Time is Fluid

Here in Mexico, the culture has a very different concept of time from in the US. Growing up, my family taught me that if you’re not 5 minutes early, you’re late. When I tried to apply that concept here, it resulted in lots of time waiting for other people to show up.

Mexicans consider time to be fluid. There aren’t really specific times, just general times of day and periods of time when things need to be done.

When setting up a get-together with a Mexican, you can usually plan for them to be late. Recently, I got together with a bunch of girlfriends for a bridesmaids dress fitting. My friend Viri and I got there 15 minutes late, 2 girls arrived 45 minutes late, 1 girl arrived an hour late, and another girl arrived an hour and a half late! In the US, this would be completely unacceptable. Here, however, we just used it as an opportunity to have some micheladas and tortas while we waited. No problem!

A few weeks ago, I heard the perfect conversation to represent the “time is fluid” concept. We were in Chabihau, and stopped by a little shop for some machacados (a Mexican version of a slushee, made with natural fruit). As they were preparing our machacados, this conversation occurred:


Jorge: Are you going to be open tomorrow?

Lady: (turns to husband) Are we going to open tomorrow?

Man: Sure.

Jorge: What time?

Man: Ummm… (looks at wife)… in the afternoon? Yes, in the afternoon.

Jorge: Ok, thank you!


For any American, this would cause confusion. Do they open early afternoon? Late afternoon? What time do I need to be here to get my machacado tomorrow?

For the Mexican, however, this is a non-issue. If they’re open when I show up, awesome. If not, they’re probably just having Sunday lunch with the family, right?

For an American living in Mexico, it’s hard to find a balance between “local time” and what we consider to be “rude” by our American standards. I’ve learned to adjust my time to each individual. I have a few friends who are normally punctual, so I try my best to be on time as well. Other friends tend to arrive an hour late, so I’ll wait for them to text me that they’re on their way before I leave my house.

How do you feel about time? Are you punctual? Does it bother you when others are late?

**We stopped by the machacados shop the next day at 1 pm, and yes they were open.**


25 thoughts on “Time is Fluid

  1. I always thought that this statement was true to some extent:

    “Americans live to work. Mexicans work to live.” I wrote a whole paper on this about the concept of time & family.

    I love the Mexican culture, but then again, you already knew that didn’t you? 😉

  2. Is it bad that I get VERY annoyed just reading about friends being 45-90 minutes late?! And that it’s ok with everyone? I’m so proud of you for adapting to that culture – I can’t imagine how hard it was, especially since we grew up in the same house so I know the feeling of NEEDING to be on time 🙂

    Miss you!

    • It is possible to be excessively punctual! I confess that I become severely stressed when I even think I might be late, or when others are late. I would like to think that living in Mexico would eventually cure me of this, but I might be a lost cause. But maybe not, because I really excel at driving slowly, and that could really help me at my attempts at being less punctual.

      Would love to visit you and be late to the beach together!

  3. After 16 years in Mexico I still find it very frustrating and annoying when people show up late. It makes everything more difficult to plan for when we want to host dinner parties, go to the movies etc. I am lucky that my husband (Mexican) believes in being punctual as well as a few of my other friends. The ones that are habitually late I try to adjust my invitation times by telling them that it starts an hour and a half earlier. For others I simply have stoppede inviting them to things that require them to be there at a specific time.

  4. That would be so hard to adjust to. I’m usually about 10 minutes late everywhere. Usually because I don’t take parking into account 😉

    I went to a baby shower for my coworker who is Mexican and we waited 2 hours for her family to arrive. Needless to say I was only there for part of the festivities 😉

  5. I’m not as crazy about being on time as I used to be. Something about having three kids that kind of nips that one in the bud. I do like to know when something is going to be open, but then again, I think it comes back to culture like you said.

  6. Hola mi gringita favorita, I am a mexican living in the USA. And despite that I have lived for so many years in this country and adapted to this culture(or at least had tried). I have not improve that big issue. I guess it runs in my mexican blood.


  7. I’m still not completely used to showing up late. My grandparents always showed up 10 to 15 minutes early for everything. And it kind of stuck with me. I used to show up 15 minutes early to my ESL classes. The receptionist where I taught once said, “You talk Mexican and for the most part you act Mexican, but I know you’re not a Mexican because you always show up early.” 🙂

  8. When I was living in Arizona I called it the “Mexican Minute” or “Mexican Time”. I honestly believe that where it is hot people aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere!! Even the animals take their time down there….

    I consider myself punctual and I think it is rude when people are late. Time is definitely a cultural concept!

  9. I’m an “on time” person! If I’m having a dinner party at my villa while in Cancun, I expect everyone to be “on time.”

  10. I’m one of those people that don’t like to be late and put someone else out! But if it’s understood by all parties involved that ‘time is fluid’ and I should “chill out”…I’m good with it! LOL I guess I can say that ‘My personality is fluid’! ^_^

  11. I went to a Mexican wedding and I promise you the bride was an hour late. No joke. After being let down for so many years by people being late, I finally adjusted, now if it something Mexican I run late, if it’s American I am on time.

  12. That would drive me absolutely CRAZY! I am punctual to a fault and always end up getting places early- I like the idea of not paying attention to time, but realistically, I would lose my mind 🙂

  13. Arggghhh… Hahaha – used to make me so angry, but now I admit I’ve completely adapted to their way of thinking!! When I was in Calgary these last few weeks I was late for everything!! I felt so bad as I could tell ppl were really annoyed with me…. I had to make an effort to be on time again. How quickly things change!!!!

  14. This is definitely something I struggle with in Mexico. I have somewhat adjusted, but I still get stressed out when I know I’m going to be late (even though I know I’ll still most likely beat whoever I’m meeting!).

  15. Really similar thing in Malta, you generally never arrange a ‘time’ to meet, like 1pm because that means people will turn up ‘around 1’ which could be between 1-3pm!

    I always plan for lateness with a book, my ipod etc as I still struggle to get out of the ‘if you’re not 5 mins early, you’re late’ way of thinking too!

    It did my head in at first but now I’m learning to cope with it too. Can’t really complain, you may end up waiting an hour for someone but like you say- you can sit and enjoy the time waiting with good food and enjoying the sunshine! xx

  16. damn! I’d have a really hard time adjusting to that… it drives me UP THE WALL when people are late. What’s the point of setting a time to meet or whatever, if no one is going to be there at that time.
    The being said… if it was the lifestyle I was used to… it sounds mighty appealing!

  17. I’m loving all the comments on this post! Yes, when I first moved to Mexico it was VERY frustrating, but once you kind of “get it”, it’s actually pretty awesome not to stress about time.

    My dad told me an awesome quote he learned during his time in Africa… “Africans have time, Americans have watches.” Love it 🙂

  18. I’m generally always late. To what degree depends on how badly my children managed to stress me out before we actually get on the road. I think I spend more time turning around to go back and fetch something than I do on the road. LOL

  19. Ha ha… I guess it would all depend on whether the place were far for me to get to or not. Hawaii can be a bit like the U.S. version of Mexico… we call it Hawaiian time. Although an hour to hour & half would probably be unacceptable if people were waiting to eat.

  20. Ok, so this is true with my Mexican friends here in the states. One of my YoungLives girls (teen mom group I run) had a baby shower today where I was the only anglo. I was 20 minutes late and was the first person there. I had to leave after an hour and a half, and people were still trickling in and nothing had happened yet. My baby shower, on the other hand, started promptly and ended 2 hours later. Several of my guests had to leave early because of their busy schedules. Sometimes I think I would be much happier on latin time.

  21. Pingback: Perception of Time in Mexico « expatsinmexico

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