in which people take things much slower…….in which people don’t have to show up to work right at 7:59 AM?

Let’s face it; statistically Costa Rican people live longer lives on average than people in the States. So perhaps we could learn a thing or two about taking life a little bit slower. Are we sacrificing years off of our life….merely by making sure we arrive to work right on time?

When the Europeans came to the ‘New World’ they brought with them their belief that ‘they were living life the right way’ and that the Native Americans were ‘living life the wrong way’……what ensued was hundreds of years in which the European settlers attempted to change the way of life for all of the various Native American tribes……..and for the most part the European settlers accomplished what they set out to do.

One of my fears is that the U.S. business owners who have set up shop in Costa Rica are guilty of the same thing as their European ancestors; they believe that U.S. standards of work ethics are the only acceptable form of behavior in the workplace. All these hundreds of years later we are right back where we started from; trying to force a culture to look and act like us. But who says that what we look and act like is right?

Costa Rica is one of those civilizations that Europe only influenced a little bit. Sure, the Costa Rican’s all wear Western clothes, many drive automobiles, and a lot of them watch television…….yet for the most part their country still tries to live out the Pura Vida lifestyle which is almost totally free from stress, angst, deadlines, and feeling rushed.

Perhaps life is better when nobody is in a rush to get to work by 8am……perhaps such a society would lead to less people with ulcers, depression, anxiety, fill-in-the-blank.

Of course, I realize that the United States is what we are; we’re not going to change the hundreds and hundreds of years which instilled within us a certain standard of behavior at the workplace……….but perhaps its not too late for Costa Rica.

Perhaps the U.S. business owners in Costa Rica need to reevaluate what the hell they are doing; maybe they need to rethink owning a business in Costa Rica…..maybe they aren’t ready to live Pura Vida.

The sun is about to rise here in the Midwest and I think its time for my first coffee of the morning,

Kenneth

P.S. If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a national and worldwide tour of 100 coffee houses in 2014 check out my link for the news and stay tuned for dates and locations



Categories: Culture & Society

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85 replies

  1. Borrowed from Wikipedia:
    “Since 1931 only 57,661 Costa Ricans have immigrated to the United States. Hence, the number of Costa Rican emigrants has been increasing very slowly. This is a very different from the pattern of emigration from most other Central American countries. In fact, the other two countries in this region that have a continuously slow rate of emigration are Belize and Panama.”

    • Paul,

      exactly, and that correlates to all the Costa Rican’s I’ve talked with on four trips who tell me they would never want to leave their country. They are happy living life slowly…they don’t want the fast-pace nature of other Western countries……and from what I hear about Belize & Panama; it is a similar lifestyle to that of Costa Rica

    • I’m half Greek and have family in Greece. They like their slow culture too and it’s killing them. When I was there last, I listened to my cousin talk about how she lost her job at the university teaching but “oh well, the government will take care of me”. She hasn’t worked for three years and decided that in her late 20’s it would be a good opportunity to travel while she is taking a “break” on the country’s dollar I might add. While I do believe that there should be help for transition, that attitude creates extremely high taxes because that mentality is pervasive there. It’s not just regarding jobs, it’s about everything. It was unreal listening to how my relatives believed the government should be responsible for everything. I also do believe though that there should be a balance of life meaning spiritual too…we can’t always slave away for the almighty dollar just to have the next shiny new toy. Okay, I’m off my soapbox now, lol.

    • Laura,

      yea, what your relative is doing is a bit different than merely living in a society where one doesn’t have to be to work at an ‘exact’ time every morning. I think I would be annoyed if I was a Greek citizen and saw what your cousin is doing; with Greek society having so many economic problems; I’m not sure traveling the world on Greek unemployment checks is helping her country very much….but maybe I’m wrong.

    • Mister Paul, you are in right but shall i say obssesion with schedulles aint pure america stuff or sign…whole europe live as well on that way, and people which visited Chinna, JAPAN OR FEW MORE FAR away countries, also speaks about permanent work..work..work as style of life…mazb ein lager form than is in States, because as I noticed zou inssist at cooimng at right time to the work, but in Japan people works harder and harder..no coffie break, nothing..if they are smokers, thez have some real box in which thez can go to smoke ciggaret or twon in short break… no complains, no talk..just work…ok, I can accpet explanation about profit as hugest goal but in back, covered in whole story is robotisation of people…. when you are in machine zou need to do zour best to stay there, otherway system here, there, nearelly evrywhere will show to you that in front of th e company door stays long line of these which are ready to work longer, harder and for less money…in such situation where humans are just numbers, hope is losted permanent..and its all about work ethics…which as idea was good, but is perverted so much, that today submissive beahave is main characteristics of good worker… not creativity, good personal skills or some other quolity…if you can deal with it you will surrvive, if no….change the job, cgange the place..draconic hand of false work ethics still did not catched whole world..I hope so…

    • all z are y..actually…problem with keyboard sorry

  2. Life is indeed much easier if you can turn up to work (or not) whenever you feel. That doesn’t change the fact that businesses that don’t open when their customers want to buy from them will soon go out of business! Hard work is not part of a “Western value system” it’s a universal criterion for survival.

