Friday, October 31, 2008

Locked-up luggages and Spanish punctuality!

George Orwell writes about his days in the Spanish Civil War in his little book called "Fighting in Spain". He was in the front with a (Anti-Stalinist) communist POUM party in Huesca and was defending the party's headquarters in Barcelona. All in all he has fired a few dozens of rifle shots in the winter of 1936 and spring of 1937, hardly caused any casualties, got a bullet through his neck and wittily wrote about as much the accounts of the Spanish Civil War he saw with his British eyes. His comments on the nature of the interactions taking place in Spain are quite sincere and warm-hearted. But it is his sarcastic remarks that make this little book an amuzing take on a serious subject.

Early on in the book, he introduces some key characteristics of Spanish people and it is the "punctuality issue" I want to share. A passage from pg. 13 reads:

"Every foreigner who served in the militia spent his first few weeks in learning to love the Spaniards and in being exasperated by certain of their characteristics. In the front line my own exasperation sometimes reached the pitch of fury. The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war. All foreigners alike are apalled by their inefficiency, above all their maddenning unpunctuality. The one Spanish word that no foreigner can avoid learning is mañana - tomorrow (literally, 'the morning'). Whenever it is conceivably possible, the business of today is put off until mañana. This is so notorious that even the Spaniards themselves make jokes about it. In Spain nothing, from a meal to a battle, ever happens at the appointed time. As a general rule things happen too late, but just occassionally - just so that you shan't even be able to depend on their happenning late - they happen too early. A train which is due to leave at eight will normally leave at any time between nine and ten, but perhaps once a week, thanks to some private whim of the engineer-driver, it leaves at half-past seven."

For anyone familiar with a Spanish or a Mediterraenan setting, this should be quite telling. Anyone familar with me or some of the stories I have written should also know by now that I push the limits to reach the deadlines on time. This is out of necessity rather while if I miss these deadlines I might have to pay penalties. When I have the appoint my own schedule, of course as a general rule of conveniancy, I happen to be out of tune, too. I would like to share a personal account on the former though, a deadline I had to make. Because this example is from Spain, it may fit with the context.

In the summer of 2005, I went to Spain for 3 weeks for language courses: 1 week in Valencia, 1 in Salamanca and 1 in Sevilla. After the classes ended in Sevilla, I met a friend on my last day in Spain in Madrid. We met early in the morning and I left my luggage at the train station. The locker room at the train station would close down at 8:20 PM (don't ask me why not 8 PM) and my friend was supposed to leave Madrid at 8 PM from a bus station close to the train station. So I thought: "I'll drop her and fetch my luggage from the train station".

As planned, after dropping her at the bus station, I realised to my inconveniancy that the train station was not so close by. I started running under the summer heat and after 10 minutes of non-stop running on the large Madrid boulevards, I made it into the station at exactly 8:20. The security told me they locked the place down! They told me to get permission from the station manager. I was in a dire situation. Same night at 1 AM I had a bus to Valencia, from where I would take a 6:30 AM next morning flight to Berlin, from where I would take a 10 PM flight to Istanbul. I needed my luggage.

I spoke fluent Spanish with high adrenaline and the station manager gave me the permission, but he told me that only the security guys could let me in, and I had to once again convince them! Going back and forth, I was able to win their sympathy, and at 8:24, I was warned by the security:

"But you made it here 4 minutes late!"

"But I was already here at 8:20. You saw me!"

"No, you were late. We will let you this time but you should never forget: Us Spanish, we are extremely punctual, just like the British!"

As you may have guessed, even they laughed at their own comment few seconds later. I would like to dedicate George Orwell's "Fighting in Spain" to these hillarious Spanish train-station security men.

P.S. Needless to say, later on in the evening I visited a hostel I stayed a year ago, and I was too relaxed only to take a taxi to the bus station where my Valencia bus left half an hour before the bus. Although it was only a 10 minute drive, Madrid streets on a Saturday night in midsummer was flocking with people and noone cared if the traffic ran or not. Well, I made it into the bus 1 minute before it left...

4 comments:

sursev said...

senin bu son dakikaciligin bir tek ispanya'da degil amsterdam'da da vardi hatirlatirim. mario'yla birlikte okuduk cok gulduk kendisi madridli:) operim

ömer said...

benim son dakikaciligim her yerde var, bkz. diger yazilar. ama yanimda sizin gibi benim gec kalmami benden cok dert edinip yardim edenler oldukca sirtim yere gelmez =)

azareno said...

Spain is the only place I've managed to jump in a taxi in the city centre (Barcelona) exactly fifteen minutes before my flight closes -and still make the plane!! On a number of occasions :)

Silchu! said...

In spain people is looking forward to go home, so it is not good to go to a place in the last minute!! At least 5-10 min before. (This rule does not work with the opening times! xD)