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Living On Latin Time

Submitted by on March 28, 2012 – 6:56 am25 Comments

Latin Time, why we're late. Clock image for Late by photo extremist on flickr

Why Latinos are Late

Is it true? What they say about Hispanic Time? You know the joke: What time is it when a Latino arrives? Late o’clock.

If you are Latino, if you have friends who are Latino, if you are married to a Latino, I’d bet money you’ve heard anything from whisperings to chidings spoken out loud regarding Hispanic Time.

Hispanic/Latino time — or Cuban Time, or Mexican Time, or Colombian Time, etc — is the tongue-in-cheek saying given to the late arrival time of our people to social gatherings.

For work, business, meetings, school functions, committees, we are professionally prompt and on the dot.

But, invite us to a party, a wedding, a celebration, and let’s just say that chances are good we won’t be the first ones ringing your doorbell.

I don’t take offense when I hear joking about this late arrival time and Latinos. Within my own family we will jokingly ask before we meet somewhere, American time or Latino time? This is our way of asking Do you want me there at 6:30, or around 6:30?

The reasons for this cultural characteristic have been speculated about for years. I feel it’s expected of me to arrive late at a Latino event. I don’t want to arrive on time because I know my hosts will expect me to arrive at least half an hour later than requested.

Research into why there is this occurrence of arriving late in our culture leads to explanations of European background, Mediterranean roots, living in the present, not fully adopting the American lifestyle of “time is money”, and “the early bird gets the worm.”

I have read the proposed theories, detailing how Hispanics value peace more than stress, or  how the Spanish language and it’s verb structure create a lifestyle of living in the present. For me, it comes down to doing what is politely expected in my Latino culture.

Why I am Late

I feel my hosts need the time to prepare for my arrival. I don’t want to catch them before they are ready or make them feel rushed. The arrival time of 30 minutes later that I give them is like a safety net that I silently provide for my friends. I want them to be relaxed and ready for me. In my eyes, arriving later than requested is the considerate thing to do.

It makes my husband and his German family crazy that I aim for a late arrival on purpose. They can’t understand this. I have been told by my husband how important it is for him to arrive on time for anything. I hear him, I really do. But I can’t bring myself to do it. The way I see it, to show up on time puts me at risk of finding my hostess in her slip and hot rollers. With not a smidge of lipstick on.

But I’ve figured out a simple way to work around my husband’s German punctuality and my Latino Time.

I tell him an arrival time that is half an hour later than we’re actually expected. When we pull up to our friend’s home, he smiles thinking we’re wonderfully prompt, and I am able to breathe deeply, relieved we won’t walk in on anybody in their boxers and A shirt, dancing in the kitchen to Pitbull.

Share, por favor!


  • Adriana says:

    I host friends often and I definitely factor in the hora puertorriqueña when I ask them over. My trick is to drop everything I am doing – ready or not – and get ready at the time I ask them to come over.

  • Alexandra says:

    And can I tell you, if the alarm goes off, and you shut it off, and then find yourself drifting into a new dream: you will be late.

    By anyone’s standards.

    Thanks for having me here, tikitiki, I am so happy to have the opportunity to write about life growing up, Latina.

  • I think Latinos and Chinese people are actually the same people.

    We never turn up at the time we’re asked to.

    Except for me. I’m punctual, even early.

    See, I can’t even conform to being late.

  • Tracy says:

    As a gringa I’ve always tended to be mostly on time, though occasionally late. Since marrying Carlos, we’re almost always late unless it’s work or a doctor’s appointment – then, somehow, we magically get there on time.

    I’m not sure whose fault it is – the kids, myself, Carlos – it’s never the same person out the door last.

    My gringo parents have gotten used to this and have nicknamed us “the late Lopezes” … Sometimes my mother even gives us a false early time for a family get together so when we show up “late”, we actually arrive on time. LOL.

  • Abuela says:

    I have walked out of few Dr’s(cubanitos)office because my time is as valuable as theirs, I think is una falta de respeto estar tarde para cualquier cosa, no creo sea costumbre de todos los Latinos, mas bien de educacion y consideracion hacia los demas and I am Cuban & always on time.

    • Alexandra says:

      I agree with you, Abuela. In professional settings, my family is early. Never late.

      But in social settings, my mother always said to arrive half an hour later, as a “courtesy.” Different families, different customs.

      Thank you so much for commenting, and it was wonderful to read your words in Spanish, made me smile, and miss my abuela.

  • In my familia, being late is neither charming nor amusing. It is rude and disrespectful. Count me as one Cubano who does not buy into the myth that we are always late.

