Written for The Telegraph, 17 December
The first wedding invite is a cardinal moment for every expat. My excitement at opening the envelope was palpable.
“You are cordially invited to the happy couple’s wedding party at 01.00 hours.”
No, that must be a misprint. Surely that’s a typo for 18.00 hours? Or maybe 21.00? But 1am, really? Welcome to Argentina.
Argen-time, as I like to refer to it, is a curious thing for even the most indefatigable expat. You need stamina, a penchant for sleep deprivation and a lot of caffeine to survive it.
The time on the wedding invite was no mistake, as the bride told me when I called in a mild panic to tell her about the misprint.
In Argentina, no one sits down for dinner before 10pm and weddings are the same. The church service is generally around 8.30pm, dinner at 10.30pm and evening guests arrive in the wee hours of the morning.
What you do before 1am to stay awake and vaguely presentable still befuddles me, and try to wrap your head around this: no one at the wedding will be drunk yet. Not even close. They’ll keep going till 6 or 7am when it all finishes with pizza, fancy dress and carriages after dawn.
Most other social events follow the same pattern: late starts, and even later finishes. Restaurants don’t open till 9pm, and no nightclub dares to open much before 2am. That’s not just the rule for youngsters either. When going to someone’s house for a civilised dinner – at whatever age – guests should always estimate that the given time actually implies at least an hour later. Punctuality is an awkward shortcoming and elasticity when it comes to timing is a virtue.
A glutton for punishment, I recently tried to throw an English-style dinner party and told guests to arrive promptly at 7pm. Three times. By phone, email and text. All seven of them arrived, separately, after 9pm, by which point my canapés were well and truly soggy. Mushy canapés are one thing, but extra points go to President Cristina Kirchner for her Argen-timing at a United Nations meeting. A true patriot.
There is one time though, in Mendoza at least, which almost always arrives punctually: the highly regarded siesta hours. Shops close, streets empty, and this is the point of the day when it is all too easy to slip into Argen-time. Who wouldn’t welcome a long nap on a hot afternoon? You will certainly need it after the late night before.
Opening hours and reopening hours are not flexible either. Don’t expect a morning coffee much before 9am, and there’ll be no whisper of a shop open before 10am. Early mornings are a no-man’s land, apart from people returning from the night before and zombified workers trudging to the office after a couple of hours of slumber. That’s the one exception to tardiness in Argentina – your morning meeting with the boss. Don’t be late, even though he might be…
Read the rest of the article here.