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Carpe Manana

07 | 03 | 2009

By Karen McConnaughey 

/uploadedImages/News_and_Views/Articles/2009_Newsletters/July_Articles/melting clock.jpgI’ve read so many things about Mexico, before and since moving here, and one thing I’ve noticed is how often the phrase “mañana attitude” is used when speaking of the laid-back manner of the Mexican people. However, it’s not until you actually live in Mexico that you become aware of the fact that mañana doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow; it just means “not today!”

When you think about it, though, time is conditional in many countries. For instance, I read an interesting article on timepieces and how different cultures relate to them. In English, a watch is said to ‘run.’ In German, it ‘functions,’ and in French, it ‘marches.” You know what a watch does in Mexico? It ‘walks.’ See…it’s cultural…in the “Land of Mañana,” people just don’t place that much value on time.

 Some friends of mine came to Mexico with their church group to work on a project. What started out as a cooperative effort, almost became “us versus them!” The American group had only a short time to help out and wanted to get the project done. “Fairly soon, it became apparent the Mexican Christians were getting irritated by the American drive to get the project done; and we were getting impatient by the Mexican 'mañana' attitude toward the work,” she said. “We both wanted to complete the project, but our Mexican counterparts were much more interested in getting to know us better.” She said the project did get completed, but both sides had to give a little along the way.

Mañana has another interesting meaning too. Bill and I had been living here for about six months when we decided we wanted to have a special shirt designed for his Tai Chi class. We went down to a local seamstress to see about having one made. Since we were hampered by our clumsy attempts at Spanish, an artist friend went with us and drew a detailed picture of the shirt down to the buttons, fasteners, everything. It was a work of art. Señora says, “si, si. No problema! La proxima semana.” We were so excited…next week! Why in the States, it would be a month at least to get a custom-designed shirt like that. Next week, we were very prompt…we sure didn’t want her to think we were unappreciative of her extraordinary efforts. “Si, señor, Vuelva usted la proxima semana.” (Come back next week). Next week: “No, lo siento; me olvidé.” (No, I’m sorry; I forgot). Next month: “Regrese mañana; la camisa no se termina todavía.” (Come back tomorrow; the shirt is not yet finished). I think I may have actually asked her once in my poor attempt at Spanish: “Is today the tomorrow of yesterday?” That’s when her eyes glazed over, and at that moment, and in that instant, I knew we would never see that shirt.

Needless to say, Bill and I are slow learners, because we hounded that poor lady from July until the end of October, thinking we had somehow misunderstood…after all, there is the language barrier. However, we finally came to realize mañana doesn’t just mean any indefinite time in the future, it could also mean ‘if ever.’ It was a learning experience…Mexicans don’t like to say ‘no’…it’s not nice. It’s also not nice to say, ‘I can’t do that,’ or “I don’t know.’ That’s why when you ask five different natives directions to a restaurant, for instance, you will get five different answers. It’s just not nice to tell you they don’t know.

So…there it is…Mexicans enjoy a leisurely concept of time, and while it may be unsettling to visitors, there are compensations. This laid-back approach contributes to Mexico’s charm. Rather than having their lives ‘run’ by watches and time schedules, they’re guided by the principle that life is for the living. Mexicans are warm and gracious and think that doing things according to a precise time schedule takes the spice out of life. /uploadedImages/News_and_Views/Articles/2009_Newsletters/July_Articles/clock with chain.jpg

Personally, I’m glad they embrace the mañana attitude, and don’t adopt the time-is-money mentality of many other cultures. There’s a Mexican saying that "North Americans live to work, but Mexicans work to live!" If you have the chance to dance until dawn—go for it. Mexico hasn’t been called "The Land of Poco Tiempo" for nothing!

So if, a plumber or any other workman says he will be at your place tomorrow morning, don’t take   that as a given. He may arrive in the morning, or he may not. You’ll get used to it; and if you don’t, then Mexico may not be the place for you. Keep a sense of humor, appreciate the differences, and you’ll do just fine.

However, if you’ve decided to stick around regardless, please stop moaning about mañana! If you can’t, don’t worry…we’ve got the solution! There’s a bus leaving for the airport…“mañana!” 

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