Tuesday, October 03, 2017

it's hard to siesta if you work all day

Some essays on Mexpatriate almost write themselves.

The current edition of The Economist reports on an extended national vacation declared by the South Korean government in an attempt to pry workers from their desks. Koreans have a well-deserved reputation for being chronic workaholics.

South Koreans, that is. North Korean leaders have an entirely different reputation. Their people cannot afford to have their own reputation.

The following sentence slammed on my reading brakes. "Workers in South Korea toil for more hours each year than those in any other member of the OECD [the 35 richest countries] except for Mexico."

It was the "except for Mexico" that yanked me away from the article to search the OECD website.

It is true. South Korea is third on the list I found, with Costa Rica as number two. But, there it was in blue and white -- in 2016 the "average annual hours worked" by a Mexican worker was 2,255. More than any other OECD nation.

That is about 43 hours a week. But it includes averages for full and part time workers.

To put that number in perspective, American workers (long famed for their workaholic ways) are in 15th place at 1783 hours. Canadians are in 22nd place at 1713 hours.

Now, it is possible to get picky with these studies. I usually do. The most obvious target for skepticism is the definition of "worker." But, for a person who is working, an average of 43 hours (not taking into account vacation days) is a lot of hours when it comes week after week.

I have several northern and European friends who scoff when I point out that Mexico is a world-class economic power. Its membership in the OECD is just an example -- along with the fact that its GDP is the 15th largest in the world.

Even though most of them would deny it, when they hear "Mexican," they think of a sombreroed campesino, wrapped in a serape, napping in the shade of a cactus while his burro waits patiently nearby. Our local shops sell refrigerator magnets and planters of that very image. After all, 20 pesos is 20 pesos.

Between the overtime worker and the siesta king, those of us who have lived any time in Mexico know which vision is the more accurate.

And that is why Mexico's lead in the hours worked chart should not have surprised me. When I head out on my dawn walk, construction workers are arriving on site, and they do not leave until I pass by again in the evening as the sun is setting.

The same goes for the garbage guys. Or the shop owners. They always seem to be on duty. No matter the time of day. For the shops, that usually means staying open until a lot of us old northerners have slipped between the sheets.

That hours worked number carries its own warning. For a lot of Mexicans it is a matter of necessity. The hourly wages here are not high. And, if anyone wants to get ahead economically, the path is working more hours.

But I am not scandalized by that theory, either. I was raised in a household where our family motto easily could have been laborare est orare -- to work is to pray. Work gives us a psychological sense of who we are in this world. And it certifies our self-worth.

I suppose that is one reason I so admire my neighbors. They are a people who know the value of work -- and they do it well.

Good job, Mexico. Keep up the work.

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