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Our Andalucian paradise

My husband and I had lived in Mexico City, LA, Paris, Guadalajara, Oslo, Montreal, and Vancouver. On a rainy night in November 2012 we moved to a small town an hour inland from Malaga. 'Our Andalucian paradise' is about the historical town of Ronda, the mountains that surrounds it, the white villages dotted amongst them, of hikes, donkey trails and excursions around Andalucía and journeys further afield.

Will the Spanish ever be on time?
11 January 2019 @ 12:17

Ronda's La Bola pedestrian street. Photo ©


Some stereotypes, such as the tardiness of the Latin people, are seen as universal truths. But are they really so?


World renown for being less than punctual, Spain is often described as an eternal mañana culture where everything and everyone is behind schedule. There are of course exceptions to such broad national claims, and there certainly are some Spanish people who are punctual. However, speaking for our small town in the Spanish south, and for the vast majority of its residents, the concept of being ‘on time’ tends to have rather flexible parameters. We knew about this trait prior to moving here, although it’s one thing being aware of a tendency towards lateness, but another learning to live with the locals’ open-ended más o menos, more or less, schedule. To this end, I decided to do a bit of cultural exploration and to ponder some of the reasons why the Spanish, or certainly the Southern Spanish, can never arrive at the exact minute or hour they say that they will be in a certain location.


Santa Maria la Major, clock and  bell tower. Photo ©


Devices to measure time can be traced back thousands of years, so promptness should by now have become second nature to the human race. But it isn’t always so. Though everybody in Ronda carries at least one mechanical or digital timepiece on their person, and though every bar, butcher, pharmacy and many street corners have a wall-mounted clock, and though the towns church bells will chime every 15 minutes reminding one of the incessant passing of time, you can never expect that a meeting will happen at the agreed-upon hour. I am not speaking about merely social engagements (when even us Norwegians will allow ourselves to be a few minutes late), but any scheduled appointments, but any scheduled appointments, be it to set up a will at a Notary Public, to get a handyperson to do some basic house repairs, to get a root canal, or to get to ones own wedding.


Later for the wedding. Photo ©



Even after a few weeks here, we were aware that if a contractor promised he would be at our house within the hour, we might expect to see him there some time that afternoon, but more likely the following day. If he pledged he would come by during the next week, we knew for a fact that we would not see him for at least a fortnight, and if he guaranteed that he would deal with the job the following month, we might as well forget about the whole business. We have on several occasions

witnessed locals answering their phone claiming that they were en camino (on their way) to the next job, while the truth is that the person, who happened to be a plumber, had their head deep under our sink with no possibility of imminent departure. Likewise, they might just have sat down to order their daily mid-morning Anís, while promising someone at the other end of the cell line that they are seconds away.


Cheers. Photo ©



Now, the first thing one has to be aware of when it comes to the Andalusians’ sense of timing, is that none of these pie-in-the-sky promises are spoken with malice. Nobody sees them as lies, least of all the person speaking them. It is all about intention. In the speakers mind, they are already on their way - their physical body just needs to catch up with their verbal aptness to comply.


Clock at Migelángel, our wine and Iberian ham supplier. Photo ©



Second, one has to take into account the nature of the people themselves, whose character and temperament are more passionate and thus generally more spontaneous than people from northern climates. Just as we overly punctual Scandinavians might see tardiness as rude, the Spanish might see our Norse innate always-early-for-appointment tendency as proof of our lack of ability to enjoy life. There seems to be fundamental differences in our make-up, culturally or genetically.


The clock above Ronda's Parador hotel. Photo ©



Third, the Andalusians’ notion of the clock is completely different. They are perfectly aware that they tend to be late-ish, but since everybody is the same and all know the rules of conduct, there is usually no problem. When we began hiking with a group of Andalucians, they often joked about la hora inglésa (English or actual time), as opposed to la hora española (Spanish or alternative time), of course preferring and following the latter. To them, what mattered most was not that we took off at 8.30 am sharp, but that all had managed to enjoy a coffee prior to our departure. So what if we were half an hour delayed? Nobody suffered in the process, other than possibly us, the anal foreigners with our petty punctuality.

Forth, there is the thing about the language itself. While midday for an English speaker means noon or twelve o’clock, mediodía in Spanish has a much broader scope. If you tell someone that you will meet them at mediodía, they will agree and then proceed to ask you when you are meeting, at 1.30 or 2 pm?


Street-mounted clock. Photo ©



To add to the verbal confusion, in Spanish, mañana means both tomorrow and morning, only distinguished with the use of a preposition. To point out that it is in the morning you would say por la mañana, while when you are indicating the following day, a plain mañana will do. This being said, we know that mañana is the most overused expression in the Spanish language and some, like the saying goes, believe that mañana never comes.

