Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Colombian Time

When I lived in Italy, I often joked with my classmates and friends about Italian Time.  Italians are never in a rush to get anywhere (unless they are driving; it's a whole different story on the roads), which is a wonderful thing if you are lost and stop to ask someone for directions.  This happened to me many times in my travels, and no matter what they were doing, nor how far out of their own way it would take them, I found that Italians would almost always escort me to my destination rather than just giving me directions. Sometimes it is not so wonderful: if you make a plan to meet with someone, you are a fool if you don't anticipate that they will be at least 30-45 minutes late.  They won't apologise or make excuses, either.  They will just stroll up and greet you as if they were perfectly punctual.  Being an Italian, myself, I am almost never on time, so I grew to appreciate the casual, "va bene" attitude with which the people viewed tardiness.  Late for class? Va bene; the professor is late, too, and probably still finishing his espresso down at the café.  Trying to catch a train?  Va bene; sometimes you can arrive 10 minutes after the official Departure Time and still get a seat.  Sometimes the trains don't run at all, and sometimes the train you got onto that said it was going to one place was actually going somewhere else, and they just hadn't thought to inform you of the change. Va bene.

Colombians are similar to Italians in this temporally challenged respect.  Unlike Italians, they are generally apologetic for their lateness, but what is even more amusing is that, more often than not, they lie about it.  For example, let's say you are supposed to meet a friend for dinner at 6, but at 6:30 there is no sign of them.  By 6:45 you are worried, so you call.  They will inevitably tell you that they are "just five minutes away," and that the "traffic was worse than they thought."  Now, in Bogotá, the traffic is always worse than you think.  It's just plain awful, and there is no way around it, so people are happy to give some leeway in that respect.  However, Maurizio says that when a Colombian tells you they are "five minutes away," it really means they have not yet left home, and they are counting on your lack of accurate time perception to cover their delay.  Of course, when they finally do arrive twenty minutes later, they will complain loudly once more about the traffic, and then you will have your dinner and all will be forgotten.

Friends aren't the only ones who are late.  The day our furniture was due to be delivered, we were told it would arrive between 12 and 1 p.m. We stayed in all day, and finally greeted the movers around 5 p.m.  One morning I was supposed to have a Skype meeting with one of my employers at 8:30 a.m., but at 8:15 I received an email saying she had to go out and would return around 10--she did apologise, but I was miffed because I had gotten up at 6 to shower, dress, and prepare for the meeting.  I was told by the human resources manager that I was going to be picked up at 10 a.m. the next day to go to Migración and apply for my cédula, which is an ID card that everyone must have in Colombia. Some time around 11:15 the driver arrived.  It is clear to me that, like in Italy, you have to be very flexible in Colombia and not make any plans that depend on precise timeliness.

We won't even talk about the lengthy process of applying for the cédula, which, if you are not prepared, will involve various comings and goings in order to procure properly-sized photos, photocopies of passports and visas, correct methods of payment, and even a blood test, after which you have to fill out the form (bring your own pen!!), stand in a queue, go upstairs to get digitally fingerprinted and photographed, sit in a waiting room for what seems an absurdly long time, and then get your passport back with instructions to check back in four business days to see if the ID card is ready.

It won't be. Va bene.

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