    • Steve, I think your walking a thin line towards ethnocentrism; because I’m not talking about ‘hard work’ but rather the Western concept of work schedules, being to work at a specific time or u get fired/written up, and other related issues.

      Remember Steve; humanity existed for thousands of years before the invention of the clock. And if memory serves me right, it was actually a monestary of monks that popularized the use of the clock in the Western World as a way for them to pray at specific times throughout the day…..

      Thus, humans got along just fine for thousands of years before the Western notion of having to be to work at an exact time ‘or else’……

      To force our concept of what we believe to be proper punctuality ethics on another culture reeks of ethnocentrism in my humble estimation

    • Humanity also existed for thousands of years before businesses existed.

      When we were a simple hunter-gatherer species, and even when we developed a slightly less simple agrarian lifestyle, it was natural and simple to just go with the flow and follow natural cycles. No clocks needed.

      Becoming “civilized” (city-based) and developing a business-based culture required changes to how we lived our lives and observed time.

      Those who want to return to simpler times, and those cultures that want to maintain their traditional, simpler lifestyle can certainly do so. It just isn’t compatible with running businesses, which require a more complex, clock-based lifestyle to operate effectively.

      Short version: if you want to live the simple life, don’t get a job; stick with subsistence farming.

    • Lee,

      “Short version: if you want to live the simple life, don’t get a job; stick with subsistence farming.”

      in all fairness the simple life wasn’t limited to only agrarian cultures. As the United States entered the 20th century there was still a regional emphasis on not allowing businesses to usurp our every moment as many cities and towns had strict policies against businesses being open on Sunday unless they were necessities (such as hospitals and doctors, etc)

    • Hi Kenneth,

      I happen to agree with you that it would be better for everything non-essential to close down on Sundays, and give people a rest.

      Unfortunately, you and I appear to have slipped into the minority. With the secularization of society, many people do not see why old religious customs should be imposed even on the non-religious, or on those who are religious but don’t take the Biblical strictures against work on the Sabbath literally.

      The repeal of blue laws and the move toward businesses being open seven days a week, and even 24/7 for some of them, is simply a response to popular demand. Whether you and I like it or not, those businesses are just doing what the bulk of the population wants them to do. And businesses that don’t respond to the wants and needs of the public generally don’t survive long.

      Just as in nature, businesses must adapt and evolve to the changing environment or else face extinction.

  3. American culture has a lot going for it – but so do the cultures of other nations. Americans are probably not aware that they often come across as insistent that theirs is the only ‘right’ way. It’s very tiresome to citizens of other nations whose own culture suits them just fine.

    • Helen,

      You’ve said exactly what I’m trying to say; too often I feel that people from the U.S. believe the U.S. way is the “right” way or “only” way to do something……but that’s not necessarily the case

  4. First of all hope you enjoyed your Day Off and always a pleasure to see you back to work in time. 😀

    An Albanian poet said: ” Work, work day and night, just to see a little light”
    People worked hard and never complained. Be or not to Be.. “Slave to the clock” love to escape once in the while from slavery .
    Life in the US it’s been a express way with a thundering alarm since day one.

  5. I believe the US caters to those who demand others to live on a schedule. A business owner opening when they feel like it, whiles others catering to the demands of society, lose business. Meh, I think most are driven to acquire more and more money. That keeping up with the Jones’ attitude. I wouldn’t mind living in a society of Pura Vida, but I don’t place as much importance on material things. I would be hard to “change” a society which has been characteristically the same for hundreds of years.

    Originally from Seattle, the business I worked for had to start earlier than those on the East Coast. The nature of the business required a lot of interaction with our East Coast customers. Our customers didn’t want to wait for us to start at 9–their day was almost half done. That made for extremely long days, with the three hour time difference. No 9-5 for us.

    As far as pushing our work ethic on other countries? No–the US needs to worry and keep ourselves in check. It would be nice to see a little (well a lot) less emphasis on what we own, and more emphasis on what we have—love, happiness, companionship—the things you can’t buy.

    If business owners are required to hire only citizens of Costa Rica, is there not enough enforcement, or penalty for breaking these laws? Do they have the necessary resources to monitor this?

    • In answer to your last paragraph; the police in costa rica are on Pura Vida Time as well lol, they do try and catch the illegal workers, but they aren’t in much of a rush to do so, honestly; nobody in that country is in much of a rush to do anything accept the tourists who are all trying to rush around and see as much of the country as they can 😉

    • Unfortunately, they are setting themselves up for a take over. What greedy person would be able to resist such an easy target.

      It’s too bad that we can’t just save that place for Pura Vida time. Keep it sacred and send the stressed out people there for R and R. It certainly would help morale.

  6. It is very simple.
    We live by the rule. Time is money. Invented by people who had money in the first place.
    We live by the clock because money does so,.Wallstreet anyone.
    If one is obsessed with money unlike our Costa Rican people.
    ten yes we should wonder who is the smarter one.
    those who live to earn money. or those who live to live life

    • Ranting crow, exactly. We in the more developed countries think we are so much smarter and wiser……but we die earlier, and statistics show we struggle more with depression and anxiety…..so who really are the wiser people.

