A Gringo’s Guide to Being on Time in Mexico

Someone sent this article to me yesterday.  I think this article is so true.  I have had some experiences like this myself.

My quiet reading spot on the beach.

My quiet reading spot on the beach.

A Gringo’s Guide to Being on Time in Mexico

Arriving at social gatherings in Mexico is a true art form. For Mexicans, it comes naturally. They know exactly when to show up for parties, coffee dates, dinners, etc without offending anyone or being offended by others.

For expats, we need a few years of careful cultural study before we finally stop checking our watches in annoyance every time we plan a meetup at Sanborns. When an American says a party starts at 7pm, you can be sure that all guests will be there at 7pm (and leaving at 9pm haha). In Mexico, parties start whenever and end some time before everyone has to go to work the next morning.

Hopefully I can help you jump ahead in your quest to being on time in Mexico by laying out what I’ve learned as an American in Mexico over the past 9 years.

1. One-on-one

So you’re in Mexico, and you’ve agreed to meet someone for coffee, or maybe a late dinner. If you made these plans more than one day in advance, I’m sorry to tell you that your plans do not exist. It’s useful to check ahead to make sure the other person doesn’t already have plans for that time, but your plans aren’t official until you call or text them the day of the meeting to confirm. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Tell the person you would like to meet up with them the following day. Mention the general time (morning, lunch, dinner, night, etc), but don’t bother with an actual time just yet.

Step 2: The morning of said meeting, text or call the person with something along the lines of, “Good morning! Can you still meet me today? Does 8pm at Sanborns sound good?”

Step 3: Now we’re getting into expert level. This is my secret to saving yourself a lot of headache… Text the person 30 minutes before the scheduled time with something like, “Getting ready now! See you in half an hour. Can’t wait!” This will help ensure they don’t forget or back out. It also gives them an opening to let you know if they will be late.

Step 4: Arrive 10 minutes later than whatever time they plan to arrive. It’s ok because they will be 15 minutes late.

Step 5: If for some reason you arrive after the other person, even if it’s 30 seconds after, you have to give a lame excuse. You can just quickly say, “Sorry, traffic was bad” or whatever you want, but you have to give some reason. Otherwise it would be awkward. I don’t know why. It’s just what you do.

2. Small groups of friends

The lead-up to plans with groups of 3 – 10 friends is the same as with a one-on-one. (Confirm the day of, etc.) However, things get a little tricky because the time is likely to be pushed back further and further the closer you get. With modern technology, I recommend a text chat group with this group of friends so you can get a play-by-play. Be ready to leave your house at the set time. If you planned to meet somewhere at 8pm, that’s the time you should be putting your shoes on to leave. BUT… don’t actually leave your house until you get a text from someone saying, “Ok I’m here. Where are you guys?” This way, you won’t be the first to arrive, but you won’t be the last, either.

3. House parties

If you show up within 30 minutes of a Mexican party’s scheduled start time, congratulations: you have just earned a spot on the planning committee. If you’re a family member of the host, you’ll be asked to run to Walmart to pick up soda, paper plates and tortilla chips. If you’re not a family member, you will have to help set up chairs and tables, then sit around in awkward silence waiting for everyone else to arrive. I try to arrive 1 hour after the scheduled time. That way you’re not the first person to arrive, but you’ve still made it in time to score the best taco ingredients and see the piñata. If you have close friends or family attending the same party, you can always call or text them to see when they plan on being there.

Bonus tips!!

While Mexicans are rarely on time for social events, they always try to be on time for business meetings, interviews, class, doctor’s appointments, exams and movies.
Never, ever make plans with a Mexican on a Sunday. Sunday in Mexico is strictly family day, and unless they’re inviting you to their cousin’s birthday party or their nephew’s baptism party, there’s no way they’re going to make time for you.

The Mamá Factor: Even if you follow all the proper steps, keep in mind that a Mexican may still cancel on you at any time if their mom calls and asks them for something. (I’ve had friends cancel on me at the last minute to go to the grocery store with their mom… more than once.)

camera xmas to may 2014 071

This is so true, it took me awhile to understand the time concept here in Mexico.  I am an army brat, and when I grew up you were late if you were not there 5 minutes early.  Our whole lives in the USA are dictated by the clock, and being late is bad, not here it is stylish.

When I first started working at the port, if a ship was due to dock at 8am, I would show up at 10 or 15 minutes before 8.  By doing that I was always the first one to work, and I used to have to sit and wait, while everybody else showed up 15 or 20 minutes after 8.  I would sit and watch how almost all the Mexicans would come pouring into the port at the same time, 15 or 20 minutes after the ship docked.

It has taken me quite a while to get used time concept here.  But once you get used to it, you realize it is all relative.  Things move slow here, and no one is in a real hurry.  When I first got to Mexico, I used to get frustrated because when I went to a store to get a Coke or something it would take 10 or 15 minutes, not like in the USA where you run in and out.  Here the cashiers are in no hurry, and neither are the customers.  Now I just take my time, stand in line, and wait my turn.

It is the same if you eat out at one of the local places in Mahahual.  In the USA, we tend to run into a Burger King or McDonalds, eat and be on our way, not here. Even the fast food joints are not really that fast.  I have gotten used to it.  If I a football game coming up. or something I want to do, I go ahead and plan on taking a hour to get my food, or whatever, and plan accordingly.  I have gotten to the point I where I take my Iphone with me a lot of times, and play games and stuff while I wait.

I have a local woman I go out with sometimes in Mahahual, and I have learned that if are supposed to meet her dinner at a certain time, I don’t leave my place until the time we are supposed to meet.  I used to have to wait 20 or 30 minutes everytime we went somewhere. So I asked her one time, why don’t if you are going to be somewhere at a time, tell me to meet you 30 minutes after the time that comes up in your head, keep me from waiting.  So she looked at me and then said, “If I do that, then I will be an hour late, instead of 30 minutes late.”  So the next day we were going to meet at Papi Pizza at 8pm.  For some reason I was running late, and as I left my place at about 10 minutes after 8, I get a call from her, she is at Papi Pizza, and wants to know what is wrong, I was late, and that was not like me to be late, and she was there waiting.  Lets just say I never brought up the subject of her being late again.

We have a saying down here in Mahahual, if you plan to meet someone down here at a certain time, you always ask that person if they are not a local Mexican( usually expats), ” Is that “Gringo ” time, or Mexican time.


Thanks for reading,

Stewart Rogers (USA-South Carolina)



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