The expression also exists in Mexico at work. Which is surprising when you know that Mexicans are anything but aggressive! Its meaning differs from the French one I was familiar with. Here is some insight to help you understand and grasp how Mexicans behave at work, regardless of your position in the firm.
A particular team spirit in Mexico
One day, I asked one of my colleagues in the accounting department: “ José, do you plan on doing this job your entire life or would you like to learn different skills, move towards more responsibilities in finance?” Just by writing down this question I realize the huge cultural gap! He replied: “Do you know about the crab basket?” I searched through my French references what that expression represented but could not find anything that had to do with the context or my question..
I gave him a skeptical look, so he went on to explain: “ Imagine a huge basket, at the bottom of which are all Mexicans. Imagine one of them manages to reach the top of the basket, ready to fall on the other side – towards social and professional success. He only needs to take one more step to fall over when he is caught by the foot by another person, who is helped by the human ladder that has been formed to bring “the fugitive” back to the bottom, with everybody else. If someone else tries to escape later on, the one who had almost succeeded will be among those catching his foot, and so on”. Is that what Mexicans think is the best behavior to get individual results?
Cultural determinism or individualism?
The crab basket metaphor is very much present in people’s minds, as can attest my colleague’s response. Where other cultures would help one another escape from the basket as a group and have the opportunity to move up socially and professionally, few Mexicans believe they can escape their destiny. Many still believe that the one who wants to “get away” could too rarely achieve his ambitions. It is likely that many Mexicans aren’t confident in their skills and, therefore, do not think about moving up in the hierarchy. Everyone is happy with the position they have, even consider themselves lucky to have it, so why would they risk changing it? With that in mind, there is no frustration and a friendly team spirit.
You are probably asking yourself: when does a Mexican help his colleagues out? The answer is: when he is convinced that the person he is helping will not gain more out of it than himself. He will therefore refrain from helping out when he feels he is contributing to the success (superior to his own) of his colleague. That colleague is no longer seen as a “human being” but only as the gain he obtains from the help. Mexicans rarely see the result of a potential team spirit, probably because it is achieved on the long term (see the Mexican relationship to time).
That metaphor, among other things, helped me understand why as foreigners we sometime feel that not enough initiatives are taken at work in Mexico.
NB: The above is based on a situation I experienced with a Mexican colleague I was working with. I do not by any means want to generalize or stereotype all Mexicans, do not misunderstand my purpose. I am only describing a certain team spirit that exists and could surprise you as well if you work in Mexico.
To take a step further, Exapt2work offers a customized coaching to help you understand and assimilate the way Mexican firms work: : http://www.expat2work.com/le-programme. If you are still hesitant, let’s meet for a 30-minute session, free and with no commitment. To sign up, click on the following link:http://www.expat2work.com/seance-gratuite/
Translated by Florence Razé
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