Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

Catalan time

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Catalan people are totally quaint. Their crazy idea that they’ll gain independence from Spain is certainly a big part of it. The insistence on speaking a language that no one can properly spell is another, but the thing that really sets them apart for me is that they have their own way of telling time.

In English, Spanish and French, telling time is basically the same proposition. Each language offers a variation on saying “it’s 1:15” or “it’s a quarter past one.” (In French and Spanish the latter is flipped so as to be “it’s one and a quarter.”) This way of communicating is clear, straightforward, and for a person who knows how to read a clock, there’s almost no way to mess up.

This watch was a promotional item from the Catalan “national” TV channel, TV3

But then you get to Catalunya and people start going crazy, telling you that at 1:15 it’s “one quarter closer to two” (un quart de dues). Their line of thinking is that once you’ve entered the hour of one, you are closer to the hour of two since time moves forward. As the handy watch that a friend gave me some years ago shows, Catalan also eschews the “half-hour” designation, opting to say “two quarters,” and “three quarters” instead of the more expected “a quarter to.”

Better still, for all those pesky between-five-minute intervals, Catalan’s got you covered so that you can say, “it’s a quarter closer to two and half a quarter” meaning that the time is 1:22.

What’s really crazy is that many Catalans are very Catalan and they actually make appointments using this insane method so that it’s very possible to arrive an hour early to a meeting where they’re going to arrive a half hour late on principle. If you do the math, which I’ve done the hard way (by living it), that can equal a one and a half hour wait for you, so vigila (watch out)!


Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

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