An afternoon in Ohrid

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Business in Macedonia

This last week I've been attending a conference for agricultural professors in Macedonia - what fun. The all day long seminars in Intensive Swine Production and Chicken Nutrition have been led by an Englishman and a Bulgarian, both teaching in English. The seminars were somewhat technical and the poor Albanian translator knew few words for pork production, since they don't eat pork. How would she ever know weaner pig, boar, gilt, etc.? But the seminars weren't so much about learning the material as getting the power-points and networking. Consequently the lecturers would talk for 40 minutes, then we'd take half hour breaks - my way of conferencing! Luli is a premier networker, so before long we were talking to students in aquaculture and municipal and government officials from Albania, a farmer and agricultural workers from Kosovo, and Macedonians from agricultural colleges across Macedonia. Several spoke to me in English, but when together they talked Albanian, which I followed somewhat and even got to practice a little. They all invited us to visit them, and we will probably visit some of the people in Albania, but sadly I am forbidden to go to Kosovo. It's especially sad because Kosovoans love Americans, especially Bill Clinton, who championed the creation of the country. One of the attendees actually lives on Bill Clinton Street. But I digress from my topic.

Since the conference continues next week but the visitors had nothing to do over the weekend, Luli wanted to set up visits for them to a fish farm, the cheese factory, a cow farm and a sheep farm. The conference was at South East European University in Tetovo, so we needed to find a bus to transport our friends. We were checking all around, but no luck, so Luli decided to stop at a friend's business, a garage, on the way home.

Another quick digression to explain the context of business here. As I've said before, people in Macedonia tend to stay close to home and family, though that is changing a bit with the younger generation. Country nationals also count their families back through 6 generations, so they have a ton of cousins, sometimes a few times removed, but still family. In addition, everyone pretty much knows everyone else who has lived in the area for a while. PC tells us that it's good to connect with a family, because then you not only have them looking out for you, but all the collateral relatives and friends as well. When they do business, they always do it with friends and family. It's therefore very bad form not to first talk about how everyone is in the family, find out who is doing what, etc. This is almost always done over a cup of coffee. If you don't drink coffee before coming to Macedonia, it's time to start. Their coffee is Turkish coffee, very strong and very sweet, but they also have cappuccinos and machiatos. You constantly see young men, sometimes even on bicycles, carrying trays with cups of coffee to some shop where people are visiting.

So anyway, before we could find out about the mini-bus, we had to have coffee. The owner of the garage pulled out 3 chairs and put them in front of the garage bays, shouted over to the coffee shop a couple of doors down, and we relaxed, chatted and drank coffee. While I was there a delivery truck from my favorite cheese store pulled up. The driver of the truck walked over to the tire rack and pulled out a tire. No, no, said the owner, wrong one, and pointed to the correct one. The driver took it out, and started to assemble the hydraulic lug nut remover. No, no, said the owner, jack it up first. So he jacked it up, changed the tire, and filled it with air. He went over to someone in the garage, told them to put it on his bill, and drove off. Boy does that reduce labor costs when your customers do the work! But they were all friends, and everyone knew what was going on, so it was no big deal! It's little things like that that I love about Macedonia!

Of course, with everything wonderful comes its disadvantages. One disadvantage is that the clannishness of Macedonia also keeps people separated, hence some of the troubles between ethnic groups and outsiders coming into Macedonia. Most business is done informally, and it would be difficult to operate if you don't have those connections. But I'm very lucky with my counterpart, who takes me along and introduces me to everyone in the community, and being an American here definitely confers special status.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like how Joe does business, chats all day, no coffee , only Coke.