A few days ago I sat waiting in silence for a full hour for an appointment I had scheduled. Feeling thoroughly indignant about the tardiness, hot air huffing out of my flared nostrils as I stared at the other disgruntled-looking people, it suddenly hit me that in being in Miami once again, I had re-discovered Cuban-time, something that I had long left behind when I moved to relatively-punctual France where you see neither hide nor hair of Cuban-timers.
For those who live in the unaware bliss of what "Cuban-time" is, I describe it as follows:
The internal lack of punctuality in which those who are Cuban or of Cuban-descent (see "Cuban-timer") live their lives by being habitually late to appointments, social gatherings, events, meetings, even jobs, by a minimum of fifteen minutes
I hastily indicate that this minimum of fifteen minutes is the bare minimum. Chances are that your Cuban fellows are (and will) arrive much, much later than that minimum, give or take one hour.
A person who runs on Cuban-time
If you are having trouble trying to understand this concept of people being constantly late, don't worry. I'll guide you though this.
I want you to imagine the eternal wait that is a scheduled appointment in a doctor's office. Even though you have a set time that you know corresponds to you, the doctor somehow manages to see you a full hour after your actual scheduled appointment. As you sit there wanting to vocalize your mounting frustrations, you know that you can't complain about how late he's running because, let's face it, it is so frickin' obvious. Once your turn comes and you see your G.P. saunter over to you with his white lab coat, stethoscope strung about his neck like a shiny, tubular necktie, you are so thrilled that the wait is over and relish in the reward that comes from having his total, undivided attention.
The best part is he doesn't even apologize for making you wait so long because you are at his office, which is a doctor's office. Waiting for a long time at a doctor's office is expected so why bother pointing out the frickin' obvious? He's running on Doctor-time. You'd only be wasting your breath on the matter.
Well, Cuban-time is kinda like that. Only it applies to everything else in life, not just doctor's appointments. For instance, workouts at the gym run on Cuban-time. Trips to the beach run on Cuban-time. Visits to gas station pumps run on Cuban-time. Heck, even the buses in Miami run on Cuban-time because the drivers are most likely Cuban-timers themselves.
Thank God for movie trailers. For the non-Cuban-timers, the lengthy deluge of upcoming feature films may seem annoying, but those extra fifteen minutes are the key difference between a Cuban-timer either understanding a movie's plot or being completely lost for the rest of the film because they missed a crucial chunk at the beginning. In fact, I'm pretty sure no one in Miami has seen a full movie trailer for the past forty years.
The only exception to Cuban-time is restaurants. Cubans know better than to mess with a grumbling stomach; hunger induces anger and the last person you'd want to anger is a hot-tempered Cuban. (See I Love Lucy's often-miffed Ricky Ricardo as a reference point.)
I must address that Cuban-time produces unfortunate consequences if you happen to be employed. It doesn't matter if everyone else at the job is Cuban or of Cuban-descent: when you are late, YOU ARE LATE. I once had a co-worker who would arrive at 9:45 in the morning, sometimes even as late as 11 a.m., to her job. While she was an excellent employee, she was dismissed for being tardy so frequently.
Another downside to Cuban-time is that the lateness can get a bit carried away. While a minimum wait of fifteen minutes is expected, even considered normal, there are instances in which it expands into several awkward hours. On one particular anecdote from my childhood, I remember having a play date with a friend and spent the whole afternoon hanging out at her house. Around 6:30 p.m., I called home and asked my very Cuban-time-based Cuban father when he would pick me up.
He didn't arrive until close to 11 p.m. I even telephoned him in one-hour intervals to see when he would show up. Every time he picked up the phone, he assured me with the most sacred of Cuban-time
On the bright side, my friend's parents were Cubans and were therefore in the know of my Dad's tardiness. I also remember having burgers and French fries for dinner at my friend's house that day so all was well.
Now, for you non-Cuban-timers who have recently immigrated to Miami and are at the end of your Culture Shock rope because you view being late as rude, inconsiderate, even irresponsible, you may wonder what can be done to cope with handling such a bizarre habit. A good way to battle against Cuban-time is to trick the Cuban-timer in question with the wrong time. Tell them that, in reality, the event will take place at least an hour in advance than it really is.
Even if you are not comfortable with telling little white lies, this solution becomes vital when it comes to appointments you simply cannot afford to miss. Indeed, lying to a Cuban-timer is crucial if you need them to be on time.
