6. Time is on my side

Our relationship with time and schedules might be quite different. It’s the 4th cultural shock issue mentioned by people visiting Argentina. You can check the other 3 in the previous entries.
We are not extremely attached to schedules, only if we absolutely have to, like in order to keep our job. Not to be on time is regular to us. If we are meeting friends at 7, it is expected that some will arrive at 7:30 or 8. We even arrange it that way: it’s pretty common to say “Lets meet around 7, 8” as if there wasn’t an entire hour in between. You can always hear someone on the bus, saying on the cellphone “yeah, I’m almost there” and then spending another 30 minutes on that bus. We appreciate punctuality, but it feels more like a present, a nice surprise. It triggers some kind of gratitude. We are about to say “you shouldn’t have bothered!”
If we are flexible about arrival time, wait to see how long it takes us to actually leave after already saying that we were leaving: we start kissing everybody goodbye, and starting conversations, and trying to arrange future meetings, and someone always has to tell us or show us something at that very moment when 40 minutes have already gone by, and then the host may keep us at the door for another 20 and end up realizing that we could take some left-overs with us, so we are back in the kitchen suddenly exchanging recipes for as long as it takes, ’cause at that point somebody else could be about to leave and why not wait to cross the door together even if it risks to start the whole cycle all over again.
I’ve noticed that many people from other cultures… guess what? Just leave. As simple as that. But not that simple to us. We might feel it as some kind of ghosting, you know? Or ask you for some explanation. Or even ask somebody else for some explanation: “Do you know why Johan left so abruptly? Yes, Johan, the whitest person on earth, that one, yeah. Was he tired? Feeling sick? Have we been talking in Spanish too much?”
Our average diner time is about 10pm. People can go to bed at 1am on a daily basis. Not me, I can eat at 7 and be in bed at 9. But you can’t imagine how absolutely weird is that. Even my mom makes fun of me.
Could you please let me know if you have heard of an equivalent to saying “Now later”? That’s our response to many requests: “ahora después”. One word immediately denying the other, just like that. I’ve shared it at my volunteering site:

It says a lot about our relation with time and schedules, and with each other, and towards unspoken rules, our ambivalence and our way of saying and not saying things.
Maybe time is on our side. Maybe we want to make believe it is. Maybe we are time’s relativity embodiment. See it yourself.

What is your relationship with time? How do you feel about it? Send me your thoughts and experiences miguialoreta@gmail.com

4. Rules Blurers

Rules are rules. Well… we are not that Aristotelian in that matter. And that’s the second most mentioned issue when it comes to cultural shock. To us rules are more like clouds: we can see different forms in them, they come and go with the wind, they might look perfect sometimes but they still get between us and sunshine, and they are far away up there moving much slower than reality down here. Our relationship with rules can go from a small, decent, pragmatic and necessary flexibility to a 100% mafia approach. I’m talking about both behavioral not written rules, and the Law. We might be more attached to the former. I think it has a historical explanation, and a mix of factors as education, real and perceived impunity, a pretty unpredictable reality with not much linear outcomes. The thing is we might be creating more unpredictability this way. In some areas, and for some visitors it might seem edgy, adventurous, free, much fun, or sometimes tiring, crazy or dangerous, depending on their age and background, how structured is their own mindset and culture, and their concrete experiences here. And it is, again, all about balance: while a too structured life may feel lifeless and too predictable, too much unpredictability is stressful and some structure is needed at least as the basis from which to take off.

So, here comes the beauty of intercultural experiences: you are invited to join us, and enjoy your unpredictability rush, and feel a little wild, and also to bring and share your own mindset towards rules. It is ok if you are taking a walk with your Argentine friend and suddenly Argie is across the street staring at you with a clear “What’s wrong with you?” expression, ’cause Argie automatically crossed when realizing cars weren’t coming that fast and you automatically stopped when seeing the “don’t walk” sign. You can keep respecting traffic signs and other rules. In order to learn from each other, we need to still be each other at some point. And it might be not just automatic for you but reasonably safer. Sometimes. Because you need to remember that some Argie drivers will not stop at red lights. So it is not all about just sticking to the rules, but to handle this double standard of respecting basic rules yourself / not expecting anybody else to necessarily do it. That’s how daily unpredictability feels. It’s like a dance where a dancer is following a choreography and the other one might improvise at any moment. It can be tiring sometimes, even a mess, but it can also be lively and challenging, bring up unexpected beautiful moves, develop creativity and adaptive skills, and enrich the dance and both dancers.

Of course unpredictability is not just made of a no-rules mindset. It has to do with politics and economics, climate change,  human limitations, life. Too much of it is unlivable. Too little is unrealistic and not even desirable. The thing is that our attachment to, and detachment from, rules and structures can contribute to one extreme or the other.

I guess the difference is that we here tend to see rules only as restrictive instead as a basic common platform that can free as from some worries. We could make some space in our minds and spirits if we could walk more relaxed instead of extremely attentive to a totally unpredictable traffic. But I don’t want our improvisation muscle to weaken due to unchallenging circumstances. Am I asking for too much? Noooooo. I’m just inviting you and everybody to share inter-cultural experiences, with open minds and hearts, so we can all be who we are but enriched, refreshed and awakened.

Share your questions and thoughts miguialoreta@gmail.com