Jan 06, 2022
3 mins read
Originally Published October 13th, 2021
While planning an afternoon outing with a friend, we were looking for a good time to meet up. We would both be available starting around 3 pm but in slightly different locations in the city. They suggested we meet at “about 3:27 pm” in front of a common building. You know...roughly 3:27 pm. Give or take a few, what, seconds?
This was, of course, in the land of precision, Germany. Because the public transportation system there is famously on-time, you can lay such careful plans. We meet at 3:27, it takes 12 minutes to walk to the station, and the bus departs at 3:44 so we’ll still have five minutes to grab snacks and buy a ticket.
This goes against the Midwestern standard of “early is on time, on time is late.” If you show up perceptibly early to something in Germany, it will most likely annoy the other party. They were not prepared. You are early. This is not the schedule we agreed to.
Showing up late does not result in instant social expulsion but the limit is roughly five minutes. Anything outside that window and you’ll be getting a call from the waiting party. Did you forget? Are you still coming? Was there an accident? Who died?
A quick aside on punctuality in the workplace in Germany. It is customary to greet each person with a casual “good morning” when arriving. However, if you happen to straggle in a few minutes after the official workday begins, your colleagues may greet you with an exaggerated wave and exclamation of “Mahlzeit!”. This translates directly as “mealtime!” and is what you usually say to each other when departing for noon break. Who said the Germans aren’t funny.
Now, off to Spain. Even the suggestion of meeting in the “afternoon” is fraught with complexity. Still today, if I’m involved in setting plans for the “afternoon” in Spain some ground truths need to be set for the group. Are we referring to the literal hours which follow noon and precede evening? Or are we talking about a Spanish afternoon beginning at roughly 4 pm and continuing until dusk?
You’ll find a lot of these timeframe differences are due to when people eat. Germany is on the Midwestern schedule more or less. In Spain, breakfast is around 7 or 8 am. Then there’s “elevensies” a second breakfast consumed around, you guessed it, 11 am. Dinner is anywhere from 1:30 to 3:30 pm. One more filler meal around 5 pm with supper starting no earlier than 8:30 pm. Unless you’re pressed for time, dinner and supper can each easily last over 90 minutes. So much time is spent talking after the meal in Spain that there’s a word for it: sobremesa. Literally: at or over the table.
The evening news in Spain is broadcast to coincide with supper around 9:00 pm and the movie of the week starts around 10:30 pm. Everything is pushed back throughout the day. Evening starts after dusk. The designation of “night” probably doesn’t hit until close to midnight.
There is one oddity of history still hanging around Spain which makes the entire shift not as noticeable. England and Spain should, geographically speaking, share the same timezone. But Spain maintains the same timezone as Germany, one hour ahead of England.
Why is this? In the second World War, Spain’s dictator Franco wanted to keep the same schedule as his buddy Hitler so he changed his country’s time zone. It was never changed back. The sun sets one hour later in Spain than it should. For a few weeks in peak summer, it stays light out past 10:30 pm.
Even if the reason may be mired in some shady history, I’m never going to complain or want it changed. Long bright nights are fine by me.