Friday, May 29, 2009

Mexican Time Strikes Again

In Mexico, a week is equal to eight days. Two weeks is 15 days. And three weeks is 20 days.

Let me clarify. Lo hago dentro de ocho días. Translated to English, this literally means "I'll do it within eight days. " However, the speaker actually wants to convey that he/she will accomplish the task within a week. Lo hago dentro de quince días literally means "I'll do it within the next fifteen days." Here, however, the speaker is really talking about two weeks' time.

Now, math has never been my strong suit, but if a week is eight days, shouldn't two weeks be 16 days? Or, if I listen to the English speaker in me, a week is seven days, so two weeks is 14, right?

Let's take it one step further. Vamos a hacerlo en veinte días might literally mean "We'll do it in twenty days" to an English speaker, but the Spanish speaker is talking about three weeks' time. But taking The Week as Eight Days Factor into consideration, three weeks should be 24 days, right? So we're now missing four days of our three-week time period, which to me, is 21 days.

Not that any of this matters, anyway. If I've learned anything during my 10 months in Mexico, it's that you should never, ever EVER take talk of time at face value.

In addition to The Week as Eight Days Factor, there's more arithmetic involved: You have to apply The Rule of Two to all measures of time. So, if a friend calls you up and tells you he'll meet you in an hour, you simply double the stated time. He'll actually be there in two hours. Or if someone guarantees you something within "ocho días," or one week, you'll want to give it at least two weeks -- which, applying The Week as Eight Days Factor, actually could be anywhere between 14 to 16 days, depending on your native language and, possibly, your math skills.

So what's up with Mexican Time?

I've blogged on this phenomenon before, way back in August, just after I'd arrived in this lovely country. So, you'd think that since last summer I might have learned a thing or two. I might have learned how to understand Mexican folks' conceptions of time, realize that they are different from my own, and stop stressing about it so damn much. But, nope, Mexican Time keeps tripping me up. But at least I'm not alone.

I'll get to that story in a minute. But first you must understand that in addition to The Week as Eight Days Factor and The Rule of Two, there's another trick required to understanding -- or at least attempting to understand -- Mexican Time. There's The Hurry Up and Wait Law, which involves an important bureaucrat scaring the sh*t out of everyone with a crazy deadline, only to have them finish the task at hand way too early, leaving them to stand around and wait for an unspecified amount of time. The Hurry Up and Wait Law might best be illustrated by El Gobernador's visit back in March.

Avid Gringa Culichi readers might recall that El Gobernador came to visit us here at my university's Language Center to check out a new (albeit fake) computer lab, for which he'd ostensibly provided the funding. The lab was promptly disassembled following his visit, given the fact that it didn't, uh, work.

This same lab is the subject of today's story. Though working software was promised to us "dentro de veinte días" (translation: within twenty days, or three weeks, or perhaps six weeks, if one applies The Rule of Two) of El Gobernador's visit, it finally got installed this week, roughly two months later. We were told, by someone important, to clear our calendars for two days' worth of mandatory software training, 9am to 6pm, on Thursday and Friday.

Applying standard arithmetic, that's 18 hours' worth of training. On what is supposed to be user-friendly language software, mind you. What, exactly, were we going to do during that time? Learn how to actually program the software? Or perhaps split atoms?

But mandatory training is mandatory training. We dutifully cleared our schedules. We cancelled classes. We put out-of-office messages on our email accounts. And we arrived early on Thursday morning, ready to begin the first leg of the marathon training.

We reported to our offices, ready to be called down to the new Language Lab. At 9:10 am the training still hadn't begun. At about 9:30 am, we received an email saying that there'd be a slight delay, that they were working out a small bug in the new system, and that training would begin shortly. At 10 am, our Language Center director walked around the hall, knocking on doors.

The "small bug" meant that the computers weren't ready. Turns out they hadn't actually finished installing everything in the lab. Training would begin at 4pm. Seven hours late. Silly us, we'd forgotten about The Hurry Up and Wait Law.

Mexican Time had tricked us all. Again.

Training finally began at about 4:30 pm yesterday. We watched a five-minute video about the software, and then waited for about 30 minutes while the technician, sent from the software company to lead the training, fumbled around with cables in attempts to get the computers to work. He talked to us for about five more minutes, and told us that he'd like all teachers to come in groups for individual 30-minute training sessions on the equipment. That was it. No atom splitting involved.

So my supposed 18-hour training went from about 11 to 11:30 am this morning. It was actually scheduled for 10 am, but you know how Mexican Time works....

...sort of.

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