  7. I admit, it’s hard for me to imagine a business working if employees can’t be expected to be there around a certain time. I guess I’d have to experience how that worked. It seems to me what’s really going on here is a lack of trust.

    If a store owner could tell it’s employees, “Pura Vida, but I need someone to be here to open around this time, three of you to be around during rush hour, and one to close,” and trust them to do so, there wouldn’t be much of a problem.

    Then, it comes down to money. Would a store owner be willing to risk losing income if the employees do not do what they ask?

    I’m slowly starting to see where that may be a perfectly acceptable way to work… it’s just so opposite of the system I’ve always known.

    • TK,

      its not that hard to imagine if you look into the way life was for people before the invention and predominate use of the clock. Most agrarian cultures throughout history weren’t slaves to clocks and time; you woke up and took care of your livestock or crops as a way of life, you wrote a letter to your friend in another town, “I will being coming to visit you sometime next month”……..things were a lot more laid back.

      I’m not saying that the way It used to be is the way it should be now…..I’m merely saying that the U.S. way of doing things isn’t the ‘only’ way or the ‘only right’ way of doing things….

      “Then, it comes down to money. Would a store owner be willing to risk losing income if the employees do not do what they ask”

      one of the fallacies in the American business world is that ‘if we aren’t open people won’t buy the products” and its something I simply don’t agree with. Take for instance automobile dealerships; if they were only open 3 days a week would people suddenly stop purchasing cars? Obviously the answer is that regardless what days of the week they are open; people will still keep buying cars……..yet in Chicago, most car dealerships are open 7 days a week and many of them are open 24 hours a day!

    • The guy raising livestock was working on his own. Things get more complex when you work for someone else. I imagine they get even more complex the bigger the business grows.

      Some businesses, you’re right, would be like car dealerships, other places, like clothing stores, operate on carefree, spur-of-the-moment shopping. Sure, people will still buy clothes, but some will decide to do something else for fun if they are closed.

      Maybe that’s simply a sign of our materialistic society, though. That, and we’d need a whole new system for wages. As it is, someone who works three days a week will probably makes less than someone who works 5.

      The more I think about this, the more curious I become. I like the idea of a laid back work environment, but I’m trying to think of how such a system could work with the desires that drive the American work force. If your goal is to make as much money as you can to buy a house, for example, you’re going to go where the money is.

    • “The more I think about this, the more curious I become. I like the idea of a laid back work environment, but I’m trying to think of how such a system could work with the desires that drive the American work force. If your goal is to make as much money as you can to buy a house, for example, you’re going to go where the money is.”

      One of the things that is different about the world before the clock is the absence of ‘spur-of-the-moment’…..purchasing clothes, and other material goods was an ‘event’ or ‘journey’ for the average person. One simply didn’t run into a store the way we do now-a-days…..imagine if we eliminated all the stuff we buy ‘last minute’ or ‘spur-of-the-minute’ at places like Target, stores at the mall, or fill-in-the-blank…….We American’s love our materialism and I’m not saying that we need to change the United States; we are what we are. But it saddens me that so many people from the U.S. want to make other countries look like us 😦 Wall-Mart recently started setting up shop in Costa Rica and I drove by one on this last trip of mine; it made me really sad. Not because I hate Wall-mart (Although I don’t shop there) but because Costa Rica was just fine without Wall-Mart

    • This becomes a problem when we try and help other countries build their economies. I forget the name, but there was a thing where the United Nations gave loans to underdeveloped countries to build infrastructure. The terms of the loans forced the country to use the funds in a certain way. It was all based on how Western economies developed and didn’t take into consideration the cultural differences. It’s no surprise, then, that this program was a huge failure. Different cultures need to be free to develop on their own. If there is to be assistance, it should assist them in goals they’ve set for themselves based on their culture and needs. It’s been proven time and time again that forcing a specific method to economic success fails.

    • “This becomes a problem when we try and help other countries build their economies. I forget the name, but there was a thing where the United Nations gave loans to underdeveloped countries to build infrastructure. The terms of the loans forced the country to use the funds in a certain way. It was all based on how Western economies developed and didn’t take into consideration the cultural differences”

      excellent point; in college I had to write a lot of essays on ethnocentrism and richer Western governments (and the united nations) are often guilty of ethnocentrism because they believe that in order to help countries the said-country has to as you said, ‘use the funds in a certain way’ which then ends up corrupting certain unique cultural characteristics.

      Sadly, the Western World is obsessed with globalization and the ‘global economy’….I am one of the few people here in the States who’s eyebrow twitches at what we are doing by becoming a global economy. One of the awesome things about the human race is our uniqueness….but globalization at its very heart attacks the unique characteristics of humanity from one country-to the next.

    • It doesn’t have to attack the characteristics of a country if we do it right.

