When entering a room or arriving to an event, Guatemalans go out of their way to greet everyone, even people they don't know. They go around the room, kissing each person on the cheek and uttering a "mucho gusto" or "como esta?" We've come to appreciate this intentionality of making time to be warm and polite. We are reminded of how uncommon this is in our own culture when North Americans visit and awkwardly ignore people in the room they don't know or haven't met.
A common experience that North Americans have living in other cultures is in relation to time and/or punctuality. Time is more fluid in other places. This isn't natural for us. For some reason we still strive to be "on time" to events. We've arrived at several events at the listed time on the invitation, only to be ridiculously early. I remember one party we showed up to 20 minutes late, we had even woken up Ruby early from her nap to leave, and we were at the party an hour before the birthday girl showed up. They were still setting up decorations and tables. We were the glaringly obvious "punctual" gringos.
It doesn't matter how often it happens, I still find myself worried about being "late" to things. I should probably know better by now that being on time means arriving awkwardly early, and also, things just last a lot longer. Church services last longer, and parties and events start late and go for hours.
Last night we decided to attend our church's annual Christmas dinner. It started at 7pm which is about the time our girls are in bed or getting ready for bed. Most social events start about this time of night. These usually involve kids running around and playing late into the night. We figured it would last a couple hours and didn't want to bring a tired, sick baby to a long night. Fortunately, (or rather unfortunately for her) we have a staff member staying with us this week due to a sickness that brought her to the City for a couple weeks. I put Ruby down for the night and our friend was able to stay at home while Ruby slept.
The formal invitation said that the event started at 7, and that they wanted to start "en punto," as in, right on time at 7. So, we arrived about 7:15. The church was probably half or 3/4 full, which is a pretty decent showing. The parking lot in our church is extremely narrow and cars arrive and line up one in front of the other. (Countless times, due to our inability to arrive late, we've been stuck in the back of the parking lot, unable to leave until the majority of the cars have left. First ones to arrive, last to leave.) Last night was no exception. We were directed to park down a narrow alley of the parking lot, very far away from the gate. This meant we were blocked in deep, with no chance of leaving before every last goodbye had been said.
There was special music, with dinner finally served at 8:00. Following dinner there were more presentations, and finally, at about 9:15, the sermon began. The Christmas sermon wrapped up a little after 10, which segued to a half an hour of Christmas carols to end the night.
|Hazel taking a break on my lap. What you can't tell is that to get her to smile I had to bribe her with candy. Totally worth it.|
Once again, I had to bribe Hazel. She only agreed to the picture if she wore this crown.
Hazel, tired from a long day of swim class and playing, couldn't make it more than 3 hours past her normal bedtime, and somehow fell asleep under the bright lights, in Daddy's arm, while he chatted.
We might learn not to look at the clock, eventually. In the meantime, friends of ours at church assured us that the traditional upcoming Christmas Eve service at church is "very short" compared to most events, "only" an hour and a half. We had a good laugh about how a 90-minute service is short here, which would feel very long in the US. We explained how church services in the States are very punctual. If they go more than a few minutes over the prescribed schedule, people get antsy, start thinking about their lunch plans, squirm in their seats. One of my friends commented how sad it is that time is more important than the service or connecting with people.