I was buzzed in to Jesús’ apartment at 12:00 on the nose for my weekly Spanish lesson.  He greeted my arrival with, “¿Que tal?  Estas muy punctual.”  To which I simply replied, “Soy Americana”.

It’s true that many Americans place a lot of value on promptness.  I had left our apartment 20 minutes before 12:00 knowing full well that it was no more than a 10 minute walk to Jesús’ place.  But with the narrow streets and my poor map reading skills I wanted to give myself plenty of time for a prompt arrival.

Jesús chatted with me about his perceptions of the American vs. Spanish sense of time.  If an American is chatting with someone and realizes that he needs to be somewhere at a certain time he will point to his watch with a quick explanation of his upcoming destination, wrap up the conversation abruptly and depart post haste.  If the same scenario happens with a Spaniard, the priority is with the current conversation.  The appointment is less important than the social interaction in progress.  Being ten minutes late for an appointment is not really perceived as “late” by a Spaniard.

I am pretty sure Jesús feels that the Spanish approach to time, with its priority focused on social interaction has many more merits than the American way, and I can certainly see his point.  Sadly, I am pretty sure that I cannot undo 37 years of hard-wired American punctuality.