a wandering woman writes

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Spanish Meeting Bus

I hate meetings.



Loathe meetings.

Can't say why, really. I suspect it has to do with a calculation I rattled off one afternoon during my corporate years, putting a number to how many hours of my adult life I had already spent sitting in meetings. Several weeks, as I recall. Appalling.

For the record, I do love wild, unexpectedly contentious - or creative - meetings. It's weekly round-the-table check-ins and world-touring agendas that make my skin crawl.

Off my back, under the table and out the door.

Til there I sit, irritable. Skinless.

Here's where I should explain something: I was raised by business wolves. I cut my corporate teeth working in a savagely entrepreneurial company where time really was money. The CEO told me so. And if we'd been able to get our hands on a marble statue of a nymph-like goddess called Results, we would happily have rubbed her head and kissed her toes on the way in and out every day.

The millionaire CEO of that highly profitable wolves' den was a German immigrant who, as he told it, arrived in the US at the tender age of 19 with 3 dollars in his pocket. (I've always wondered how German arrived with dollars, but we'll assume he changed them at the airport.) He started meetings by his own satellite-calibrated watch and balanced a metal garbage pail just inside the conference room door to surprise anyone who dared crawl in late - or dispute the satellite-guaranteed hour.

I tell you all this to illustrate the depth of my dislike for the senseless human act of meeting just to meet. Here's what my wolf parents taught me about meetings and memos: Avoid them. When that doesn't work, start them on time, get to the point and get everybody back to what makes money.

Ah, but I live in Spain now.

It's not the sheer volume of Spanish meetings-just-to-meet that has my skin missing in action for weeks at a time. Although the volume is impressive.

Nor is it the epic journey taken by each and every agenda, though a Dutch colleague and I have enthusiastically pointed out the striking resemblance between many of our meetings and, well, the EU, for example.

It's not all that.

It's the darn Spanish Meeting Bus.

Ever call a meeting and nobody came? Well, in Spain, nobody EVER comes. Til the bus goes out to get them.

Allow me to illustrate my point:
Scene: 10 o'clock meeting called by who knows who.
10:01: Cut to the conference room, where our fearless wandering American sits alone.

10:15: Alone she sits.

10:20: Wandering American begins to make the rounds, in what I have affectionately named the Spanish Meeting Bus.

- Knock knock!! Diez y veinte!
- Hola, everybody still working happily at your desks! Don't we have a meeting at 10:00?

Until the bus physically rounds up each and every participants, nothing. This isn't late. This isn't even the legendary (and fictional, if you ask me) Spanish mañana.

This is nunca. Bordering on nunca jamás. Never.

I have an idea. If we start the darn things I bet we'll finish earlier.

Anybody want to buy an imaginary bus?

Labels: ,


  • Does the imaginary bus also come with a cattle prod? Otherwise it would be pretty useless here..

    By Blogger hobbes, at 12:52 AM  

  • I hear you! That was a great post.

    Last summer, I had a meeting with a pretty prominent journalist in Madrid (a friend of a friend); I was going to pick his brain for information I was doing on a study project on the Spanish press.

    Well, I missed my metro stop and was running about 15-20 minutes late, with no cell phone reception, and I just knew he was going to be mad or get up and leave. After all, he's a busy, important guy, right? Imagine my relief to find him still waiting at the cafe.

    "I'm so sorry I'm late," I said breathlessly.

    He looked at his watch. "Oh, what time is it?" he asked.

    That wasn't nearly as bad as when the Madrileno I was casually dating told me he'd meet me in Puerta del Sol at 11 p.m. I got there at 10:45... no Pedro. 11... no Pedro. My American girlfriends, who'd hung around hoping to meet my mysterious Spanish fling, were getting antsy by 11:05. 11:15... 20... 30... finally, he strolls up at 11:45. I didn't even call him out on it, because I knew he'd just say, "Oh, what time is it?"

    By Blogger Angie, at 1:20 AM  

  • LOL.

    Well, it's imaginary so we could whip up a cattle prod at no additional cost, I suppose, just for you.

    By the way, I'd take the beach scenes you so cruelly flaunt in your photos for life requiring the use of a cattle prod any day...:)

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 1:32 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 1:38 AM  

  • That's hysterical, Angie. Although although I really like the loose tracking of time on a personal level - OK not like your Pedro story :) but I love never having to hurry or beg forgiveness for arriving late. But at work it astounds me.

    So your theory is they'd eventually come? I may just wait and see next time..or retreat to my office and wait for a bus!

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 1:47 AM  

  • Ummmm...

    I'll tell you a little secret. Productivity in Spain is measured not in what you actually do, but in the amount of hours you spend to do it.

    Try to do your work and finish it in time to leave by 5 o`clock and your colleages will look at you thinking "how cheeky of you leaving early".

    Oh, yes... that and extra hours. ¿Have you allready noticed how easy it is to get male employees do to extra hours? Yes, it's because it's a good excuse to avoid looking after the kids and having to stay with the family (ok, the wife)...

    By Anonymous Alex, at 9:02 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Blog Owner, at 3:11 PM  

  • i completely agree with you! here at my office, i and the english woman who also always complains about the impossibility of gathering ppl together for a meeting call it, "rounding up the cats". you leave one person in the meeting room while you round up the others. you return with another person, and the first person has gone, to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water and then get distracted by a conversation with a colleague. and so forth for the next half hour. these spanish cats just don´t stay still!

    loving your posts...i´m going to get neck strain...i keep nodding in agreement!

    By Blogger nikkicee, at 9:35 AM  

  • Funny about time. What's different here in Ecuador is that time isn't a factor unless the stoplight turns green at which time everyone honks.

    Or unless "you" are the one who is late and then you'll get the guilt trip.

    By Anonymous chris, at 11:08 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home