Equally, the word tarde means both afternoon and late, again depending on whether one adds a preposition. En la tarde means in the afternoon, while a plain tarde means late. In addition, the Spanish use the word tarde for both the afternoon and the evening, so if someone tells you to meet them a las diez de la tarde, they want to meet you at 10 in the ‘afternoon’… Generally, everyone is tarde. They will enjoy a prolonged siesta with outmost pleasure, knowing fully well that they ought to be some place else. Then they will rush to get to their next destination, driving like mad, of course arriving late.


Siesta time. Photo ©



When it comes to private social engagements the concept of time is even more malleable. While we had been used to give the hostess a five-minute grace period before arriving at a dinner in North America, here in Andalucía one has to allow for a much wider buffer zone. We learned this when we were invited to a private luncheon. Not only was the hostess heading for the shower when we arrived at the agreed upon hour, but the table was not set. In fact, the table was nowhere to be seen, never mind that some forty-something invitees were slowly streaming into the garden. After festive liquids were offered all around, sawhorses and plywood boards were brought out on the terrace to construct said table. Then, and only then were the meal prepared under jolly conversation, ready to be feasted upon just a couple of hours later.


Paella dinner in the open. Photo ©



The most extreme example of late arrivals happened when we attended our first Andalucian surprise party. The event was to take place in a small town outside of Ronda. The hostess, the sweetest, shortest, roundest Andalusian village-mayor you will ever meet, had told the dozens of guests to arrive at 8 pm, giving a full hour to conceal our cars and other evidence of life and to prepare for jumping out from our hiding places and call out Sorpresa! Swinging into the driveway of said home, we were a little alerted (if not surprised) not to see a soul, nor a sign that there would be a party there in a mere 60 minutes. Had they hidden it that well? We knocked on the door and the hostess finally came out, dressed in sweat pants, telling us without the slightest concern that we were the first to arrive.

Sensing the urgency of time ticking by, we offered to help her prepare - me blowing up balloons until my lounges nearly collapsed, while my husband and the bubbly hostess took off to the nearest bar to pick up ice and beverages. While we hung the Felicitaciones banner above the door and ignited the fire for the BBQ that soon should feed many hungry guests, our hostess wondered whether she maybe ought to call the wife of the celebrant to see if she could invent some delay, since nobody else had arrived and it was now only 30 minutes to the grand Sorpresa time. The wife of the apparently unaware celebrant made up a last minute emergency at her work to stall things. Meanwhile at party central, the grill was almost ready to receive the meat and another sawhorse table was built. To our joy, a second car arrived just 15 few minutes before our jump out moment. The hostess was again on the phone with the wife, now in the car with her husband, the celebrant, and therefore answering in code language. She told him, much to his chagrin, that she simply had to stop to buy cigarettes before they would drop by and pick up a friend, the sad mayor who was all alone and whom they would take for dinner. Three couples out of seven had arrived when the hour was up, the wife’s delay being the only reason why the guest of honour wasn’t present yet.


Beer ad clock at our corner store. Photo ©



Needless to say, we finally got our Sorpresa moment. The celebrant seemed genuinely surprised, or at least happy to see us, and only a couple of hours later the last of the guests swung into the property, bringing desserts and good cheers. 

So, what is the surprise at the epitome of tardiness - an Andalucian surprise party? The surprise is whether not some, but any of the guests will arrive before the guest of honour…


Party time. Photo ©



I am still none the wiser as to my original question of whether the Spanish will ever be on time. In general, I doubt it, and I would certainly not recommend anyone who expects punctuality to live in a Latin country. Certainly here, down in the deep Spanish south, you have to learn to go with the flow, peak at your watch with half shut eyes and order another glass of tinto while you wait. And wait…


Cathedral of Malaga double time piece, clock and bell tower. Photo ©

Like 2


EErica said:
11 January 2019 @ 20:03

Hi Karethe. Thanks a lot for your little "stories" about life in Ronda. We (me and my hubby) are presently (again) here in Spain and have visited Ronda once several years ago, but still have a vivid memory of the place. Interesting to hear your thoughts and opinions about life and people around Ronda and vicinity.About your latest posting I'd like to note that in many countries they have areas where people have certain characteristics, and in Finland (I'm a Finn) it's the Lappish people who are like Spaniards as regards the notion of time: they've got an attitude enviable towards life in what isn't or can't be done will (maybe) be done tomorrow- And if the bus didn't come today, maybe it will come tomorrow. I suppose we've got a lot to learn from such people, whether Spanish, Finnish Sámi people or some others to whom time is something that can be extended and is something that exists but is flexible (up to a point). All the best, looking forward to hearing more about your ongoings in Ronda area. Ciao!