      For example, if you are a global business who works with Japan, then you should have enough respect for their culture to have a person on your team who speaks Japanese. You should expect to go to that country and follow their cultural norms. I don’t think that’s what’s happening, but that would make me happy.

      I pick Japan because I love their culture. I get pissed off when I learn than an anime or video game has been edited to fit American norms. No! It’s a Japanese product. I think we can handle some cultural differences.

      As a very young example, They changed the names of the characters in Pokemon to be “more american” Ash Ketchum’s name is Satoshi in Japan. They even went as far as to edit out onigiri and other Japanese foods and replace it with good ol’ American hot dogs and hamburgers.

      I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt anyone, child or otherwise, to know that Japanese people have Japanese names and eat onigiri.

    • you like Japan and anime? Really? I never would of guessed 😉

    • hahaha…. but you know what I mean. When you’re interacting with other cultures, there’s no reason to make them adhere to your culture. When you deal with another country, you should adapt to their culture, as they would adapt to yours if they came to your country.

      At least, I feel like that’s ideal.

    • yes, I agree.

      I used to read a lot of books about missionaries….and many European missionary’s for a long time were obsessed with changing the cultures of the places they went to. It wasn’t until Hudson Taylor went to China that the practice finally began to dissipate. Taylor was severely criticized by people in England because he wore the traditional attire of the Chinese, his church people felt that he was succumbing to some kind of evilness by dressing like the Asians…….people are so stupid at times.

    • okay… so I hate to bring up Japan again, but they have an interesting history with missionaries. They were the reasons why Japan cut itself off from the world. Violence rose up between their traditional religion (which I think was a form of Buddhism) and Christianity. The emperor saw Christian missionaries as the source of this violence and thought their culture was changing to fast. They closed themselves off to the world and banned Christianity to preserve their culture.

      The United States eventually forced war ships into the Edo harbor in 1853 and demanded they open their borders. (a civil war in Japan ensured soon after).

    • Dude, I’m totally with you. One of the reasons I read so much about missionary’s back in the day is I felt that they were going about things all wrong…….

    • Loved this exchange between you and TK…great points brought to the forefront.

    • Hey TK, my wife Cimmorene was reading a book about the history of Japan, and she referenced a LOT of what you were saying. Japan repeatedly distanced itself from Western missionaries in a number of contexts, because many WOULD pressure them to change their culture. The native religions of Japan are more than just Zen (yes, which is Buddhism as it was interpreted there), but also include Shinto, Taoism, and Confucianism.

      When Japan did open their doors to the West, it was in a very precise and measured way. Much of what anime is, actually, is Japan’s interpretation of Western culture, as the style is based on Western styles of animation, such as Warner Bros. and Disney.

    • The question isn’t whether people will buy clothes or cars. It’s who they’ll buy it from. If a business isn’t open when someone wants to buy, another business that is open will get the sale. The “laid-back” business will get fewer and fewer sales, and will soon go out of business.

    • “If a business isn’t open when someone wants to buy, another business that is open will get the sale.”

      Lee, society seemed to get along just fine in the not-to-distant past when many businesses closed up on the weekends…..if businesses are closed; life moves on and people simply come back to shop during business hours. This whole ‘staying open 24/7’ isn’t really my cup of tea so to speak .

    • But with 24/7 businesses you have the choice. You may not want to shop on weekends, but if you were a single mother working her own 40-hour week Mon-Fri, Saturday & Sunday would be the only days you COULD do your shopping. Those stores that stay open longer hours do so to cater to folks who are on different time systems than yours or mine. I’m semi-retired in central Florida. I find it difficult to leave home for my necessary errands before 11am, and I like to eat dinner after 7pm and get my entertainment between 8pm and midnight. But most of my neighbors are up at 5am, done with their errands before noon, and in bed by 7:30pm. If local businesses were “laid back” and operated only for one time system, I’d have to completely revamp my lifestyle to get what I needed. With populations enormously higher than historic levels, it seems to me that 24/7 is for the convenience of the diverse customers even more than for the profits of the owners. Even so, I agree that there has to be balance on the part of all participants.

  8. Could it be that the business owners in CR are trying to appeal to the time driven scheduled people who come to CR and therefore the only way to accomplish that in their minds is to employ people who “get it.”

    I agree with you. We have no right to impose our ways upon others. And I’m certainly not trying to justify the American business owners, nor disparage the CR workers who don’t want to adhere to our patterns.

    There is an interesting irony in all of this. American tourists go to CR to get away from the rat race and stress, but are not REALLY comfortable with the Pura Vida. They “take in” the beauty of the surroundings visually, but do not let it soak into their hearts and minds. Their spirits crave it, but they are never satisfied.

    • “There is an interesting irony in all of this. American tourists go to CR to get away from the rat race and stress, but are not REALLY comfortable with the Pura Vida. They “take in” the beauty of the surroundings visually, but do not let it soak into their hearts and minds. Their spirits crave it, but they are never satisfied.”

