Before meeting with my friend Leticia from Honduras, Central America, I would ask her if she was arriving according to North American time or Latin American time. Smiling, she would answer, "A la hora Latina, of course." This meant that she would be late. The concept of time is very different for Latin Americans than for North Americans.
Life in the United States is fast-paced. There are fast food restaurants, overnight delivery services, shuttle services, instant cash machines, fast weight loss plans, and even instant minute rice. Avidly following such sayings as, "The early bird gets the worm," and, "First come, first served," North Americans even have their meals in an efficient manner. Microwaves help nuke their early breakfasts, noon lunches, and five-o'clock dinners.
"Time is money" for big businesses. Everyone follows set agendas. Minutes are taken at meetings that are precisely scheduled. North Americans take pride in juggling busy work schedules and still finding time to spend with family and friends.
Latin Americans stroll leisurely through life. They amble past open-air restaurants, across shaded patios tucked behind walls of Bougainvillea. In the cafes, the service is slow but courteous. Outside on the streets, people walk by, not for weight purposes, but to get somewhere. Buses arrive and depart on their own schedule, sometimes sooner or later than their printed times. And if you miss the bus, wait. One will come along eventually. Mid-morning breakfasts are homemade. Lunch is around three in the afternoon and dinner could be anytime after the arranged time. No one follows a set agenda, but business is accomplished at a gradual and comfortable pace. Watches are not followed precisely, and one barely ever hears the question, "What time is it?"
This cultural difference has proven to be a problem for many North Americans visiting Latin American countries and vice versa. For example, this problem has escalated on the issue of adoption. While in Honduras the summer of 1989, I translated for couples from the United States who were looking for children to adopt from Central America. All legal procedures were transacted between a lawyer from the U.S. and a Honduran lawyer. Legal matters on the North American end were handled almost immediately. The Honduran lawyer, however, was considerably slower with field work and paper work and was unable to give definite dates or times for the completion of the adoption. This created a cultural barrier and added to the confusion of the situation.
Without understanding these cultural differences, one could eventually feel offended. Having lived for five years in the Dominican Republic, I am able to understand the two concepts of time but am torn between them. People in the United States, while accomplishing much, need to live less by the clock and stroll through more of their days. Although Latin America can sometimes be very frustrating and remind us that, indeed, patience is a virtue, one should slow down long enough to enjoy life's simple pleasure. So whenever I am asked, "Why are you late?" I simply reply, "According to whose time?"
This magazine is produced by the Write Place and is funded through a St. Cloud State University (St. Cloud, Minnesota) Cultural Diversity Committee allocation.
Contributors retain all rights to their work.