anthomo16 said:
12 January 2019 @ 08:55

love the story and of course that is why we expats love to live here we have all heard of the term "laid back" the epitome of Andalucian life - enjoy

grapow said:
12 January 2019 @ 09:24

Fascinating stories and very well written, however these experiences do not mirror our own in Dénia. This is a typical working Spanish city and we have lived here for 9 years.
Without exception we have never suffered delays and when a local supplier/contractor makes a promise of a supply or delivery time, from our experience they are bang on time.
Our best experience was making an appointment for Telefonica to connect us some 3 months before our move date to a new home, they said 9.00am on the agreed date and they arrived, bang on 9.

bernireynolds said:
12 January 2019 @ 09:48

The Spanish live longer than any other country

amrat said:
12 January 2019 @ 09:59

I love the laid back attitude to time as I have always been that way inclined and there is much less pressure on me here than in UK. I lived in Greece for short time and they were just the same. In fact I was asked if I had Greek ancestors😀. I live in Els Poblets, a small village outside of Denia and the same applies here with a few exceptons. This really frustrates my husband who is a stickler for time😉

amrat said:
12 January 2019 @ 09:59

I love the laid back attitude to time as I have always been that way inclined and there is much less pressure on me here than in UK. I lived in Greece for short time and they were just the same. In fact I was asked if I had Greek ancestors😀. I live in Els Poblets, a small village outside of Denia and the same applies here with a few exceptons. This really frustrates my husband who is a stickler for time😉

Artistsana said:
12 January 2019 @ 10:02

My experience (in Cullera, Valencia), is the same as grapow: if a Valencian says 9 it sure will be 9. Buses and trains leave and tend to arrive on time, and people are very punctual. My British husband however... let's say I have learnt to tell him something is happening, or we're meant to be somewhere between half an hour to an hour before the real time, and even then we'll scrape it. I like to be about 5 to 10 minutes before the agreed time, I can always wait outside, but I hate being late. A German lady I know also runs her own timescales, add that to the fact that she won't answer her phone, but, like my husband lets it go to voicemail and then they call you when they want, it is most unnerving, specially if something is important or urgent. So you see? tardiness is not an Andalusian monopoly!

toolman2 said:
12 January 2019 @ 13:08

I think that in many social situations what you say is correct but I have been stunned at how prompt and efficient the Spanish can be.
Many years ago my family were holidaying in Andalusia and went for a drive to visit el Torcal. En-route on the highway we saw that during the night a car had driven through the steel crash barrier and was abandoned in the ditch behind it. It had not been there the previous day. Some men had arrived and were starting work on clear-up and repairs. Several hours later after a long walk around el Torcal and a picnic, we drove back past the crash site. There was no sign that anything had ever been out of place, it was as though nothing had happened.
More recently a year or so ago we visited our house in Extremadura and found the water meter had been removed, we had been cut off! We went to the local water office in a town about three quarters of an hours drive away and discovered a payment had not been received. It had been sent but not received. The lady in charge there helped us pay the required amount by coming with us to the bank then said the meter and the water would be back in place immediately. I as under no illusion it would be anytime soon. But we returned home and would you believe it? The meter and the water had been restored within that hour of having settled the bill. I am still in complete admiration of the Spanish efficiency and service.

silvirub said:
12 January 2019 @ 13:34

In the Philippines we call this Filipino time, no thanks to the Spaniards, from whom we inherited the stereotype. They’ve even created a meme for this showing a woman washing her hair saying, “It’s ok we’re only a half hour late. We’re still early!”

Great article, as always.

Dave11 said:
12 January 2019 @ 13:51

Fantastic blog.

wiz said:
12 January 2019 @ 23:45

Another interesting blog. You do great job of combining photos with descriptive passages in all your posts. I live in Aguilas,Murcia, 10 kilometers over the Almeria border, and this same tendency to be late describes the Spanish here. However, many Germans live in our area and they are sticklers for punctuality. Some Spanish tradesman are punctual because they are used to working with foreigners who want punctuality. The one area of Spanish life that always seems to start on time is football matches.

besj said:
14 January 2019 @ 21:35

Being Swedish (close to Norwegian) I have heard the "mañana" for Spain forever. I have my second home in Catalonia and my experiences are very similar to grapow. If you have a handyman booked for a time they will arrive right on time. Even more surprising after the work they clean up any waste or residual. Neither of this will ever happen in Sweden...

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