Silent Agreement

My dad once went to Portugal for work. Being the good German that he is, he showed up at the plant at 8 AM sharp, but no one was around. At 9 AM, the first people showed up, unlocked the door, and had some coffee. By 10 AM, they finally started discussing some work issue, but it was not the one my dad had come to help and solve.

Eventually, my dad started asking them when they would get to work on this thing, but by then it was almost 12, clearly time for lunch. After lunch there was a break and then more coffee, and around 4 PM, everyone finally, gloriously began to work – and then, work like hell they did. At around 9 PM, the employees dragged my dad to dinner, and at 11 PM, he fell asleep before his head hit the pillow.

Going in with a German attitude, my dad had simply missed the silent Portuguese agreement: It is too hot to work in the morning, so we work in the afternoon. And, after walking around the streets of Lisbon at 37 degrees Celsius, I can only say: I absolutely understand.

When nature gets too hot, it makes sense to push back social life a few hours. But if you don’t know about this convention or don’t allow yourself to give it a try, let alone settle into it, you’ll get left behind. Whatever resentment follows is on you, not the convention.

There are many silent agreements in many places of the world. Wherever you go, you’ll encounter them among teams, families, and nations. It is our duty to listen for these agreements, honor them if they make sense, and adjust as well as we can depending on how much adjustment the situation demands.

You can choose to be annoyed by your ignorance, or you can make discovering silent agreements fun. The decision is yours, but my guess is you’ll sleep better if you choose the latter – and you definitely won’t show up way too early for work.