As I prepared to leave the house this past Friday, I received a phone call from the English teacher with whom I was going to be working with that afternoon. She informed me that it would be better if I visited her students a different day.

Sure! But this makes one wonder why… Was she sick? Were students taking exams? Was there a celebration I didn’t know about? Had something come up last minute? No, no, no, and no. Her recommendation arose as a result of the weather: It was raining.

Apparently due to the fact that many students have to walk to school or to their respective bus stops, when it rains they simply don’t go to school. It’s not that classes are cancelled, but rather attendance is just lower when it rains. As a result, my lesson at Liceo 8 was postponed to a later date.

In Spanish, the word tiempo has two meanings: “weather” and “time” and this latest update from Rivera is dedicated to explaining how los tiempos affect life in Uruguay.

Life slows a bit during times of bad weather. What doesn’t slow is Uruguayans consumption of their national (non-alcoholic) drink: yerba mate (pronunced: SHARE-bah MAH-tay).

With the strength of coffee (natural caffeine) and health benefits of tea, mate is what keeps Uruguayans going day-to-day. Someday I’ll take the time to better explain how the drink is prepared, but my goal for now is that you recognize just how obsessed Uruguayans are with their precious mate.

It’s quite a phenomenon actually. People carry their mate and thermos of piping hot water with them everywhere they go. It’s a drink shared among family, friends and strangers alike. Grocery stores carry dozens of different brands and everyone has their own eccentricities regarding the proper way to prepare, handle and consume the beverage.

Personally I like mate, especially on rainy days. In true Uruguayan fashion I celebrated Friday afternoon’s “rainout” with mate by the fireplace and a nice siesta as the rain pelted down on the roof above me.

Torta frita

The rain continued through most of Saturday and my host dad Daniel used the poor weather as an opportunity to introduce me to torta frita – a fried biscuit traditionally eaten on rainy days in Uruguay. As with nearly every food I’ve come across in Uruguay, it’s best when served with dulce de leche.

I’ve come to understand that it’s somewhat of a cold weather food, which makes sense as we are nearing the start of what is considered “winter” in Uruguay.

I continue to enjoy my life in classroom and my students continue to be shocked when I tell describe what el tiempo is like during Minnesota winters. They cannot fathom -30º Celsius and are blown away by the fact that people drive their trucks on the lakes to go ice-fishing.

Gringo y Gurises

It’s typically about 50º F (10º Celsius) when I wake up in the morning and generally reaches the upper 60’s (roughly 20º Celsius). Last weekend (May 5-7) I was in Montevideo for a Fulbright meeting and it reached 81º F (27º Celsius). It was great to reunite with my fellow ETA’s and spend some time in the nation’s capital.

Plaza Independencia – Montevideo

Sandra, Daniel and Diego also made the trek down (6 hours in car) from Rivera to enjoy the weekend with Guillermo, who lives in Montevideo. A highlight from the weekend came Sunday, when Daniel and Guille took me up the coast to see the beautiful beach towns of Piriápolis and Punta del Este.

Guille and I in Piriápolis

You might notice that the beach is completely empty. Per the theme of this week’s blog, the culprit is el tiempo. However, not only is the beach untouched, but the cities are all but abandoned as well. Dozens of hotels line the coast, yet there is no sign of life coming from any of them. Signs on grocery stores read, “Cerrado por la temporada.” Translation: “Closed for the season.”

It’s kind of like how the Red Wing Dairy Queen closes December-February, but the entire city shuts down. Punta del Este is known as the grand jewel of Uruguay in terms of beaches, and Argentines flock there by the thousands during the summer months. While there are less than 10,000 permanent residents in Punta del Este, there are over 23,000 homes and apartments, and the population swells to well over 250,000 during the month of January, when el tiempo is the hottest.

And just like that I’ve transitioned from one tiempo to the other. Time and the pace of life is significantly different in Uruguay compared to what I had been accustomed to in the Midwest. For example, we generally eat dinner around 22:00-22:30. (It has also taken some time to get used to thinking on a 24-hour clock rather than AM/PM.)

During my recent weekend in the big city, Fulbright ETA’s Justin and Elizabeth and I went out for a night on the town with a group of Uruguayans – members of an “adult” English conversation club in Montevideo. Then around 2:00 AM, we left!

“We left” as in “we left the apartment to go to a bar.” The night was just getting started! Whereas the establishments on Water Street in Eau Claire close at 2:00 AM (or so I’ve heard anyways ), the bars in Montevideo begin to show signs of life. To the disappointment of a handful of Uruguayans, we called it a night around 4:30 Sunday morning. It is normal – well maybe “common” is a better word – for people my age to stay out well beyond 5:00 or even 6:00 AM.

It’s made me realize that el tiempo is really just numbers on a clock. My day-to-day routines are really quite similar to that of a working teacher in the United States, except for the fact that I eat dinner quite a bit later. I sleep a little bit less at night, but have a little more tiempo for siestas in the afternoon. It’s a lifestyle.

I also find myself with a lot more tiempo for conversation. It might be the fact that I’m a bit of a novelty in Rivera given my “whiteness” and funny accent, but people seem to enjoy making conversation with me out of the blue. As a result I’ve gotten to meet and talk with many very interesting people – some of whom are far easier to understand and converse with than others.


On occasion when I’m talking with someone whose difficult to understand, I’m forced to make a decision: Do I just smile & nod my head or do I invest tiempo in the conversation by asking for clarification? I faced this dilemma much more frequently early on in my experience and “smiling and nodding my head” has proven to be a poor choice to make.

In a trivial sense, I’ve regretted not asking the meaning of certain words. Now to my credit, you can’t ask or look up every single new word that you hear, but there will be words that come up day after day after day… and at some point you just have to ask for help! For me, this word was gurises, which is a synonym for chicos (young people) that is only used in Uruguay. For weeks I wondered what the heck this thing (person? place?) was, until I finally asked and it all made sense.

Sure it can be embarrassing to have to ask someone to repeat something, but man who knows what you might miss out on by being too proud to ask for clarification.

Talking with new people everyday has reminded me of the difference between being heard and being listened to, and I’ve really come to value the latter. Investing in conversation with someone is tiempo well spent.

And just like that it’s been almost two months since I arrived in Uruguay.

El tiempo vuela

Tres Cosas
Algo bueno: Churros Rellenos – Churros stuffed with dulce de leche (see below)
Algo malo: During my four days in Montevideo, I stepped in dog poop three times.
Algo curioso: Just as in the US we use the word “Kleenex” to refer to all “tissues”, Uruguayans use the word “Championes” to refer to all athletic shoes. The Champion brand was huge here back in the day, and the name stuck.
Churros rellenos

6 thoughts on “Tiempo

  1. Hi Joel!
    Your dad shared your web site with me last night-went out to eat with the Bangs, Kuglin’s, Heilman’s and Folkerds. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences and seeing the pics! What a special time you must be having. What a great looking group of kids who like their teacher.
    I look forward to following you in your journey!
    Take care and keep up the good work!


  2. Que te pasa calabasa?? Hi Joel..
    It is great to read about your adventures and your insight. You do a great job!! Stay safe and keep sharing what you are learning! I am writing this from Hershey PA(their motto is “the sweetest city in the world” where we have just met our new grand daughter, Maggie Catherine(“sweetest baby in the world”)!!!!
    Your students are lucky to have such a good guy for a teacher. You will both learn a lot from each other. Thanks for sharing!
    Lori Cashman


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