If you ever come to Santiago, there’s one thing you won’t need: a watch.
Not that things don’t have schedules, or time limits, or…well, actually…
One thing I alternately love and hate about Santiago on a daily basis is the Galician (or at least Compostelan) sense of time. As in, there is none. I love this because, after two years here, I’ve really learned to just calm the heck down. I usually feel in a hurry to get places (I blame it on my urban Chicago upbringing), and since I’ve lived here, I’ve kind of let go of my hold on punctuality. Really, what does five minutes matter? At least here, there are few times when a few minutes makes the difference between life and death.
However, there is some part of me (the American part, I guess) that still instinctively needs to be everywhere at the stated time, follow the rules, and not keep others waiting. (That old adage “The early bird blah blah blah” never seems to go away.) In addition, I am naturally a fast walker. Americans in general I think are fast walkers, and I am fast even among them, so here in Santiago I must look like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, constantly scurrying from one place to another, gasping at my pocket watch and crying, “I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!”
So, when I am (naturally) walking quickly from one place to another, there are usually people in front of me who are not. They’re hardly walking at all. Maybe they’re looking in windows. Talking to friends. On the phone. Staring absentmindedly into the sky. Who knows. Either way, they’re in my way, and they’re going too slow. Usually they’re old women, and usually they’ve made sure to spread themselves three thick on the sidewalk, along with canes, walkers, grocery bags, shopping carts, umbrellas, grandchildren, or any number of superfluous items that make it absolutely impossible for me to pass them. This irritates me. It’s not that I’m in a hurry, but if I’m going to take my time, I want it to be on my terms, not because some old coot is too busy talking about her latest hip replacement to realize there’s a pedestrian traffic jam half a mile long behind her. It’s funny that these kinds of things bother me, because immediately after I think terrible thoughts about these poor old babushka-ed ladies, I think, “Hey, do you really need to be there thirty seconds faster?” The answer, recultantly, is almost always no.
So now I try to take my time. I don’t worry about being a few minutes late for class, I don’t walk so fast I give myself shin splints, I’m not concerned about arriving a minute late for a concert or movie (it’s Spain, so it’ll start 15 minutes late, anyway). I take time to eat (a big problem in the States), and I actually sit in a chair and use a ceramic mug to drink coffee at a cafe – no paper to-go cups here. When I have time to sleep in, I do. When I have time to take a nap, I do. When I go to the park, I am there for a long while. I spend quite a bit of time just spending time. And honestly, it’s much better that way.
Of course, I still think terrible thoughts about old ladies, but at least I can take my time to do it, since I’ve got three blocks left to go and from the looks of it, it’ll take me an hour to get there.