Southern Cultures 10.2 (2004) 98-102
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Ways of Dixie Win in Latin America
Helen Bullitt Lowry
This is the paradox of American business: Evolution has produced the type of Go-Getter best fitted to sustain life and salary and the rising cost of golf and a rising taste in motors in a nation where business is geared up to high. Then, just as this type is successfully standardized and operating in our business world with 100 percent efficiency, along comes the "catch" of trade with Latin America. Go-Getters are not worth a darn on the other side of the Rio Grande.
The Latins do not like our famous high-powered salesmanship or our efficiency experts, our Fire Prevention Weeks or our Eat More Apples Weeks, our chain hotels or our realtor associations or the peppy young hustlers that we send down to do business with them. In 400 years of racial strife it remained for American business to produce the brand of Anglo-Saxon that is most distasteful to the Latin temperament.
The World's Best Prospect
In the words of America's own business vocabulary, Latin America is the world's best "prospect," yet here we are balked by the embarrassing fact that the best prospect does not like us. In spite of the rules of geography and freight rates and gold reserves, he much prefers doing business with Germany or France or England.
Then what about utilizing "those lazy Southerners" of ours in this national economic emergency? They have been an economic waste product until now, "those lazy Southerners," as pep-driven America calls them. A penniless gentry they are, left stranded in a hustling modern world after the passing of their slave-served aristocracy. Their women cling poignantly to the tradition of family in a nation that has adopted dollars as a gauge of lineage. Their men say "Yes, sir," and take time for the elaboration of manners in a business world that has adopted the slogan of "Sign on the dotted line."
The Southerners who have gone North have had to drop their drawl and their restful afternoons and the ceremonious manners their mothers taught them, because the North thinks such manners an affectation in business hours. They have had to become Go-Getters and some have become Babbitts of the worst order. Success north of the Mason-Dixon line has been bought by adapting themselves to their environment.
But the Southerner who has gone South into Latin America has remained himself, only more so. It has been easier to fit into Caracas or Guatemala City or Bogota than into Detroit or Pittsburgh. It has been a shorter cut to drift back into the feudalism of a Colombia and a Peru than to go forward—if you call it forward— [End Page 98] into the sanitation and hustle and efficiency of modern America. In truth, the grandson of a Louisiana or Virginia planter slips without a jolt into a continent where quite palpably all men were not created free and equal.
A commentator on Latin-American affairs offers this explanation of why young North Americans make poorer colonists in South America than do their British and German competitors:
"They pine away in the chill vacuum between the punctilious upper class and the illiterate impossible lower world. There is no warm, comfortable middle ground."
But it is in this warm, comfortable middle ground of our American cities that your young Southerner of good breeding does not mingle happily. The gusto of the commercial club set leaves him uncomfortable. Oddly enough, too, he finds that social credentials will carry him into the proud little aristocracy of a Latin republic, while the same credentials may fail to land him in the moneyed social oligarchy of a Northern city. In Latin America they still take letters of introduction seriously.
And foreign business introductions also carry weight among the punctilious Latins, with whom business and society are an interwoven fabric—not because the upper classes are in business as such, but because they own the million head of cattle or the...