      EXACTLY!!! well said

  9. We can use your point making a parallel between rural society over urban society. People from villages have not a strict program though they work harder and eat healthier, they get old faster though they live longer. This is happening in Romania. I do not know any statistics just facts from my grandparents and their neighbors versus people from my daily life.

    Then if you sign to be up at 8 and to get paid on a fix date, you have to be there. I have no idea how someone can live a “Pura Vida” in this scenarios. I guess they are paid in conformity. Some humans are born to be robots some aren’t. I’m dealing these days with a style of doing nothing, no planning, no commitment. I honestly have to say that I miss my past routine which has nothing to do with money.

    • ” I honestly have to say that I miss my past routine which has nothing to do with money.”

      yea, I wish that my life didn’t revolve around paying the bills and money…but unfortunately it is a reality that I must face

    • Do not get my wrong, I do have bills other than that I will spend my life catching fish. Sometimes, English plays triks on me even that I choose French then to excel on it. Do not ask me why. 🙂 I guess we always complain for one or onother reason. This is the second nature. Out of topic, do you ever think that a coffee drink on touring will give you enough hints for an entire book?

    • “Out of topic, do you ever think that a coffee drink on touring will give you enough hints for an entire book?”

      hmmm, maybe when I make it to the UK or if I can get to Romania we will talk about this 😉

  10. When I taught in Costa Rica, it was not uncommon for students to miss important exams or to fail to turn in research papers and homework. The Costa Rican profs were no less annoyed by this than the Americans, from what I could tell. Unfortunately I never asked them how they dealt with it.

    I wonder if Costa Rican employers are more flexible with late or absentee employees than their American counterparts. I suspect they would have to be.

    There are parallels here to the situation of illegal workers in the US. Is it an imposition of culture for employers to hire Mexican men willing to work hard at manual labor for modest wages?

    • “I wonder if Costa Rican employers are more flexible with late or absentee employees than their American counterparts. I suspect they would have to be.”

      in one of the towns I stayed at for a week this past trip there was a small coffee house that was locally owned. The barista who ran the place would open up some mornings at 9am, other mornings at 10am, and others mornings at 11am…..there was no consistency but I was okay with it….because I simply walked along the ocean until I saw that she had opened up. Apparently, her boss doesn’t really care when she opened up.

      And one thing more I will add; the costa rican’s are really good about staying open late if there is business. They will stay open an hour or two later than their regular hours if customers are hanging out at the restaurant. They don’t believe in rushing people out of a restaurant because the dinner experience in costa rica can last a long time. So while they may not open on time…..they will stay open late if you are at their place 🙂

  11. Kenneth,

    Well said. I teach a course at my university in the honors program about the history of time. It’s a pretty fascinating tale, and one that doesn’t get told compared to our exploration of the first 3 dimensions. 🙂 But I also try to look at the psychological perception of time and different cultural perspectives of time. You might enjoy reading a book called The Geography of Time by Robert Levine. You are exactly right of course. There is a direct correlation between economic productiveness and time consciousness. The more a slave to the clock a society it is, the richer it will be. And poorer countries tend to be more laid back about time. That being said, it turns out that those countries also have a higher happiness level then those countries that schedule things down to the minute. Deadlines, watching the clock, it all actually does cause a lot of stress and its not very healthy. I illustrate this to students also by the fact that left without a clock we tend to experience time in a very non-linear way. Sometimes time moves quickly or more slowly depending on what we are doing. The clock, however, is a linear device which counts out even seconds and minutes and hours. It’s great for scientific measurements, maybe not so good for living your life by it.

    Places that are less time conscious tend to live according to event time. There is the time to eat the evening meal with the family. When is it? Well it’s when the family sits down to eat their meal. 🙂 Making it about the event, helps you enjoy the event a lot more, helps you focus, and tends to be more task oriented than having to worry about completing something, or stopping what you are doing and moving on before a certain deadline. I think we can all work to do a better job of at least finding a balance in our lives between being on the clock and then getting off. Golden calf indeed. Time is money. And money is that golden calf and it is tied intimately to how we view time.

    • “The Geography of Time by Robert Levine”

      I’ve actually read the book…well at least parts of it 😉

      “Places that are less time conscious tend to live according to event time. There is the time to eat the evening meal with the family. When is it? Well it’s when the family sits down to eat their meal”

      exactly. I’ve studied in depth the psychological aspects of third world countries and more developed countries and with the exceptions of countries that suffer from malnutrition; poorer countries by-and-large demonstrate higher levels of ‘happiness’ or contentment than richer countries. Perhaps I am reducing things too much but the old saying rings true; “The more possessions you own the more your possessions own you”

    • Both of these comments made me realize that part of the reason I am happy is that both my husband and I have shifted our lifestyles to a more natural time and off of linear time. Not 100% this way but certainly well over 80%. And, “The more possessions you own the more your possessions own you” I do find this to be true!

    • Mrs. P,

      I think a lot of people forget that what we think of as ‘time’ i.e. the 24 hour clock that we all live our lives by…is merely something we invented. Life seems a lot easier when we aren’t in such a big rush to get everywhere by specific times.

