I was sitting in my Florida FlyIns class (group that I'm going to Brazil with) and listening to Professor Machado tell us about the Brazilian concept of time, and how one hour can mean three.
Well, I'm used to that, I thought. Indians have their own IST (Indian Standard Time) -- some kind of inherited trait that requires that we arrive at 9 p.m. to a 6:30 p.m. dinner party. For some of my friends, it's more than the usual hour -- they ring my doorbell at midnight and then leave for another party after hanging out for a while. And I remember a Jewish friend saying that his family has some form of this too.
When I was staying in Florence, Italian stores would pull down their aluminum shutters for lunch and return sometimes three or four hours later without notice. "American's work too much," a vendor told me one time when I asked about their inconsistent store hours. "They work all year, all day for just one expensive week in some exotic place. We Italians take these little vacations all the time, every day."
So if Brazilians, Italians, Latin Americans, Jewish families and Indians all see the clock like the ones in surreal Dali paintings, and time as relative, who exactly is getting places on time? An Irish friend I met in Barcelona told me that he loved German trains because they were on time, all the time. One of my high school friends spotted me rushing into the movie theater late and said, "Oh don't give me that culture crap, the movie started already." The 9-to-5 job schedule seems to have been written in the American Constitution.
I'm thinking about this today because my application for a Brazilian tourist visa was supposed to come to me two weeks ago and after many palpitations, e-mails and post office visits, should be in the mail tomorrow. But I have to admit that if my friends and family were running a consulate, it might have taken another year.