Annoying things in Spain, Culture Shock

Lateness in Spain? No pasa nada!

The other night I was waiting for a film to come on Antenna 3, one of the more popular Spanish channels. It was about 10.30pm, and the film was due to start at 10.30pm. Now this wasn’t during the Olympics, a long tennis match, or a delay on TV thanks to some stupid political debate between stupid Spanish politicians. It was just your average Sunday night.

Always late, for a very important date! Photo by Laura2008

“How can the TV be late?” I asked my wife. She looked at me, sighed, and raised her eyebrows, knowing what was going to come. “It’s the TV. Surely, it’s automatic these days. When the clock clicks to 10.30, the film comes on. Or is there still a funny little chubby guy with a fat moustache loading up the reels at Antenna 3. Maybe he’s having a fag break or something, and just forgot he was supposed to be putting the Sunday night film on. Or maybe he is getting paid cash in hand for allowing a couple more adverts on, just to wind up the public.”

“What does it matter?” my wife said. “It will be on in a minute.”

“It’s just not right. It’s three minutes late. Back home people would be starting riots, burning down the TV station, and out in the streets with placards complaining that the television world has gone into crisis.”

“But this is Spain. No pasa nada,” she said, shrugging her shoulders, just as the film came on.

No pasa nada. How many times have I heard that over the years about people, events, and TV shows being late. Don’t worry, it doesn’t really matter! Well, does it, or not?

I like to think that I’m a punctual person. I hate making people wait. It’s the British way. One must not let people wait unnecessarily or there will be war. We plan ahead, base our lives around the clock, and become overly apologetic if we are late.

I’d like to imagine what would happen if the BBC put on Eastenders late by 3 minutes. I’m sure Arthur would roll in his grave. It’s just not done, not accepted, and not called for.

But in Spain it’s different.

That little conversation with my wife wasn’t the first time I complained about the TV being late, nor was it the first time I pointed out that punctuality is important.

Take my son’s school for example. He started a couple of weeks back. Fair enough, he’s only 3, so I guess the teachers are still finding the ropes with all their little monsters still running about. But what sort of image does it give if the teacher is still in her class with the door closed at 5 minutes past the hour the kids are supposed to be in. The children obviously don’t know how to tell the time, but I’m assuming most of the parents do.

I haven’t got loads of Spanish mates now (maybe because they were never on time) but quite often I’d be left waiting 10, 20, or 30 minutes with no text message or not even a sorry when they turned up late. It seems to be the norm here; make a plan to meet up, but just arrive whenever the hell you want.

I’ll mention one thing about my lovely wife. The only time she has been early for anything was on our wedding day, and decided to walk down the aisle three minutes earlier than we’d arranged, which nearly caught the priest, organ player, and myself off guard. I’m used to her punctual ways now, so when I have to tell her about anything important like a flight time, arrangement with friends or family, or even a massive football match, I give her a 30 minute leeway.

To be fair, I’m being a bit harsh.

The metro and trains are always spot on. When I first went travelling round Spain and France by train I was impressed by just how punctual the trains were. It’s the same in Sevilla. Buses are a nightmare though. Before Sevilla had a metro, I used to have to get the bus every day. With the amount of traffic on the road between 14.00 and 16.00 the buses were never on time and the timetable may just have well not existed. But I reckon that’s the same in most countries.

Also, I have to say that my students are generally on time. You always get the odd one or two who have an activity beforehand, so making it to class without interrupting the first few minutes is tricky, but I rarely have an issue with lateness from my students. That might be because of the punishments I give out if they are late though. Perhaps word has got about. I mean, take last week for example. It was my second class with a group of teenagers and when I walked in the room, no one was there. I was livid. I waited for a minute, then began to write the following ‘I will never ever be late for Barry’s class again’ for them to copy for homework. After 4 minutes I went outside and they were all just chatting outside the school, needless to say they got an earful from me, plus 50 lines to write up.

I don’t work in the Spanish business world, so I’m not sure exactly how punctual things are, but from speaking to students in the working world I get the impression that in the work place things are generally on time, but maybe you know differently?

Over the years I’ve become a bit more relaxed with lateness. You have to or it will grind you down. It’s like learning to put up with noise, idiots not stopping at zebra crossings, or people leaving dog poo where they feel like it. It just ain’t gonna change.

These days I take a more relaxed view on time (although my wife would probably disagree) and go for the no pasa nada attitude, unless I’m at work, meeting up with British family or mates, or waiting for a film to come on, especially Antenna 3. I can see the benefits of not being ruled by the clock, especially now with two kids where getting out of the house on time can be impossible at times.

So what are your views on lateness in Spain? Are you working in the Spanish sector and get made to wait a lot, or have you become more passive about punctuality?

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