Living in Spain, warts and all

When when is whenever

I have a need to talk today about the flirtatious but casual relationship that the Spanish conduct with the clock.

Coming from a culture as I do of strict time slots, an unhealthy obsession with timeliness and an intimate acquaintance with deadlines, I still, nine years on, struggle with the laissez-faire (¿dejad pasar in Spanish, perhaps?) attitude to all things remotely associated with time-keeping.

Oh, appointments may be made – I have been presented with enough of them recently to last me a life-time, thanks very much. But whether they actually mean anything much is a hugely questionable matter.

I have never – that’s never – managed to see anyone here at a designated time. And this holds across all manner of appointments, whether it involves me sitting in my car waiting for the appearance of a passenger, waiting in a bar for a friend to take coffee, waiting in a medical establishment for a precise appointment (lunes el 01 octubre a 08:47 – what’s that about?), waiting to see an official of el iltmo. Ayuntamiento, or my asesor, or a dog-owner.

The latter has exceeded all records to date for belatedness.

If I’ve been informed on booking-in that a dog will be collected on departure day in the morning, you can bet your life I won’t see a soul until 7pm. I have even waited until 8pm for an owner to appear for a mid-day pick-up , finally to concede defeat and call him, only to establish that he had been delayed and would be there the following morning.  And then still have had to ‘phone him the next afternoon after his non-appearance. The approach to punctuality is so laid-back as to be horizontal.

I have also experienced a different aspect of this temporal disregard several times to date.

I have fed and watered the guests at the kennels with their evening repast. I have cleaned up after them, sung to them and tucked them up for the night. I have closed their garden doors, so that I comply with the curfews regarding noise imposed upon me in my licence. Then I have returned to the house, to tackle the matter of my sustenance in all this and to pursue that most of elusive of all grails, an evening of relaxation.

Only to be rudely interrupted by the orchestral background of a car engine playing on the camino above the house accompanied by a strong solo on the horn.

This is, without fail, the music of an extended Spanish family who have decided to take a drive out into the campo to demand, unannounced, an inspection tour of the new kennels.

So I am obliged to drag myself back up the hill, to unlock all that I have only just locked, disturbing the recently-settled hounds who subsequently decide that, since I’ve mentioned it, it is high time for choir practice.

I then have to walk the crowd of sightseers around, pointing out in raised tones all the (multitudinous) luxury features of the accommodation while concurrently being deafened, and then hang around discussing the wondrous characters of their own pooches, before compiling a precise quote for a potential, provisional and unspecified stay for Lula or Macu or Nemo or Niko or Nuca.

Now I am at this point compelled to mention the guy who turned up last night in exactly this fashion, except that he had managed to deter the wife and kids and mother-in-law and next-door neighbour from coming along for the ride and was therefore solo apart from his dog.

“How much would it cost me to leave Rocky here for a week?” I was asked. Medium-sized dog rate, less discount for a stay of seven days or more – I calculated quickly and gave him his answer.

At which he promptly handed me the lead, with Rocky attached.

“See you next Friday, then”

Okayyyy. Don’t mind me, I live and breathe my work.

Dogs, on the other paw completely, are obsessive sticklers for time. They know exactly to the nanosecond when it is time for breakfast or supper, and will shout out to remind me of the fact with pinpoint accuracy.

I am convinced that all these smart-arsed animal behaviour experts and veterinarians who think that they know all there is to know about the dog have missed a fundamental evolutionary development in the species. Every dog, I have come to realise, is born with a miniature atomic pocket time-piece cunningly concealed about his anatomy – and he’s not afraid to use it.


Comments on: "When when is whenever" (13)

  1. Lovely piece Debbie, your pristine, beautifully-written and witty prose is a joy to read. I sympathise with you on the points you make and of course find it all happens to me in the same way. I do wonder, however, if it´s partly our fault in that we let them away with it. For example, when people turn up late for my conversation classes, I recalculate the time so they get a full hour anyway. I should bloody-well deduct it! I´m seriously considering writing up a Terms and Conditions document for this situation and all my life´s purposes and present it to all comers for whatever reason. Maybe in your situation large warnings on your website as to schedules for things and explanations on the reasons for them would deter some people from turning up in the way you describe. Also big notices up around the kennels. Very clear statements to people to be on time and “if you´re late, I won´t be there.” And, finally, a man with a gun to shoot latecomers in the butt on arrival.

    • I’m liking entirely your way of thinking here, Mo. And you, of course, tienes razón.

      It has crossed my mind a few times to toughen up, especially when I am stuck in the office up there with the gates yawning wide to accept an expected owner, and the hour hand has crept past nine of the evening and my stomach is literally digesting itself with anger and hunger.

      But I am also mindful of the fact that this is a new business (against all odds!) and I need to build my client base – so I’m a little fearful of Rottweiler tactics at this stage of the game. Hence the fact that I am not yet charging high season rates (although after the August I’ve just had, come next year I will, oh I will!)

      I really do feel also that I have to take account of the fact that I am working in an entirely different culture and with a radically variant work ethos here, so I need to be very sure of my clients before I can come the heavy.

      Your advice is spot-on, though. You gonna follow it? 😉

      • I know Debbie, you need to build up the business and as I´ve heard many people say (even elsewhere, in the UK) people will just take their business elsewhere or decide not to use the service at all. I´ve just posted a rant on my blog on my own difficulties with working here (or not, in my case). However, when the next person calls for conversation classes I´m not going to give the first hour away free as I do now and I´m going to spend less time finding out about them for tailor-made classes and more time letting them know that I´m not teaching English for fun or as a community welfare programme! I will let them know that if late, they lose class time. Mo xxx

  2. Go, girl!

    I’m a tad surprised that my little post has catalysed such a revolution, but I am nonetheless pleased to hear it!

    Work to rule rules OK!

  3. . . there’s obviously a lot of cross-cultural interaction between your lot over there and my lot here! It took me years to realise that if there is a ‘tomorrow’ anywhere in an appointment – forget it – they’ll never show! When confronted by their tardiness, Turks are most surprised that you took them seriously.
    On the up side, when we ordered our first washing machine here they gave a day (without an exact time) and promised they’d stick to it – they did – we had to get up at ten to midnight to let them in. Mind you, was installed and demonstrated and they were gone by quarter past!

  4. The mañana concept – Spain’s greatest export!

  5. Permit me to share an amazing experience… a year ago, I had an appointment with a Telefonica engineer at 9.30am. He turned up at 9.34am Amazing! BT has never even managed that! lol.

    • And there’s me thinking that communication from a parallel universe would be impossible! Your Spanish time-line sounds far better than mine! I’m envious …

      • Maybe it was a one-off… lol.
        I’m in central Spain, and I haven’t really punctuality to be a big problem when it comes to social engagements. People usually turn up on time for intercambios, lunches, dinners, etc, give or take ten minutes. Much the same as in London. Sounds like it’s a totally different story down south where you are…

  6. Totally different people …

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