– Do you speak German?
– No, why? Is my Spanish that bad?!
– Oh please, you’re always taking it so personally. It’s ok but I thought that maybe you know how they say “more or less”, “about” or “in a moment” in German?
Latino people. They love tourists, but similarly to Dalai Lama, they don’t comprehend what low self-esteem means. And they totally cannot comprehend the German-Swiss mentality (which for them is a symbol of shocking accuracy and obsession on control and precision). Martin complained that he’s unable to find common language with tourists like that. He does his best, but his mind just cannot wrap itself around it:
“They ask me how long it will be before a cab comes, so I tell them that it’ll come in a moment. And they carry on asking: “So how long? In a while, in a moment. How long is that? In 10-15 minutes. So in 10 or in 15 minutes?” I don’t know. Maybe they just don’t have words like “in a moment”, “more or less” or “maybe” in their language. Do you think it’s possible that in German language there are no words like that and that’s why they don’t understand them in English? I know you don’t know German, but do you think that this might be the cause? They come outraged that the bus was 7 minutes late. So I ask them if it had a breakdown – “Have you reached the destination today?” “Yes, but it came late!” “But was there a problem? Did something happen? Should I help you with something?” “Yes. It didn’t come according to plan and there was no reason for it.” It was late, but it came. I don’t understand why they tell me that. How is it possible that they’re still thinking about it after the whole day? I don’t get it – they’re on vacation. The bus came, so what’s the problem? I mean, the plan is there to tell the approximate time of arrival. But for them everything has to be accurate.
“When is it going to come?” I tell them that in 6-7 minutes. But they don’t accept an answer like that – they want me to tell them that the bus is going to come in 6 minutes so that they can tell me later that I lied again. I say nothing, but what I think is: Welcome to Latin America where your world is going to fall into pieces! We never hurry anywhere. Here everything is in a moment or in a minute. 5, 7, 16 or even 120 minutes – for us it’s just the same kind of interval – 5 minutes.”
It’s obviously hilarious, but only if it doesn’t concern you and happens during the day. Sometimes when you’re tired your brain just turns off and you start thinking in your own patterns, forgetting that it’s the language of your interlocutor that applies.
When I started travelling I was a real control freak. On the way, many patient, lovely and relaxed Latino People slowly made their impact on my “Germanness” (although I prefer to call it “Swissness”). At first they were doing that carefully but then they started rooting the pressure and accuracy out of me in various funny ways. I have relapses sometimes, but everyone who knew me 5 years earlier knows that the change is tremendous.
Relativity of time is a great discovery of Einstein and a huge advantage of Latino people. I get tense often – sometimes that sort of German nature comes out of me, but fortunately less and less often, because I learned from Latino people that those 5 minutes of being early or late do not matter. This time is not going anywhere, so what can you do during these 5 minutes? You can wait, get angry, criticize things and complain about somebody or something. But you can also use this time do something else, something that you like and that gives you pleasure. You can look around to check who else is waiting and talk to them. You can read, think, daydream, flirt, order the things in your handbag or delete unnecessary pictures from your camera (there’s always something to do). But you can also do the best thing possible – you can just be, enjoy it and focus on the wind, sun, your nose or the rustling of leaves. You don’t have to wait, you can just be or do anything else. Because when you’re waiting, times goes by really slowly.
Latino people teach me (they do, although I cannot say I’m the most diligent student in the world), that it’s best to focus on what’s best in a given moment until something that you want appears. Now you want to talk with the person sitting next to you on a bench and a moment later you want to board the bus that has just arrived.
There is no lost time. There’s only the unused one. There is no delay – there is just pointless waiting.
Once I reached one of the towns in the night and asked where I could catch a taxi. I was told that there was no point in calling a taxi because the place I wanted to get to was really near. “It’s about 5 or 6 minutes away, so there’s really no point. Why pay 1.5 dollar when you can just walk?” After passing through 4 districts I knew that 5 minutes should’ve been multiplied by at least 6, because I still had at least 7 districts to go through. “How could anyone think that 11 districts at half past midnight with a 20-kilogram bag is near?”
I knew what the inhabitants of Latin America are like, so I couldn’t even be angry. “It was all done in good faith so that you wouldn’t spend your precious money” (I’m thrifty, but I really think I could handle spending these 2 bucks).
Although I understood their point of view, I nevertheless often complained on lack of punctuality and relativism. A while later I stopped doing that, because I experienced something worse. There is only one thing worse than lack of punctuality – when someone arrives too early (coming early is bad, but a plane taking off ahead of time is a real disaster). During my 4-month trip I had three planes take off ahead of schedule! A plane!!! Ahead of schedule!!! One of them took off almost 40 minutes earlier than the schedule said because the pilot stated that everyone is on board and we were given permission for an early take off, so off we went… God, what would have happened if it had been me who hadn’t come on time? Would they have waited for me? Who knows…
It’s lesser of the two evils if they are late. I’ll wait. Or better not. I’ll be doing my stuff until the moment I feel like boarding the plane.
My Latino friends who laugh at me because I’m still a control freak, but thanks to them I’m slowly learning the words such as “about, later, etc.”.