  12. I don’t like the work ethic nor the kill yourself until you drop, all from being a slave of the clock. My life I have created outsided mainstream USA for that reason. Yet, even within my world, I must pay attention to the clock in order to give my cats who are on medications, what must be given at certain times. Outside of that, I normally don’t pay attention and just flow. I don’t have to watch the clock either regarding feeding my cats because they tell me when it’s time. They know.

    I wish work could be deleted as simply as pushing a delete button. I wish this world would begin to embrace the importance of following the passions found in each heart that beats on this planet. It’s all about following your dreams yet not falling into the trap of being conditioned to a schedule. Oh, yes, a schedule is important for many reasons, yet to be flexible within that schedule, that is what is important. How sad so many people are rigid and inflexible due to the ethics of the majority of this world.

    Great article, Kenneth. Thank you!!

    • ” I wish this world would begin to embrace the importance of following the passions found in each heart that beats on this planet. It’s all about following your dreams yet not falling into the trap of being conditioned to a schedule”

      100% agree 🙂

  13. I like this, because of the way it made me think. It is important to think about these kinds of issues and cultural differences with as open a mind as possible. However, I’m finding it difficult to understand how any large group can function well without some kind of routine/schedule. As someone mentioned… how would any kind of business stay open at all? I mean, even if you are going to sell your produce at a farmers market… and you might not have to be there right at 7:00 am on the dot to set up, but you’d still need to show up with enough time to set up shop so that people can come to purchase items…at reasonable times. If you decided you’d want to set up at 9pm and close at 12:34am… I’d find it hard to believe everyone else will then come to shop at your stand during those hours to meet your needs. So— there must be some kind of balance. There must be some type of common agreed about hours where people will know someone will be at a place so they may get in contact with them.
    I’ve been to Costa Rica– when I was a teenager. I stayed with a friend’s family there for a month… it may have been a relaxed pace, but I wouldn’t say it had no sense of time either. Stores opened at certain times- tours left at certain times, there were “typical’ times for eating… there is still a routine/schedule, and I think that point needs to also remain clear.

    • Youre right; the tours and businesses that specifically cater to tourists are definitely on a clear-cut time schedule.

      But in my four trips to costa rica I’ve only ever stayed and eaten at places that cater to locals. The closest thing I’ve ever gotten to staying at a hotel that caters to foreigners is when I’ve stayed at hostel’s and the usual cost per night at those is $8 and its affordable enough for local’s to stay at as well…..

      so my point is that there are two different costa rica’s;

      —) The one that caters to tourists
      —) the real costa rica in which the costa rican’s live

  14. If you are providing a service then you need to be able to provide that service. If you hire someone to pick you up from the airport and take you to your hotel you do not want to wait for hours and hours, until the person responsible for picking you up, decides that he/she feels like doing it. If you have a cafe and the job of that cafe is to feed people then you would expect to walk in and be fed. If no one is there, the cook, servers, etc., then it wouldn’t be a business, it would be a closed store. If you provide a service and say you are going to do something then you better do it or no one will trust your word and you will be out of business rather quickly. It’s not okay to say you will do something and not do it. Your word has to count for something. Getting around to doing things when you feel like it, while people are counting on you, is rude and disrespectful. If you are hired to be at work at 8:00, so people can have breakfast, then you have given your word that you will be there to provide that service. You either do it or you don’t. You are either reliable or you are not. You can’t run a business and provide service to others with a staff who may or may not show up. It can’t be done. If you promise something…food, pick-up, clean room, whatever…you should provide it. A persons word is his/her bond. Don’t take the job if you don’t want to keep your word. I would hire U.S kids as well. If you can’t count on a person, there’s really nothing to talk about. Put your money where your mouth is or walk away. If you give your word and people are counting on you, and you do not do what you AGREED to do…then you are not a person to be trusted.

  15. Greetings Kenneth–hope all is well on your tour. This is a very interesting topic to me. It’s part of what I have written about in the past as well–the whole idea of entitlement. To me it is quite simple. IF there is an issue with punctuality then say so. The employer needs to let the employee that his/her behaviour is not acceptable and that if they can’t make it in on time then they will need to find employment elsewhere. I do believe that the first opportunity to work needs to go to the folks who live there but that doesn’t mean that they can come and go as they please. A job is a job and it has its expectations-or at least it should. If someone is a native Costa Rican and can’t make it to work on time then he loses out. It really is that simple. If he doesn’t want to get to work as expected that’s OK too. There are consequences to that decision. It doesn’t matter if you are Costa Rican, Puerto Rican, Canadian or American. Too many folks allow culture to take precedent over opportunity. Culture cannot be an excuse for lack of common sense. Food in my belly and a roof over my head will win out every time. Culture is culture and choices are choices. I agree that people should be able to live their lives as they see fit–it is their life after all. But if their behaviour gets them fired, they have no right to go pissin’ and moanin’ about how unfair life is. We make out choices and should be free to live them out as long as no one else is compromised or has their rights trampled in the process.

