“To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is to be dead.”
As Americans, I’m sure that we are all very familiar with this phrase. It was posted on signs in classrooms while growing up, and is all around a normal mindset in the United States. Time is valued very highly, and along with that comes the importance of punctuality. It gets to the point where punctuality is rated on many job evaluations, and you can lose your job from being too careless about it. If you are late, it is very often taken as you don’t care about wasting other people’s time.
This is of course how I was raised, and I consider myself to be punctual to my core. I get stressed when I think I am going to be later than 5 minutes early. I become impatient when I feel that my time is being wasted – especially when someone is late to something we planned together. This is obviously not the case for every American, but it is certainly normal within our culture. As for the Spanish culture, it is a bit different. Maybe a lot different.
This is something we learned about long before arriving in Spain – Spaniards don’t tend to be the most timely people. Punctuality simply isn’t as valued here as it is at home. This is reflected by many of the large parts of their culture – for example, the later meals, the later bedtime, the later work schedules… Everything is later. And as a whole, Spain has a more relaxed culture than we do in the United States. It is not that one way is better or worse than the other, it is simply cultural differences.
As I am officially five weeks in and at the half way point of my program (I don’t want to talk about it), I’ve grown accustomed to most of these cultural differences. In fact, I’ve noticed two very distinct ways I’ve been getting used to them. The majority of the time, I’ve picked up different customs and have incorporated them into my daily life. However, the other option is that I find myself very impatient with specific habits that I am not used to. I’ve also noticed that the latter always relates to feeling like my time is being wasted.
The lack of punctuality is very prevalent in day-to-day life. For example, my work has a flexible schedule. You are allowed to come in any time between 9 am and 10 am and leave between 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm (when you arrive determines when you leave). I like to have my day finished early, so I am always seated at my desk at 8:59 am, ready to start my day at 9. My company has a bit less than 100 employees, and I would guess that there are about five other employees there when I arrive. Most of the other employees arrive sometime in the hour that is given, but it is very normal for people to continue arriving up until 11 am. This shocked me at first because it would never be okay for an employee to continuously arrive an hour late in the United States.
Another habit that is VERY common is one that I notice on my way to work in the metro station every day. The metro is very high-paced in the morning – everyone is on their way to work. I am included in this high-paced atmosphere because, like I said, I am punctual to my core. However, it happens at least once a morning where people will be walking in front of me and simply stop walking. They will check their phones, look around at the signs, or have a conversation with a friend. Either way, they carelessly stop the flow of walking traffic and block many people who are in a rush. This is my absolute biggest pet peeve here in Spain.
I find it very interesting because I still do find the laid back culture of Spain very charming. I’ve found myself more relaxed and picking up on some of the traits that fall into this cultural attitude. Upon arrival, we received advice that I’ve found really useful in times of frustration. The advice was to not let moments of discomfort pass, but rather to take note of it and figure out what exactly is making you feel that way. By doing this, I’ve been able to learn a lot about Spain’s culture and my own culture by comparing the differences that I notice on a daily basis. This experience is completely about learning, and you can’t learn without some frustrations along the way.
I am also certain that I’ll be able to utilize what I’ve mentioned in this post in my future career. I think that by acknowledging what bothers you about another culture allows you to understand it more deeply than by simply admiring it from afar. I believe it shows that I am truly immersing myself. It will also give me a better acceptance and understanding of cultures that I may be completely unfamiliar with. In the future, I will be much more prepared to work with people very different than me. I can already feel myself getting a more open mind because of my time here.
That’s all for now, hasta luego!