As a great believer in face-to -face dialogue, I was able to arrange and schedule meetings far more quickly than via email. If I could not reach to an individual or their PA I could certainly ring up and talk through the details of the meeting. In this way, we would agree on details to ensure that it went ahead as smoothly as possible.
As in all business, an email is not the most efficient means by which to organise meetings due to the sheer number of messages in many inboxes. Even PAs become inundated with emails whereas a friendly chat reinforces the point. Emails are fantastic as a great follow-up so that meetings go into diaries, but nothing beats the personal approach. In essence, rather than keeping up with technological advances, the old, tried and tested ways seem to work best. They also add that human element that, to some degree, can be sadly lacking nowadays.
On a cultural side, many of the British team suffered with the South American timetable for meals and generally timings for everyday life. For example, the team were simply not accustomed to finishing work at 6 pm and having to wait until 9pm for their evening meal. ‘When in Rome…’ only works if one is in-country long enough to acclimatise in all senses of the word. It is useful to follow the lead of the locals and have ‘tea’ in the late afternoon. This, however, then results in a potential problem of going to bed on quite a full stomach which can cause sleep problems. The point is that there is not always an easy solution, one has to tailor this to the group. The best fit is often the most appropriate outcome. In Spanish, a popular saying recommends to have breakfast (desayuno) like a King, lunch (almuerzo) like a Prince and dinner (cena) like a pauper. Perhaps herein lies a solution though some change might be required!
Talking to the owner of a local restaurant would seem a simple solution. One must not forget that this will change their normal working day. As such, there needs to be a clearly defined and significant benefit for them. This could come in the form of confirmed bookings, a supplement and/or recommendation for future British residents at the hotel.
This support needs to form part of any advance party travelling to a new location. One is only as good as the information made available. The arrival of a couple of individuals a few days prior to that of the main group will always bear fruit. The Advance Party will have had the time to get their bearings, seek recommendations, try them out and be able to create a ‘Welcome Pack’. Some of this is achievable via the internet, and research before travelling will be very useful. Nothing, however, really beats first-hand experience and physically following up on trusted recommendations.
It is heartening to be able to look back on my time in-country as an unmitigated success. I added concrete value where elements would not have been possible should I not have been there. The office ran smoothly and I was on hand to facilitate and deal with the unexpected. I was even asked to return as the Company’s Office Manager. Although a huge compliment regarding their belief in my abilities, this was somewhat removed from the linguistic and cultural work to which I am far better suited.