    I got to think that there is a fairly large pool of prospective employees in Costa Rica. It shouldn’t be that difficult to find people who want to work and will be dutiful employees. If not then a business man needs to hire who he can to work for him with the expectation that this person will at least be on time.

    That’s how I see it anyways, Enjoy–Jim

    • Jim,

      many good points you make, one thing you say, ” If someone is a native Costa Rican and can’t make it to work on time then he loses out.” is sort of at the heart of my article; if U.S. businessmen/women are literally changing the culture and businesses climate of Costa Rica……then I find that to be sad because I think the laid-back lifestyle of Costa Rica is something that should be preserved rather than destroyed.

  16. I was on vacation last year close to the city of Ilheus, which is on the north-east coast of Brazil in the state of Bahia. It was soooooo nice to lie back in the ocean water and allow the waves to take me along. I said to one guy there that it would be so nice to live there and be relaxed. He said to me, “But then nothing would ever get done”. Thanks to the industrial revolution, capitalization and globalization, it is almost impossible to ignore this issue of “the clock”, I think. I guess it’s all about being balanced. We humans tend to go to extremes. At least that has been my observation. Americans (and others from cold climate countries) can learn from the Costa Ricans (take like a bit easier, relax more, try and see that money and material possessions aren’t the answer to having a happy and fulfilled life) and the Costa Ricans (and others from hot climate countries) can learn from Americans (respect that if they want to have a job in a certain place and earn their pay there, then there are certain guidelines that should be respected).
    I’m not much of a sociologist, but this is just my small view of it all.
    Blessings =)
    Staci

    • “extremes”

      is definitely the key word. Perhaps that is what bothers me the most; American businessmen/women are bringing the extremes of our fast-paced business culture to costa rica and changing the face of their country. From my first trip to Costa Rica five years ago and then on each of my subsequent 3 trips I noticed very clear changes everywhere I went….and everything smelled of the United States….I find it a bit sad

    • Oh, that really is sad. I believe that culture within the different nations of the world really need to be preserved. It’s like in Brazil – and other parts of the world where European and American missionaries went – how now pastors and preachers and even just members (mostly men) of the church are using full suits and ties in blazing hot weather.
      I also believe in redeeming cultures. For example, samba in Brazil, or any other cultural dance that may have been used for sensual or pagan (or any other) spiritual practice, can be redeemed and used for the glory of God. Or even events like Carnaval. The very name gives the impression of the ‘party of the flesh’. However, it is rich with culture and can be redeemed for the glory of God.
      Blessings =)
      Staci

  17. Many Americans are (literally) working to death hoping to EVENTUALLY obtain the same laid back kind of lifestyle enjoyed in other cultures. The western way/work ethic is often associated with success but is that really success?

    Just about every other prescription I fill is for some type of anti-depressant or “nerve” pill. Stomach meds for ulcers run a close second. The stress from our “work ethic” may be killing us!

    Decades ago in the U.S., stores open 24/7 would have been thought of as absurd. Now, it is the expectation. If a store isn’t open the maximum hours available, there is fear that sales are lost to competitors.This has resulted in a diminished quality of life for employees who in this day are just grateful to have a job. This leaves ever decreasing time for friends, family, church or even to serve others.

    Perhaps when our culture was a bit more “laid back” and stores were closed on Sundays, OUR quality of life was better. There were shorter workdays, not 10, 12 and 14 hours people are averaging now. People had time to LIVE and not merely exist. Our economic “advancements” of anything at anytime have merely left us working harder to achieve what we once had. Now more people are running the treadmill of success and getting nowhere.

    I may be naive but If I’m going to move to another country I would expect to acclimate to that country’s way of life and not the other way around. I suspect there are successful businesses in “laid back” countries that don’t follow a western model and do well. I suspect other cultures actually managed to THRIVE before the “western influence” became the “superior” business model.

    If I should ever get the opportunity to live on an Island Paradise, working in the same mode as I have the past twenty plus years would surely defeat the purpose ob being there. I think I could QUICKLY acclimate to the slower pace of life and be a lot healthier because of it! Just saying. 🙂

    • “Decades ago in the U.S., stores open 24/7 would have been thought of as absurd. Now, it is the expectation. If a store isn’t open the maximum hours available, there is fear that sales are lost to competitors.This has resulted in a diminished quality of life for employees who in this day are just grateful to have a job. This leaves ever decreasing time for friends, family, church or even to serve others.”

      Lil,

      right on. I’m surprised more of the commenters have forgotten the point you’re making. For some reason a lot of people seem to think that the way it is in the United States right now….is the way it has always been…..yet as you’ve pointed out that is not the case.

  18. Great perspective, as usual. Personally, and as others have said, if I were going to live in Costa Rica it would be to escape the “clock” driven world we live in, not export it.
    Btw, hope you’re staying warm. It was minus 30 wind chill in my part of the Midwest today. A good day to drink coffee by a nice warm fireplace. 🙂

    • “Great perspective, as usual. Personally, and as others have said, if I were going to live in Costa Rica it would be to escape the “clock” driven world we live in, not export it.”

