It’s About Time

The clocks changed here in Spain last Saturday night, October 29. I wasn’t aware of it until the following afternoon, when I was talking to my sister in London where they rolled the clocks back that same night. I thought it was pretty ironic how oblivious I was because for a long time I was hyper-conscious of time. It was a time when I wore a watch every minute of every day – while I slept, showered, relaxed at the beach . . . But six years ago, while living in Mexico City, I freed myself from the shackle of time and I haven’t worn a watch a single minute since then . . . until now.

I haven’t found a single working clock in either of the two Barcelona apartments where I have lived, at the school where I took my training course, at the businesses and homes where I teach and even in Barcelona’s airport (while I couldn’t find the time there, the city’s humidity index was displayed on every screen). So, I dragged myself to buy a watch, kicking and screaming the whole way.

It was the swarming streets in Mexico City that forced me to slow my stride and relax my tendency to bob and weave my way through crowds like I was inside a videogame. After returning to the U.S. though, I fell back into the ugly practice of tearing down the sidewalk as if I were a bull in Pamplona determined to gouge anyone who dared get in my way. When those in front of me moved at a turtle’s pace, I was helpless to contain my gasps of exasperation. And when people formed a blockade across the entire sidewalk, I would nearly blow a gasket. Now in Barcelona, I find that I have to readjust my pace once again. It’s going to be a steep learning curve though; I almost lost it two times in the last half hour and had to remind myself that I had no where to be and no one to meet.

Time zones separate regions, countries, cultures and attitudes. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my first class is at 8:00 a.m. – er, rather, class is supposed to begin at 8:00 a.m. The first day I showed up at 7:50 a.m. and found the company’s doors closed. I followed someone in at 7:55 a.m. and made my way through the dark halls. Workers began trickling in the office around 8:15 a.m., and one student came into the classroom (conference room) about that time while the other appeared around 8:30. While I continue to arrive by 8:00 a.m. each day, class begins around 8:30 a.m. I have reassured the students (there are only two of them and I like them so much) that no apologies are necessary and I always have plenty to do (besides, I’m getting paid for the time whether they’re there or not). Just a bit different from my former life with class starting at the sound of a bell that was more like a shotgun fired to begin a race. A short forty minutes later (37 on Thursdays) the bell clattered to halt production. Wait four minutes and repeat over and over and over, nine times total.

The “siesta” is still going strong in Barcelona. Stores and restaurants close around 2:00-4:00 and reopen around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., although it’s nowhere close to an exact science. It’s a little challenging opening a bank account here as banks open around 9:00 a.m., close at about 2:30 and don’t re-open later (except for some of them that re-open for a couple of hours on Thursday afternoons). I usually feel like grabbing a bite to eat after work on the days that I finish at 4:00, but most restaurants close around 4:00. Even if they are open at that time, most don’t serve food again until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. And on Sundays, there’s nowhere to rush to as very little is open.

A person could go crazy if they met each episode of culture shock with frustration. I’m trying to take the approach of thanking Barcelona for forcing me to slow down and reevaluate my relationship with time.

Now if you think I’m too far gone with my reflection on “time,” you should check out this blog entry on NPR’s site. It’s a four-part series on how we have been trained to see and use time.


Posted on November 7, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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