Cultural differences are one of those things you can’t really be aware of until they cause problems for you. That is, we take our own cultural norms for granted, and often only notice changes when they confuse or challenge us. I’m talking here about minor things, of course — not the differences that are immediately apparent, physically or otherwise. No, these are little things, like the fact that people here don’t eat much for dinner, or that 90% of the time, you’re better off saying “señora” instead of “señorita.” These are the things nobody explains to you — the trial-and-error differences you’re left to discover on your own.
There are tons of these little peculiarities hidden all over here like malicious Easter eggs, just waiting for me to discover them by screwing something up or misunderstanding someone. One of my favorite Colombianisms (and by “favorite,” I mean “kind of makes me twitch violently every time someone says it”) is their method of counting — or miscounting — days.
Let’s say it’s Friday, and you’re making plans with a friend to go out dancing next weekend. Those of us who pledge allegiance to English as our first language would usually say something like, “Let’s go next Friday,” or “in a week” (I don’t know what you folks across the various ponds say, but I’m going to assume it’s something similar for the sake of having backup, okay? Okay). These are logical, relatively clear ways to denote time — and, most importantly, they don’t involve counting.
No such luck here. Your average Colombian, when attempting to make plans in the same time frame (although let’s be honest, your average Colombian wouldn’t be planning something a week ahead of time. But give me some willful suspension of disbelief), would say, “Nos vemos en ocho días (See you in eight days).”
WHAT. What, even.
Let’s talk my least favorite subject for a moment: math. If today is Friday, there are six full days between now and next Friday. FULL DAYS. Therefore, next Friday is the seventh day, yes? We’re all still together here? One of my Colombian friends tried to defend this mathematical nonsense by explaining that the full saying is “Hoy en ocho días” (“Today, in eight days”). Disregarding the grammatical issues, I’ve never encountered any other place that counts whatever fraction of the current day is left as a full day when planning things.
And it gets better. As part of my counterargument, tentatively entitled “Where The Hell Do You Get That Extra Day?!” I tried to clarify this nonsense. If you’re doing something tomorrow, I asked, do you say “in two days?” Of course not, answered my friend. Two days isn’t the same as tomorrow.
I KNOW THIS. All I want to know is, at what point in the week, then, does that extra day show up? Because as far as I can tell, there are only seven scheduled days in Colombian weeks, just the same as at home. Apparently this illogical counting only applies in increments of weeks. And don’t even get me started on how two weeks apparently contain 15 days. I just….can’t. And I won’t. I’m going to keep counting in full weeks, thanks, because at least that’s a concept that seems to translate across borders.
I can only assume that this chronological miseducation is actually why Colombians are late so often. How can they be expected to arrive on time when they don’t even know what day it is?