You think I'm joking about this?
Try having a wedding in Miami and invite a bunch of Cuban-timers to it. Go on. Try it.
Even though the time listed on the wedding invitation is 6:45 p.m., I guarantee that the first Cuban-time attendants will come straggling at 6:44 p.m. and that the ceremony itself will actually start at 8. Because, guess what? 8 o'clock p.m. was the real time in the first place. That extra hour and fifteen minutes listed on the wedding invitation were sagely factored in for the Cuban-timers.
Believe me, I've applied this practice to my own life whenever I deemed it necessary. In another vivid instance from my youth, back in my Senior year of high school, I enrolled to take the dreaded SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) on a Saturday at a different location from my school, which was a good 30-minute drive from my home without traffic. The test was supposed to take place at 8:15 a.m. Since I didn't have a car or a driver's licence at the time, I had to rely on my very Cuban-time-based Cuban father as my mode of transport.
When you are in your last year of high school, you CANNOT afford to miss taking the SAT because, like the ACT, it is a requirement to getting into university. There was no way I would be late that morning.
So, what did I do?
What he meant by "6:30 tomorrow morning" was in reality "just kidding, I'll dawdle around the house while you wait for me to get the car keys and then we'll both panic as we rush to leave at 6:48 a.m., lulz."
That meant that I had not even a full half an hour to get to the location. Of course, since I knew what time the exam actually was, this didn't bother me too much, but let's assume what would have happened if it had taken place at 7:15 a.m. I would have been late, possibly excluded from taking the SAT altogether. Even if the examiners would have allowed me in the testing room, this wouldn't have included the extra minutes for taking roll call, finding a seat and settling my nerves prior to bubbling in the answers on the various reading and math portions. So it was a good thing that I had lied.
It wasn't until it was seven o'clock when the drive was well under way, Dad speeding his teal Toyota Tercel down the early-morning streets of Miami and muttering that it was a stupid move to schedule a test that early and that an incomprehensible idiocy as this certainly wouldn't have ever happened in Cuba, that I felt the pang of guilt for having manipulated my father with my own selfish needs. It didn't matter how little and white the lie had been; I HAD LIED. Strapped in my seat belt to the right of him, I revealed to Dad that the exam was, in fact, at 8:15 a.m. and not a whole hour earlier as I had claimed.
He smiled with relief and said:
"We have enough time" wasn't in my vocabulary that morning and I wasn't too keen on having my evil plan thwarted by own admission of telling the truth. I stressed this point to my father while politely disagreeing with him on the matter of going in the opposite direction of town to get coffee at his favorite cafeteria*.
*Cafeterias are, in essence, corner cafés in Miami. They are an essential watering hole for jazzing up on Cuban java and loading up on ham croquettes and the occasional cheese-and-guava-filled pastry while talking to the apron-wearing Cuban ladies who attend at the window.
In retrospect, we probably did have time to stop for coffee, but knowing my Cuban-timer Dad, I didn't want to risk missing that SAT appointment. It should have been no surprise to me that Dad would have even considered changing his route to get a cup of coffee. If he had extra time on his hands, he would make the most of it. This laid-back approach to putting life's events on hold only provides Cuban-timers with the means to thrive. Life is already stressful enough, so why bother having to live and die by the clock? Once I moved to Dijon, I got to experience an entire culture that truly stands by this.
As much as it may irk me to no end when someone arrives late, I have to keep in mind that I am of Cuban-descent myself and am therefore not immune to what comes naturally. Despite my good intentions and attempts at keeping a strict schedule, I often drove my punctual French friends crazy with my habitual tardiness. I admit that my former French boyfriend suffered the brunt from all the times in which I claimed it was only a few spare minutes before the bus reached a stop. A typical interaction often went like this:
French Ex: "Are you almost here?"
Moi: "Almost! I missed the first ride and this damn bus arrived two minutes late at my stop!"
French Ex: "Uh-huh. Suuuuuuuure it did."
Now that I think about it, my being late all the time may have been a key factor that led to our break-up.
In short, if you ever plan to make an appointment with me, give me a thirty-minute head start from the official time. Your sensibility at punctuality and the Cuban side of me will thank each other and forever live in perfect harmony.
Unless I turn around and stop for coffee. Then all bets are off.
Barb the French Bean