Why Are Latinos Always Late?
My Theory Behind Punctuality in Latin America & The Lack of Precision in the Spanish Language
Let me preface this by saying that when I say Latino - I do not mean Latin America. I am talking about all people who fall under the native Latin/Romantic Language flags.
While Latin American Latinos hold the biggest stereotype of being late, this theory is not about the Latin American culture, but about the lack of precision in romantic languages that forces the speaker into a culture, which causes them to not perceive time the same way that English/Germanic speakers do.
For simplicity, I will focus on the Spanish Language as Spanish speakers are the biggest culprits in the stereotype of being late.
My theory starts with the already accepted notion that the language you speak changes your perception of time.
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Different languages frame time differently. Swedish and English speakers, for example, tend to think of time in terms of distance—what a long day, we say. Time becomes an expanse one has to traverse. Spanish and Greek speakers, on the other hand, tend to think of time in terms of volume—what a full day, they exclaim.
If your language doesn’t contain specific words, then your brain will never be able to conceptualize the concepts behind certain words or ideas, unless you either create a new word for it, or you learn a different language where that word and idea exist.
Only very recently have humans been able to conceptualize the idea that absolute time and space respectively are independent aspects of objective reality. Without some of these ideas, we wouldn’t be able to have our current understanding of space travel. We currently experiment and toy with thoughts of time travel and believe it's possible, but we currently don’t have the words or the math to conceptualize it to the point where we can control it.
As an English speaker, here are some examples that you can grasp, that other language speakers can’t. Guugu Yimithirr is an Australian aboriginal language where they have no concept of left and right.
Guugu Yimithirr is an extremely space conscious language and its speakers do not refer to the position of things relative to themselves, but relative to the cardinal points. It is always turn east or west, not left or right.
Guugu Yimithirr - The Natural Navigator
Language and Cognition: The Cognitive Consequences of Spatial Description in Guugu Yimithirr
The average person now has very little understanding of the position of the stars in relation to navigating. Most of us are no longer in tune with our environments to be able to call out cardinal directions. Telling the average person to walk x distance and then go north would only create confusion.
Here is another example of the Amazonian people, the Pirahã. They have no concept of numbers and instead use amounts.
Among Pirahã’s many peculiarities is an almost complete lack of numeracy, an extremely rare linguistic trait of which there are only a few documented cases. The language contains no words at all for discrete numbers and only three that approximate some notion of quantity—hói, a “small size or amount,” hoí, a “somewhat larger size or amount,” and baágiso, which can mean either to “cause to come together” or “a bunch.What Happens When a Language Has No Numbers?
Imagine making dinner plans and trying to explain that you have 7 people, and each person needs a specific plate. Or imagine being told that the meal will have a large amount of food, but that amount is not specific enough to know if your group of 7 can all eat.
If we can accept that these concepts exist, then my theory is that Latin languages, particularly Spanish, lack precision in many aspects, which causes the speaker not to disregard it, but to be completely unaware. Many Spanish/Romantic words are not exact - they are simply up to interpretation and can be fluid.
English/Germanic, on the other hand, is exact; there is an individual word for everything. English also has the added benefit of not being exactly Germanic or Romantic. It’s a mix of both, which often gives it 2 or more words to describe common things.
Here are my examples.
Have you ever made plans with a Spanish speaker, and they completely misunderstood the time? You say, "Let's meet in the afternoon," then 2 pm rolls around, and they claim they are still busy but want to meet at 5 or 6?
I believe this is due to the lack of day descriptions in Spanish..
Good Morning - Buenos días (Good Days) or Buen día (Good Day)
Good Day - Buenos días (Good Days) or Buen día (Good Day)
Good Afternoon - Buenas tardes (Good Late/Later)
Noon - Medio día (Half of the Day)
Good Evening - Buenas tardes (Good Late/Later)
Good Night - Buenas noches (Good Late/Later)
Dusk in Spanish is oscuridad - which can also be used for darkness.
Dawn in Spanish is amanecer - which can also be used for aurora.
Tomorrow - mañana
Morning - mañana
Tomorrow morning - mañana por la mañana (tomorrow by the morning) Or mañana en la mañana (tomorrow in the morning)
The issue is that with morning and day being the same words, and afternoon and evening being the same words, you have a much larger gap of time to decide on, whereas the English speaker can pinpoint with much better accuracy. With tomorrow and morning being the same words, it's up to the listener to interpret the meaning.
Spanish also uses quantitative adverbs instead of precise words to describe weather and temperature. Both Spanish and English have:
Hot - Caliente
Cold - Frío
But English has a multitude of words in between the scale: Freezing, Frosty, Chilly, Cold, Nippy, Lukewarm, Warm.
In contrast, Spanish uses expressions like "bastante frío" (quite cold), "un poco caliente" (a little hot), "mucho frío" (very cold) to convey similar meanings.
Other Cultures & Impact
In the beginning of the article, I mentioned that this is not a Latin America issue. Lateness is also a problem in Italian and French cultures. The problems persist to a point that the cultures have shaped themselves around the feature. Italians prioritize social interaction for long periods of time and can often be found "moseying" throughout the day. Businesses create extremely flexible hours, and many are caught off guard when business owners decide to open and close at random times.
In French culture, the idea of "la dolce vita" or "the sweet life," where lack of punctuality to the point of apathy prevails.
This stretched-out perception of time also creates what the modern world would call inefficiency. Business meetings and appointments are often delayed and rescheduled without prior notice. Many people may show up extremely late to meetings and events without ever being in a rush. Without a rigid perception of time, Latin Language speakers will make multiple overlapping plans without thinking about the time it may take to complete them.
Business negotiations and deal-making processes also become stretched out, resulting in English speakers assuming the deal is stalled, while Spanish speakers simply feel rushed. An entire article could be written on how the lack of precision in languages may be a reason why Romance language cultures, whether European or Latin American, often have much weaker economies than German and English-speaking countries…
Without these precise words, Spanish speakers simply don’t have the ability to conceptualize ideas that English speakers can. So when Spanish speakers are 1-2 hours late, many English speakers assume it's inconsiderate, especially considering Spanish speakers are very relaxed and not very "apologetic" about it. I, on the other hand, believe it's simply because their concept of time has bigger gaps and is less precise, leading them to conceptualize that lateness as not being late.
I've noticed that the more fluent a native Spanish speaker is in English, the more they understand the concept of "English speaker" time. However, they likely have grown up without this concept to the point that they still don't place urgency on it.
But on that note, I'll close with this video featuring the famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.
I also posted the video as a tweet, feel free to like, comment and retweet it
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