Staff Columnist

The idea of punctuality is different around the world

I spent my senior year of college studying abroad in Mexico. One of the culture shocks I experienced was my Mexican friends’ attitude toward punctuality.

Before going any further, I should say I don’t come from a super punctual family.

My grandfather, rest his soul, was famous for his tardiness. To combat this bad habit, he set his wristwatch 30 minutes ahead of the actual time! Have any of you ever tried such a thing? I don’t know if this really worked in helping him keep his appointments. It seems fishy. Wouldn’t you just subconsciously subtract the extra time you’re adding to your clock?

Anyway, I found out upon my arrival in Mexico that *I* was the unusually punctual one. I found this out the hard way when I bought tickets for my friends and me to see a dance show at one of the local clubs. I showed up at their apartment only to learn they weren’t ready and weren’t actually planning to be ready until about an hour later. We arrived at the club just in time to see the final minutes of the show. D’oh!

One of my Mexican professors told me that this is a cultural difference between Americans and Mexicans, that when you say you’re going to leave at 7 p.m. in Mexico you might not leave until close to 8 p.m. I’ve since learned that cultures around the world differ quite a bit on this point, with some being extremely punctual and others much more lax. For instance, an article in Business Insider noted that Germans are renowned for their punctuality and believe they are late if they don’t show up at least 10 minutes early to a meeting. The same is true in Japan, where the trains are famously on time and a train arriving just one minute late is considered outrageous.

Latin America, Mediterranean Europe, Russia, India and much of the rest of the world are not so strict about being on time. But not everyone in these cultures accepts this as a given. In 2007, Peru’s president Alan Garcia launched a campaign to encourage punctuality among his citizens called “La hora sin demora” or “Time without delay.” He encouraged Peruvians to adhere to “English time,” and hoped that doing so would encourage productivity. Only time will tell if the campaign has been effective.

Editor’s note: Andy asked to have a note that he was late filing this story.