A Cultural Outlook: Punctuality

One of the things I have started to notice is that Americans seriously disagree with Hispanics on the concept of time. While this may seem like a very topical issue, it gives us insight into the major differences between American and Latin culture. My father always referenced my family’s lateness as “Guatemalan” time.  If we ever had to be somewhere, it was assumed that you would tack on an extra 30 minutes to our ETA.
The first time I went to Paraguay, I was waiting for a bus arrival to pick us up, and our supervisor jokingly said that we should expect to be picked up at least a half-hour late because we were now on “South American Time”.
Most Americans are very punctual beings. This stems from an anglo-germanic work ethic that revolves around efficiency and punctuality above all else.
To be late to an important meeting in North America is cultural suicide, and while the norms are changing with the globalization of economies, Latin time isn’t rigidly bound like American Time.
If you go to a social gathering, 7 could mean 8. The same goes for deadlines. I have had several Americans voice their frustrations after receiving a project or report a few days after the deadline.
There are some things to understand here as an American. First, this does NOT mean that Hispanics are lazy or that they can’t get their act together. The concept of time has been ingrained to be more relative than literal. This present a challenge for the average American businessman.
Because of this deeply ingrained cultural understanding of time, it wouldn’t be in good taste to expect an American concept of the workplace down south, things are done very differently and that is something that Americans need to get over and adjust to in the global south.
Secondly, Latin Cultures are warm, not cold. This stems from Italian and Spanish influences that have flowed into Latin America over the years. Warm cultures are relationship-based, and hence things like punctuality are not of serious importance in comparison to things like friendship, happiness, and community.
One of my biggest pieces of advice to my readers is to learn the differences between warm and cold cultures. From here, things like punctuality will start to make much more sense.
For additional info on timeliness in Latin America check out the WSJ blog:https://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2016/09/06/an-expats-guide-to-the-latin-american-concept-of-time/


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