more thoughts on mexican lateness and the term ya

Although I do still appreciate punctuality, I don’t really mind the stereotypical Mexican concept of time. I think I have discussed this before, but I have always seen it as just a less rigid concept of lateness. Five or ten minutes late isn’t “really” late for a lot of people. Unless the bus leaves without you I guess. But I prefer to think of the cultural tolerance for lateness as them being flexible.

As a comparison, looking at my native culture’s punctuality, I have considered the risky, “northerly cultures” argument. Germany, Switzerland, Scotland. In places where the length of a day fluxuates dramatically with the season, perhaps cultures develop a heightened sensitivity to time. If you sometimes only have three hours of daylight you tend to schedule it pretty carefully. And in places where there isn’t too much variation throughout the year of when the sun rises and sets, perhaps people think less about racing minute hands. The day is pretty much always twelve hours long, big whoop.

I recently read an article in the magazine AlgarabĂ­a about the 19th-century German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who studied the Aztecs. That article, written by Jaime Labastida, got me thinking a little bit more about the historical roots of this phenomenon. From that article I learned that, studying the Aztec calendar, Humboldt observed the Aztecs measuring time and space together, as one measurement. They didn’t deal with time but rather with space-time. Concept not popularized in northerly cultures until the 1930s mas o menos, by another German.

First off, this blows my mind, yet I am not surprised. I kind of already thought the Aztecs knew how to travel in time, and that feathered serpants are dinosaurs.

But secondly, it made me realize Mexicans are descended from a culture whose conception of time is not so much as a scheduling tool. It’s broader than that– Mexican, Aztec time consciously tracks movement. It’s not fixed in space. It is relative.

I recently got a Mexican to confirm this for me, with respect to the term “ya.” I have experienced countless frustrations with “ya,” which translates as “now” but not really. Now I think I understand it a bit better, haha, contemplating it from a space-time perspective. “Ya” = the present time and SPACE of the person speaking. So “I’m getting there ya” could actually mean “I’ll get there when I get there.” Which I had already learned from experience anyway, but still. I find it satisfying to be able to articulate why. It’s because the Mexican “now” is four-dimensional.

Thank you, Dr Labastida. And Aztecs. And Humboldt.


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