Friday, October 9, 2009

Planning and Punctuality in Buenos Aires

'Call me Saturday and we’ll arrange something,’ is exactly what you’ll hear if you call an Argentine during the week to make plans for Saturday.

No northern European forward planning, where calling a friend on Monday and agreeing nine p.m. Saturday night at my place means commitment made, nine p.m. at yours it is. In Buenos Aires it’s a different story. Nearly nobody organises with such advanced notice. The social life of a porteño (Buenos Aires City resident) is usually a last minute affair, with no concern about the where and when until they’re out the door and on their way.

Why not make the plans and schedule it in?

Cynics would say it’s because Argentines are always waiting for a better offer. They won’t commit to your invitation so early, because at the last minute something more exciting might come up.

Others argue the lack of advanced planning is a more justifiable trait. ‘It’s fine to plan in Germany and England and those types of places,’ a friend, Miguel told me, ‘there you know everything will be the same five days later. In Argentina we don’t know if the whole system will collapse tomorrow, let alone Saturday. And if everything is okay; okay still means strikes, roadblocks, and who knows what else.’

He has a point. Forward planning is all well and good in a country with stability. But in a volatile place like Argentina, where anything can happen from one day to the next, (and usually does), any planning, be it financial or career, or otherwise, is virtually impossible. Culturally, this has rolled over into social planning, so that most Argentines prefer to just ‘wait and see’.

And if you do manage to get a real commitment the morning of the event? (And not an ‘estaría bueno - it would be good', which is not a promise); the next issue is punctuality.

Argentine life doesn’t operate on a timetable. Buses, trains, underground, and people, simply arrive when they arrive. With unpredictable public transport, and traffic jammed streets, it’s understandably difficult. But combine big city living with a laid back Latino attitude and a relaxed approach to time; and punctuality becomes a very foreign concept.

Nine p.m start doesn’t mean it starts at nine p.m. It’s enough to drive someone with a Germanic nature crazy as he waits the arrival of his dinner guests an hour late.

Understand the culture and plan to start things an hour after the agreed time would be good advice. As Miguel told me once, ‘I was walking to an appointment that started at midday. It was 11.50 and I was about ten minutes away. So I slowed down and stopped for a coffee, otherwise I would’ve arrived early.’

1 comment:

  1. As a porteña who has lived most of her life in Buenos Aires, but who has also known other cultures well enough as to appreciate the word ‘punctuality’; I should agree with Miguel and accept that even when I want to be punctual, there’s, more often than not, an unexpected event which prevents me from getting to the place on time. Of course, one can always say that I should have left home earlier. Well, the problem is when the cost of being punctual is the possibility of getting to the place more than 20 minutes in advance!