I love the guys at Chido Bueno as much as I love their products. They have taken exporting Mexican goods to a whole new level, adding style, design and love into their handicrafts and clothes. They work closely with artisans, designing things together and they make sure their artisans are paid well for the amazing work they do. It is for that reason that my wardrobe (and apartment) is stocked with Chido Bueno and I want more. So, I was delighted to read this super piece by one half of the Chido Bueno team, Layla Meerloo when it dropped into my inbox and I couldn’t wait to share it with you guys. It is such a great reflection on the challenges and joys of cross cultural work and communication…
There is no clearer sign of communication failure than getting handed something small, pink and rough when you ordered something big, black and shiny. Suddenly it becomes very apparent that you have been talking about totally different things without realising it…
I have been working with artisans to create new handicrafts for years and I am still surprised (and admittedly often frustrated!) by results, but it’s always a good lesson in communication and culture!
Here are my top tips for trying to avoid serious miscommunication, frustration and miscommunication in Mexico, based on years of trying to understand artisans!
1) Time is relative
As a European, and a general good girl, I have an inbuilt clock, which means I naturally want to arrive at the agreed time. However, here it is safe to assume that the time agreed with an artisan (or anyone else for that matter) will be at least 20 minutes later, minimum. This can be tough to handle if you’ve literally run out of the house thinking ‘I’m late, I’m late!’ and you arrive sweating to find… no one. But that’s ok, I now think of it as a little ‘me time,’ when I can do some wistful thinking, enjoy the view, catch my breath… It’s actually quite nice.
2) ‘Yes’ has a multitude of meanings which aren’t always anywhere close to an affirmative
I have learnt that ‘yes’ can mean a wide variety of things, ranging from ‘yes definitely,’ to ‘definitely maybe,’ ‘I may consider it,’ to ‘no,’ ‘no way,’ and ‘I hope this means that she’ll leave me alone now.’
This is because people feel mean saying ‘no,’ so in order to avoid such terrible discomfort they try to say it as little as possible. This can be difficult when you would like an answer to a ‘yes/no’ question.
You have to learn the degree to which a ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ through other factors such as how interested they look, if its something relatively easy, how often they’ve let you down before and, most importantly, if they actually do it!
3) Don’t make assumptions
I will never forget the day, right at the beginning of Chido Bueno,that Acasia gave us pink and black tops instead of white and black ones and could NOT understand why we were bothered (they were very nice!)
This one is very hard, because you don’t always know what you have assumed until its too late, as the very nature of an assumption is that its something that you don’t even think about…
Here are some assumptions that I now know that I can’t make:
- That someone speaks/understands Spanish (there are many indigenous languages in Oaxaca)
- Even if we do speak the same language it doesn’t mean we actually ‘get’ each other
- What is really, really important to me (timeliness, colour schemes, standardised sizes) is not necessarily important to them
- Not everyone is literate in reading, writing and images
I still make assumptions. I assume that a key element, such as I want these red tops to be red, has been understood with out explicitly saying ‘I want it to be red, no matter what!’ Inevitably, the one thing that slips my mind to mention seems to be so glaringly obvious once I get my pieces back!
4) Things are never ‘under control’
There are a million tiny and huge things that can get in the way of even the simplest of tasks, a roadblock, a rainstorm, a fiesta…. This means you don’t always get what you want, when you want it or how you want it. Sadly there is only one way to deal with this – accept it! Oh and factor it in with any promises you make anyone – always have a ‘no-control’ clause!
5) Surprises are inevitable…
…and wonderful! They can lead to pieces you never imagined possible, because they are made in a space where two minds and two (or more) cultures meet and create something entirely new.
Layla and Fizzy Meerloo are Chido Bueno a small business with the big idea of brining the wonders of Mexican handicrafts to the world. Fizzy is an artist and social scientist, based in London and Layla is a translator and anthropologist living in Oaxaca. They share a love for Mexico and all of the secrets yet to be uncovered. Visit their website or follow them on facebook to keep up to date with their latest products.