Before I go into a no-doubt common gringo assessment of punctuality in Mexico, I want to share the following:
Last April, Semana Santa, I booked a trip to Guadalajara via the Toluca airport, about 1 hour outside of Mexico. You have to get a shuttle there from Mexico City. My plan was get the shuttle from Polanco, since that was the closest shuttle departure point to my neighborhood at the time. Unfortunately when I got there the shuttle tickets were sold out, owing to the holiday. They called the shuttle point on Paseo de la Reforma, closer to city center, to confirm that the shuttle there still had seats, and it did. And it was scheduled to leave in 20 minutes. They told me to hurry and hustled me into a taxi.
After some delay due to the idiot taxi driver (who also ripped me off) I got there, 23 minutes later. I wasn’t sure where the departure point was so I basically ran around the block looking for it, causing further delay, but found it and got on, relieved that it was still there. And it was still there another five minutes later. People were checking their watches and starting to grumble when one of the employees stuck her head in and asked if anyone had gotten on from Polanco. I looked around and realized something really amazing: they had been holding the shuttle for me.
That being said… I am a pretty punctual person, in the classic Northern new-world definition of “on time,” wherein you plan to arrive 5-10 minutes early just in case. Living in Mexico, though, my tendency to do this has eased up a little.
After the first several experiences of arriving 5-10 minutes early and then having to wait at least 20-25 for everyone else, the inborn panic that starts to boil as you approach the “appointed time” gets defeated a little. You start to get comfortable with the principle that anywhere under 15 minutes late in Mexico is generally not considered late. (Two notable exceptions are mass transport and when it’s something really important– picking up checks, meetings with heads of state, etc.)
I still haven’t given in completely, mind you. On principle. If you pass the appointed time, I reason, the other person has cause to wonder where you are. Plus I generally agree to be in a certain place at a certain time because it’s work-related, so I’m either being paid to be there or trying to foster business; either way it pays to be punctual. Nevermind the question of “what if the other person shows up on time.”
So I still am usually where I need to be at the appointed time or 2-5 minutes early. Which means I generally still wait at least 15 minutes for the other party.
One of two things usually happens when they arrive– they either just stroll in as if the appointed time were 15 minutes after we had agreed, or if later than 15 minutes, people very often rush in winded and apologetic with an explanation about traffic.
To this I almost always laugh. Because I find it hilarious that despite the reliability and reputation of Iberoamerican tardiness, they still somehow don’t get that I expect them to show up late. I’m generally just like, “whatever don’t worry about it.” I haven’t been so bold yet as to say, “don’t worry, I expected you to get here 15 minutes late and I think it’s ridiculous/absurd/cute that you had the illusion that you would get here when you said you would.”
I don’t think I ever will say that, though. Partly because a piece of me still holds out a hope and a belief that someone, someday, will value punctuality enough to actually achieve it.
And partly because I know that to an extent delays result from the humane flexibility of this place; that things don’t always run like clockwork, and that sometimes that is really nice.