      Mel,

      EXACTLY! I find it humorous that a lot of people criticize the costa rican’s for not having the same ‘clock-based’ mentality…..when that’s the very thing I enjoy getting away from!

  19. Very thought provoking post. At first I was siding with the business owners…after all they do need to be able to have prediction when it comes to their employees. But, you got me when you brought up the past relationship of the Europeans to the Indians and that is something that I feel very strongly about.

    The Indian culture for the most part really only took what they needed to survive. They were economists and made use of every resource they had…wasting nothing. They were respectful towards nature and each other and they learned to live in peace until the Europeans started investing them in their own wars.

    What the Europeans and the US businessmen have in common is greed. They see something beautiful and they want it, they take it at whatever cost. So, maybe your right…maybe Costa Rican’s should be allowed to keep their culture…and maybe, US businessmen should go someplace where the natives lifestyle aligns closer to theirs.

    • Mrs P,

      for some reason a lot of people in the U.S. simply take for granted the characteristics of our culture and assume that the way we do things is ‘the right way’ and ultimately this way of thinking can be encapsulated in the term ‘ethnocentrism’……I fear that this mentality will go on forever until all the beautiful and unique characteristics of little countries like costa rica are eventually destroyed.

  20. What did the Costa Rican business owner have to say about on time attendance, do they have the same problem?

  21. It’s not just businesses we become part of. Most of the landlords we have met like having American’s for tenants because most American’s pay their rent on time; do not destroy the unit and they keep it clean. The other thing is that Costa Rica really likes American companies. One of the largest employers is Intel. Which is why the cost of living in Costa Rica has increased. Most workers are now making in excesses of $1000 a month. The national average is much less. So there is good and bad in every country.

    The people you are talking about don’t want to hassle with getting a work visa. In some countries; even if you are the business owner; unless you a local you are also not allowed to work in the business unless a local is present. Recently met a man who owns a restaurant in Sibenik, Croatia. He is from Macedonia so not a local Croat. He was found to be alone in his business working one day by an inspector and fined $10,000. It was a risk the owner took to keep his doors open.

    Lots of reasons behind what drives people to ‘break the law’.

    • “He was found to be alone in his business working one day by an inspector and fined $10,000. It was a risk the owner took to keep his doors open. ”

      wow! that was definitely a costly risk he took.

    • I thought it was stupid :). He is careful now however and has someone around all the time. He is desperate to make money. He sold everything he had in Macedonia to open this place in Croatia. So sometimes it is desperation that drives people to do those things they shouldn’t.

  22. I think people adopt what works for them; even in relationships, if a particular methodology fails then the partners come together and decide what should be an alternate approach and implement it; why is it different with life as long as you operate within the standard code of ethics?

  23. As a person with zero sense of time (have I been sitting here 10 minutes or an hour? No idea!) I always suffered a lot of stress when living and working in a time-oriented society with strict schedules. However, my stress level dropped when I started working entirely for myself as a translator/writer. I still had deadlines to meet but I could choose the hours I worked- and that meant I could follow my natural rhythms. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d still be here! My first (German) employer told me in no uncertain terms that unpunctual = unreliable.

    • “I always suffered a lot of stress when living and working in a time-oriented society with strict schedules”

      I think that the people who disagree with a more laid-back lifestyle aren’t realizing to what degree stress is affecting people in the Western World.

  24. I don’t believe life should be a place to have fun all the time. Life is a place to work and create. When you have a business, you have to get open when its time. When people need to buy. And if you prefer go at the beach, you’re not going to sell anything. Simple… The schedule is a tool to help us being organized. Not to be enslave… If we tell the clients we’re open from 8 to 5, the door must be open in these hours and the workers need to be there also. Now, some people are still asking why there is leaders and followers… You just gave the answer. People that can make a good use of time, of a schedule, is a sign of maturity and social wealth. Burnout aren’t cause by this but by people that just can’t deal with it. I guess they like to go at the beach…

  25. The bottom line is, if you agree to do something, if you give your word and accept the job as it is laid out to you, then you have made a contract and a promise to the person who offered the job. If you say that you will fulfill your promise, to abide by the expectations of the job, then you should be expected to fulfill the expectations of the job. If you cannot manage to do that then you should not agree to the terms. And the people of Costa Rica are destroying their own culture by hiring Americans. We are not attacking their country or invading their country. You can’t preserve a culture because change is constant. We can’t live like people did in the past because the past is gone and things have changed. We might not like it but you can’t stop it. We can’t stop war and no one, other than the people making a lot of money, want that either. It’s not that I don’t understand what you’re saying but I don’t see how you can change what’s happening. And the Costa Rican people would have to step in and save their own culture because they are the ones who are changing it by hiring people from the states, and I’m sure other countries as well. It is what it is. Everyone has choices. You can work or not work, you can hire people from your own culture or from a different culture…choices. I believe you when you say the Costa Rican people are happy…apparently their employers are not.

  26. Perhaps forcing values on other societies means that those doing the forcing do not have to ask too many questions about their own conduct or lifestyle?

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