    By the way, Cubans own 50% of Hispanic businesses despite being only 5% of the Latino population. I doubt we achieved this by being perennially late.

    • Alexandra says:

      So right. Professionaly, where would Latinos be with late arrivals.

      Arriving half an hour late is a quirk to my family, and to many Hispanic families in our social circle. I do respect what you say here, and I thank you for your comment.

    • Sandy says:

      Take note that this lateness being referred to is not about being late to work.

      • Alexandra says:

        Thank you, Sandy. Yes. I thought I had made it clear in 2 sentences that this was not a tardiness with professional settings…only in social. I know I mention it very early in the piece, and then again: but, yes, to work, meetings, appointments, seeing clients, patients: my family is never late.

        Thank you again, Sandy, for bringing it out. I thought I had done it enough by clarifying in two sentences, but not clearly enough. I think next time I will put a disclaimer at the bottom, We are late SOCIALLY, never professionally.

  • Alexandra,

    It is much the same with Jews, only I never thought to tell that white lie to my husband! GREAT idea—you’re so creative!


  • brian miller says:

    on that note i might be part latino…haha…in social settings i am def not pressed with being on time…drives my wife nuts…smiles.

  • Tanya Doyle says:

    We’re always late, but I like to think it has more to do with having three kids than my ethnicity. My better half is 100% NOT Latino, and he’s the one we usually end up waiting for!

    You should write a follow-up post about Latino guests never LEAVING. In that case, arriving late is a blessing, because the overall “stay” time is cut down, lol.

  • candace says:

    My Peruvian husband is always late! I finally had to take a separate car to church early on in our marriage cuz I didn’t want to be late anymore. He loves being “right on time” which is about 5 -10 minutes late. I like being early to everything. We just laugh about it now, but he knows if I have to I will leave without him. lol. Poor guy.

  • Kimberly says:

    Well I consider myself a mutt (Irish, Italian, and French) so somewhere in that DNA smash up is a late gene.
    I own it.
    “Yea, I’ll be there in a minute” translates to “I got to be there for…oooooOOOOooo maybe I should wear the red shirt”
    So easily distracted.

  • John says:

    I’m chuckling as I read this, because I married into a Greek family . . . and, as the organist at a Greek Orthodox Cathedral, I know that “the start time of a wedding is anywhere between the scheduled time and an hour after that time.”

    And Greeks are many things, but not Latino.

    I, personally, think that there is a lot of thought put into start times. I know, when I’m planning something, I’m planning everything to have things ready for my guests when I say “this is the start time.” This means, if you show up a half hour early, I might still be getting ready, but I’m far from displeased to see you.

    But, I’m also the kind of person who obsesses about being on time. Seriously, I’m a pretty easy-going person 95-99% of the time. But, if I’m getting close to being late for something . . . well, I’m an asshole. It’s not good.

    And, it’s especially not good if I’m with my “on Greek time” in-laws.

  • Arnebya says:

    To be on time, I have to tell my husband something starts 30 minutes before the actual start time. That way, when we show up an hour late we’re really only 30 minutes late. It’s called CP time (quite horribly, yet fully acceptable and used in the black community: colored people time) (though I do have a very close white friend who uses it as well). Certainly not politically correct, but, eh.

    I try, I really do. I don’t like having the reputation for being the late person/family. My girls are late to parties, I’m late to work (I used to think it was related to things I didn’t want to do, but I’m late even to stuff I genuinely want to be on time for). Being early is nonexistent.

  • Carrie says:

    Cubans are late. Just not all. And as my mom said up there, late wasn’t/and isn’t allowed in our family.

    I have late phobia…

    However, two weeks ago a friend sent out an email invitation to his Cuban mother-in-law’s Memorial Service.

    Right under the start time it said:
    “Not Cuban Time. The nuns at the church are very strict.”

    I think we all probably had a good laugh and a nod of knowing that indeed, some of us would even be late to a funeral service.

  • liz says:

    I had no idea there was cultural lateness.

    But ya learn something new every day. :-)

  • We call it Guadalupe time. Boriqua time. We hafta tell my husband parents an hour earlier than we actually want them so that they can be on time…and still they are late.

  • Charlotte says:

    I’m not sure what my excuse is because my family background is also German but I have heard an expression (which I always thought was German?) which essentially says “if I’m not there today, I’ll make it tomorrow.” I think as long as I can stay within a 20-minute window, I’m golden :)

    Love this post, Alexandra!

  • Chilean Guy says:

    People is quite punctual over here in Chile, hurried and on-the-dot in Santiago, but more laid back as you move away to provices.

    Still, we also ask “puntual o a la chilena?” (on time or chilean time?), to be sure if we are allowed to show up late, lol.

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