Spending time in a busy US office after being in Ethiopia for a year was a major adjustment. In the US there's just too much stuff, and it's all moving really really fast. Things happen at broadband, wired, cross-networked, 1.5 gb speed. Meetings are scheduled via networked calendars back-to-back-to-back. Conversations happen in shorthand rapid-speak while passing in the hallway. People don't know each other personally. People seem to stagger out of work punch-drunk with the non-stop meetings and deadlines.
In Ethiopia, people work just as hard, but it's different. As I've written in earlier posts, things happen that are way out of people's control: the electricity goes out, the internet goes down, phone service goes out, Bole Rd. is closed for an hour because the Prime Minister is going for a plane ride, the government clients show up two hours late for a necessary meeting. So all meetings, and sometimes deadlines, are tentative. There is just so much out of everyone's control that there is no place for the expectations of immediacy and super-efficiency.
When these two worlds collide it's often unpleasant. From the viewpoint of someone who works at the home office in the US, field office staff can seem slow, unresponsive, or even inattentive, and lacking any sense of urgency. For Ethiopians, US-based colleagues can seem demanding, brusque, and unreasonable in their expectations. It's good when US-based folks can come to visit our offices. It's good when Ethiopians can visit the home office for a while. At least it takes away the "jerk factor." Having walked at least 1/2 mile in the other person's shoes makes one less likely to ask "what's wrong with those jerks?"