Gringo in Guadalajara

 Mexican Time

In the wonderful 2007 film, The Visitor, there is a reference to something called "Arab time."

"Tarek Khalil: We have to get home! Zainab's gonna kill me, I'm on Arab time again. 
Prof. Walter Vale: What is "Arab time"? 
Tarek Khalil: It means I'm late by an hour. All Arabs are late by an hour, it's genetic, we can't help it." 

Well if there is such a thing as "Arab Time," then there is definitely such a thing as "Mexico Time," even if an hour might be a bit of an overestimate.  Being "on time" is a slippery concept here in Mexico since there is a general understanding that 9:00 does not literally mean 9:00. This is certainly true of social engagements, "The party starts at 10:00," "I'll come by your house at 4:30,"or  even "I'll meet you at the restaurant at 1:00" are all statements to be taken lightly.  But it's also true in more formal settings ---  A 2:00 doctor appointment is likely to start at 2:20.

But what is the reason for this?  Is it "genetic" to Mexicans as well, like the explanation that Tarek gives in "The Visitor?"  More likely has to do with some tendencies in Mexican culture.  Without question this is an unscientific study, however, I see three main societal differences that account in large part for the entire country running a good 30 minutes behind schedule.

The first has to do with country's physical structure acting as a kind of giant time impediment.  While every city has traffic, Guadalajara's traffic is less predictable.  It tends bog down in odd places and for odd reasons.  For instance, there are few laws about where trucks can and cannot drive, so an eighteen-wheeler may tie up a street for twenty minutes while delivering a few boxes of oranges.  Due to poverty, cars are older here and tend to die in the middle of the street, so that might be the reason for your delay.  And the street system (off-ramps, turn lanes, carriage roads etc) is just not that well-planned, so you really never know where there might be a back-up.  If you say you'll be there at 6:00, you are counting on everything going smoothly on the road, which it pretty much never does.

Another reason is the social experience here.  Hospitality and politeness are still valued in Mexico in a way that has been discarded in the U.S. --- at least North of the Mason-Dixon line.  If you stop by your cousin's house to drop off a sweater or you run downstairs to talk to a neighbor about the water in the building, you will be obliged to stay and talk a bit, maybe have some coffee.  The Mexicans have somehow found a way to keep hospitality and politeness strong in a fast-paced society, but it also tends to make ever behind schedule.

Finally, there is simply the Mexican relationship with rules. Mexicans are not the same type of sticklers for rules and regulations that we are in the U.S.  Time obligations and appointments fall into this category.  It is a trait that cuts both ways...Americans tend to be more often punctual and respectful of rules, but they also tend to be more prickly and uptight.  Mexicans tend to be laid back and have greater "joie de vivre," but at times their disregard for rules can drive one up the wall. []