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Alejandro Navas, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

Different business cultures in the face of the crisis

Fri, 25 Jun 2010 07:20:44 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Saturday night in Zaragoza. It is interesting to mention the city because it is the location that companies use to test their new products: it seems that Zaragozans are an accurate representation of the average Spanish consumer behavior. I am invited to dinner at a colleague's house, who lives in a large place in one of the new neighborhoods of the city. I arrive at the scheduled time and press the doorbell. The house is new and everything is supposed to work perfectly, but they don't open the door. I insist without success. I wait for someone to enter or leave the house, but no luck, maybe because of the rain that threatens to turn into a storm. I don't have my cell phone with me, so I am forced to look for a phone to call my friends to open the door. No problem, because I see a public phone very close, but unfortunately it does not work. I look for a hotel establishment.

The place is large and bustling, and fortune smiles on me. Almost next to the purely decorative pay phone is a cafeteria. I enter, and meeting the manager and a customer. I ask for a phone: they don't have one. I try to get them to do me the favor of letting me use their cell phone, but the South American manager replies that he doesn't have one either and can't help me. I leave the cafeteria somewhat discouraged, but willing to keep looking. Nearby there is a cafeteria; as I approach, I see that it is full of people. The waitresses are Chinese, friendly and very active. There is a pay phone at one end of the counter. As I have no coins, I hand over a bill to change and the waitress attends me with efficiency and friendliness. The phone works perfectly and I can talk to my colleague. Her husband leave opens the portal for me and I am happy to get to their house, where I will enjoy a pleasant evening.

The telephone incident is of no importance, but this little anecdote got me thinking. It shows once again that the hospitality industry is increasingly relying on immigrant labor, and not only for less skilled jobs. But the attitude of the immigrants is quite different depending on the country of origin. Many South Americans, North Africans and even Eastern Europeans come here to become salaried employees. The case of the Chinese is different: although they initially work in the service of others - very often compatriots or even members of their own family - their goal is to become entrepreneurs themselves. The way to achieve this is simple: work tirelessly and provide good service to customers. My experience the other day in Zaragoza is no exception: there was only one customer at cafeteria and cafeteria was full. People vote with their feet, in this and any other industry. And in fact we see how that hundred or so thousands of Chinese immigrants have become an economic powerhouse in just a few years. They are expanding their traditional field of business -restaurants, bazaars, textile shops- and, for example, they are acquiring traditional bars and cafeterias. The image of the most typical tapas bars or taverns in Chinese hands is no longer exceptional. There are also shadows in this spectacular development -I am thinking, for example, of the hairdressing salons that serve as a cover for brothels-, but this tells us that the Chinese are human and that the authorities must be vigilant to ensure that they comply with the law like everyone else.

We have been plunged into the deepest economic crisis in our recent history for a couple of years now. The political class did not sample rise to the occasion: a government that took too long simply to recognize the seriousness of the status and that has followed an erratic and incoherent course, to the point of forcing the great powers to protect our Economics, and a civil service examination that hesitates between signing up to the easy "the worse, the better" or showing a sense of State and lending a hand. But neither are the major social actors, employers and trade unions, complying, and what do the rest of us, who are almost all of us, do in the meantime? We should take an example from those Chinese: work tirelessly with a positive attitude. The fact that we are at the bottom of Europe in terms of productivity cannot be blamed solely on the political parties. It is time to abandon the culture of complaint and passivity and get down to serious work.