Un rato

It is said the very first word of Spanish you’ll ever learn is “mañana”, which literally means “tomorrow” but in real life Latin cultures usually means something like “some day in the future, possibly”.

When I was a kid, my parents built a small vacation home in Spain. At our first visit, my dad went to buy some stones to finish the patio. The stones were supposed to be delivered “mañana”. So when no truck showed up the next day, my dad rode his bicycle in town to inquire… only to be told kindly “mañana”. This happened again the next day, and the next day, and it became a ritual for the entire 7 days of our stay, until the last day of our vacation when day my dad agreed to have the stones delivered some 6 months down the road when we’d be making another, longer trip to Spain. The entire time my family of course took the Spanish contractor at face value, thinking “mañana” actually meant the same thing as “tomorrow”, or “morgen” in Dutch.

Here in Peru the word “mañana” has an equally dubious meaning, and I’ve learned another one just like it: “un rato”, which literally means “a moment” or “a minute”. But nothing could be further from the truth. When someone in Peru tells me “un rato”, it pretty much means “nothing is going to happen for at least 45 minutes”.

In fact, when the baby starts to fuss because she’s hungry and Patricia says “un rato”, I’ve learned I can put in a pirated Led Zeppelin DVD to keep the baby entertained and distracted and pretty much make it through half the DVD before the “rato” is finally over. Hey, rock and roll beats walking around with a crying baby for 45 minutes 😉

Gotta go now, in un rato we’re going to eat dinner…

9 thoughts on “Un rato

  1. In Mexico, instead of “un rato” it’s “un momento” with the thumb and index finger showing a gap of 1/2 inch. Usually, though, it’s far less than 45 minutes. As for “mañana,” same thing.


  2. I guess “un rato” may not always be 45 minutes here either, but it definitely isn’t the “one moment” or “one minute” that’s implied…

    Not that the concept of time in Latin cultures is a bad thing when you get used to it, but it’s definitely not the concept of time I was used to in Western Europe or the US. Even for business meetings 20-30 minutes late is the norm here in Peru, and for social events an hour and a half late is pretty much considered on time.

  3. So, you think u r funny by writing in your blog about me saying un rato…}-(

    I will write some stuff about you also…in “un rato”…

  4. Great post, Ward. It does take us gringos a while to understand what these time-references mean. When I first knew my husband in the United States, I thought his fuzzy sense of time was a personal quirk. Then I visited Peru and realized, ‘The whole country is like this.’

  5. Thanks Barb.

    “fuzzy sense of time was a personal quirk”… of your husband and about every other Latino I think 😉

    Although I never really got used to this concept of time, I have to say I’ve adapted pretty well. On the other hand Patricia adapted more to the US way when we were living there. I guess when in Rome, do as the Romans.

  6. Pingback: Pais de coca cola « Life in Peru

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