Not so long ago in a place called Here, Madrid:
I’m leaving a rehearsal for a play I’d been working on for awhile, and one of the guys involved, Zack* (*names changed to protect me from their wrath if said person were to actually read this.), suggests that we all go grab some dinner and a beer together. You know, unwind after a long evening of rehearsing. We agree on a place to go, and when we’re halfway there, Zack gets a phone call. After a short, enthusiastic conversation, he hangs up and informs us that he won’t be able to hang out with us because he just got invited to a dinner at a friend’s house. That kind of killed the spontaneity of the plan and the rest of us decide to just continue on home like we intended to in the first place. Zack’s friend just so happens to live somewhat near my house, so Zack and I head off in the same direction as the other two go different ways. Zack turns to me a few blocks later and asks me, “Did I just tell you guys that I can’t go out with y’all because I have something better to do.” “Yes…” I reply.
My friend Hanna* invites me over to her place for dinner with her boyfriend and flat mates. She sends me a text with her address and the time to come, 8:30. Not wanting to show up too punctual, (this IS Spain after all) I decide to walk to her apartment instead of taking the metro and browse the local alimentacion’s fine wine selection before ringing at her door at 8:45. A surprised voice pops up over the intercom, ‘Who is it??” –“It’s me, Paul” –“Wow, you’re really early!!!” I tried point out to her that I was in fact late, 15 minutes late, but all that got me was a wave of the hand and surely something along the lines of “Hey! We’re in Spain now!” She started cooking a little after 9:30 and we didn’t sit down to eat until 11:00 – 2 ½ hours later…
It’s a fine afternoon on a weekend during Autumn, and I give my friend Isabel* a call to see if she wants to hang out. She says she’s busy that day, but is available the next day, Sunday, early afternoon. We agree to meet in the center at 2:00. Isabel arrives in the center, looks down at her watch, “1:55” – Early. A little while later, she looks down at her watch again, 2:15 – and I’m still not there. 2:25, 2:37, 2:45 – and I’m still not there. She calls, sounding ten kinds of pissed off. “Paul! Where the hell are you?!? You were supposed to be here 45 minutes ago!” “Honey,” I reply, “Today is daylight saving time; we set our clocks back an hour early this morning. I’ll be there in 15 minutes – on time.”
And any person who has ever lived in Spain could easily rattle off a dozen examples of people showing up absurdly late and using the excuse, “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeey!!! We’re in Spaaaaiiin!!” (…while annoyingly scrunching their brows and smirking condescendingly, pretending that by using this worn out excuse to pardon their inconsiderate behavior, they’re proving just how much more “Spanish” they are than you.)
The problem with time is that our own is always more important than everyone else’s. But, in order to avoid people randomly showing up on our doorstep whenever the wind blows them our way, we tend take the other person’s schedule into consideration, and look for a time when both schedules coincide and plan to share our two times together.
We also understand that no one’s perfect and it’s just not realistic for everyone to show up exactly on time. We all have a window of time that we’re willing to wait standing around for another person to show up – usually 5 min (for class and meetings) to 15/20 mins (meeting up with friends for a drink.) We ask ourselves, “Are they meeting up with only me?” and hurry along quicker because they know I’m waiting alone, or are they joining a group and therefore take their time showing up?
Sometimes it just depends on knowing the other person well enough to know more or less when they’re going to show up. My friend Seven ALWAYS shows up 10 minutes early. So, I’ve learned to light a fire underneath my ass when I know she’s waiting for me somewhere. With other friends, I can show up 15 minutes late and still wait another 15 minutes for them to show up. More or less, abiding by these standards and a general knowledge of your friends’ habits can keep things going smoothly.
But sometimes, shit can really hit the fan. As is obvious in the experiences I wrote about above, being inconsiderate or being extremely loose with your planning or just plain ol’ miscommunication can cause problems. Even moods can void out any expectations you’ve created around meeting up with certain friends – and these can be rather unforeseeable: A friend who usually gets pissed off if they have to wait more than 5 minutes, meets a cute boy while standing around and hits it off with him – every minute you’re late becomes a precious extra moment they have with this new stranger. Or another friend, who’s stuck talking to some creepy guy while waiting for you, spites you more and more for every one of those 15 minutes you’re late. Etc etc etc… The point is – making plans can fucking suck sometimes and make you never want to leave the house again.
This weekend has been a good example of that ‘sometimes.’
Annelies came down from Belgium to pay a visit to me and Madrid this weekend. It had been 5 months since she was last here and she was really excited to see the old city again and possibly run into a few old faces along the way.
I’m really tempted to write out all of the disappointments we had this weekend trying to meet up with friends – just because of how many there were… But, explaining each and every one out would be long and only good for therapy’s sake, and anyone who has read this far probably doesn’t want to hear it.
To summarize: There was one who agreed to meet us and made plans with other people just moments later, and showed up after 2 ½ hours waiting for them. There was another who agreed to meet knowing they already had plans with someone else, and cancelled with us upon realizing that they would have to commit to spending time with us, not us with them. Another friend who we had to call and wake up 2 times to get him over to have a drink with us – at 4 in the afternoon. And of course, the standard Spanish 1 hour flexibility time – agreeing to meet another person at a specific time and then waiting over an hour for them to show up.
Really, it was one hit after another this weekend. I haven’t felt this unappreciated in a long time. It either felt that everyone had something better to do or that anything we were doing was less important than what they were doing. I know that some were not because of bad will towards us (I hope not anyways) or maybe it was a case of obliviousness, but every hit that followed the one before it stung a little worse. One time is acceptable. Two, coincidence. Three, bad luck. Four, what the fuck???
In all fairness though, I must call out one more group of culprits this weekend – us. Last night, Annelies and I got home after walking around La Latina all afternoon and thought it a good idea to go have Indian food in Lavapies and invite some friends to come along. I call up to invite a friend of mine to come along, but she declines, as she had just recently eaten. She mentions that she’s hanging out in a bar with a friend of hers which is rather near where we’re going to eat, so I suggest that we pass by before dinner and have an aperitif with them. Annelies and I, not feeling in any rush, as these friends were already well situated at this bar, and we’re only passing through, decided to keep calling other friends and take our time getting out the door. Of course, what we assumed was not what they assumed. They thought we were right around the corner and would be there momentarily. So when 30 minutes had passed and we hadn’t arrived, they called to say, “WTF??” We were on our way, but had just begun the 20 minute walk to the bar, which took them by complete surprise. They told us to forget it and that they were leaving. Beautiful, beautiful irony. Annelies and I spend half of our weekend waiting for people to get around to showing up, and the most violent reaction of the weekend was caused by us.
And people criticize me for not making plans often enough. It’s because the thought of trying to organize the noncommittal sounds too tiring and frustrating. And it’s proven to be true this weekend – it was really, really trying to get past the disappointments and enjoy the little time I had with someone important to me, who made the effort to come spend time with me.