It’s interesting (to me, anyway) to think about how we order the time in our lives. It really shouldn’t matter that we just said goodbye to 2011 and then moseyed into 2012, but it did and it does. What did it really change? Well . . . something. We feel . . . different. Time marches forward, life moves on whether we want it to or not, and we are more surrounded by both the familiar and the great unknown than ever before. Like many people, I’m very attached to keeping track of my life via the four seasons. I know that sounds like a strange thing to remark, but when I lived in a place that didn’t have those seasons, I realized how significant they really are for me and many others. We say things like “They’re getting married in the spring,” or “We met last summer,” or “I always feel a delicious mix of wistfulness and contentment in the fall.” They don’t talk that way in Colombia. There, it’s the rainy season (invierno) and the rest of the year. I don’t know about the rest of Latin America. I once explained at length to my ex-boyfriend what each season represents for us and how symbolic the changing of the seasons is. We only got through the cycle once.
Maybe the liturgical calendar holds a great deal of meaning for you. Maybe it’s the sports seasons. Maybe the academic year. Maybe the growing season is what marks the upheaval and rests in your life. Whatever it is, we all need something to be able to distinguish one day from the next, one seemingly interminable period from the one on the distant horizon. Now, where was I going with this? Oh, yes. I’d quite forgot.
Time. Watch-wearers can be hard to come by in the modern reign of the cell phone, but, watch or no watch, I know you think a lot about time. Passing it, saving it, killing it, being on it. Forget years and revolutions around the sun–our daily preoccupations are ruled by minutes and seconds, ticks and tocks! We always want to be in time and on time, but the minute someone puts their hand out for some it? We have no time! Such is life. Since our conversations are so dominated by talking about time, here are some very useful things you should know. As always, these come from my experience (my blog = my experience).
How to talk about time in Spanish
1. Despite what you learned in high school Spanish, no one actually says son las seis menos veinte for 5:40, let alone son las once menos veintitrés for 10:37. Look, no one has the time to do that kind of math. The verb you need to use is faltar, which means “to be lacking.”
Faltan veinte para las seis.
It’s twenty till six. (5:40)
Faltaban quince para la una.
It was quarter till one. (12:45)
You can even lop off the faltan and be fine. Veinte para las seis. What about when it’s not an increment of five, like 6:37, and it’s really important that you be precise? Like, you’re a forensic analyst and you absolutely must indicate the exact minute that the victim died. In that case, you just say las seis y treinta y siete. Only do easy math! No need to whip out a calculator or use your fingers.
2. They don’t say ¿Qué hora es? very often in Colombia and some other countries. I only heard ¿Qué horas son?, but both are valid.
3. To ask someone what time it is, especially a stranger, say, on the bus or on the street, you say ¿Tiene/s horas?
4. When generalizing about numbers (time or otherwise), a very useful and colloquial construction is por ahí. It means around, about, more or less.
Nos conocimos hace por ahí un año.
We met about a year ago.
¿Cuándo te voy a recoger? No sé, por ahí a las seis.
When am I going to come get you? I don’t know, probably around six.
When people are speaking quickly, it often comes out sounding more like por hay las seis, just so you know. (Two syllables instead of four)
5. Another useful word for approximating times is tipo.
Normalmente se levanta tipo seis.
He usually gets up around sixish.
Te llamo tipo cuatro y media.
I’ll call you around four-thirty.
6. You can also say alrededor de, but this is a little more formal.
Vengan alrededor de las nueve.
Come around nine.
I also see a eso de online, but I never heard it in Colombia.
6. Approximations not your bag? Want to insist that someone arrive on the dot or else? That they get there at six SHARP? En punto.
Tienes que llegar a la entrevista a las seis en punto, ni un minuto más, ni un minuto menos.
You have to be at the interview at six sharp.
7. This is being pulled from the archive of old emails from the ex-boyfriend that I probably should delete but never will. According to him, Colombians consider the English to be the most punctual people in the world (NOT Americans, he made a point of saying). Therefore, they’ll sometimes say things like Soy (tan) puntual como un inglés, or even soy más puntual que un inglés. As punctual as an Englishman! More punctual, even! Ha! Let me just say that I, for one, never met any of these Colombians who allegedly fancy themselves more timely than the Brits. Lateness abounded, and nobody seemed to bat an eye.
Browsing the Internet, I also found these:
puntual como un reloj suizo (a Swiss watch)
puntual como un clavo (nail)
puntual como la muerte (death)
Hopefully you’ve noticed by now that there’s no “c” in puntual!
I’m plum out of time, simply must dash or I shan’t be on time for tea, trying to sound and act more English–more to come!
_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with these time expressions? Had you heard them before? How have you heard them used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?