Sunday, February 27, 2011

Colombian Time

On the left, an American clock. On the right, a Colombian one.
My high school football coach used to say, “If you’re not early, you’re late.”

Although he was referring to being on time for football practice, I’ve found his words useful throughout my life.

That is, until I came to Colombia.

The American penchant for punctuality could not be more different than the Colombian tendency for truancy. Whereas in the United States, when someone says they will meet you at 8 pm., you can expect to meet them at 8 pm., in Colombia you shouldn’t expect for them to actually show up until 8:30 or 9.

The halls I meandered.
A few weeks ago I had an important meeting with my school’s rector (principal) and a few other school officials to discuss my role in the classroom. Since the meeting was scheduled for 8 am, I got up bright and early and arrived at school by 7:30. I twiddled my thumbs as I waited outside the rector’s office for the others to arrive, but alas, 8:30 am came and went and neither the rector nor school officials were anywhere to be found. When the clock struck 8:45, I started to worry that I was waiting in the wrong spot for the meeting, so I left to meander Nueva Esperanza’s empty hallways like some kind of lost gato. When I returned to the rector’s office at 9 am, I saw the meeting had started without me.

The rector and school officials looked at me and chuckled. Tardy Americans, they probably thought.

Another FML moment to add to the record books about my time in Colombia.

I’m starting to worry that Colombian time has infected my own internal clock. Lately when I’ve told friends that I’d meet them at a certain time, I always manage to be fifteen to twenty minutes late no matter how hard I try to be on time.

Although I don’t have any solid scientific evidence to support this theory, I’m beginning to suspect that Colombia exists in some kind of temporal vortex that makes punctuality impossible.   

The White Rabbit was probably Colombian-American.
On a brighter note, Colombian time most likely stems from the country’s laid-back attitude towards how life should be lived. In the United States, our lives are dominated by schedules and daily planners—our sights are so set on the future that we often overlook the only time that truly matters—the now. Although Americans might view Colombian time as a sign of indiscipline, disrespect or even laziness, let’s not overlook the positive aspects of this cultural phenomenon. Colombians excel at enjoying the now—living life in the moment and not with their minds set on an ambiguous future.

In other words; they realize that life is best lived free from the chains of time.

My old football coach would undoubtedly be horrified by Colombians’ utter disregard for ever being on time

But if he ever came to Colombia, he would soon learn that if you’re not late, then you’re gonna have to wait.


  1. That picture of the clocks is so perfect. Love!

  2. The word ahorra in Spanish means "now". In Colombia it means "sometime in the future."