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How to Tell the Time Like They Do in Mexico

by Mary Gartside May 9, 2018

Anyone who has spent any length of time in Mexico will tell you that the local way of telling time is significantly different than what you may be used to, especially if you come from one of those fast-paced, cut-throat city where people yell at their baristas and cut off slow walkers on the sidewalk. “Mexican time” is an everyday reality for travelers and expats visiting the country, and it requires a certain level of patience and understanding that not everything will happen exactly at a particular, agreed-upon moment. Our advice: do as the locals do. Take a deep breath, stop stressing out and rushing through your trip (and life in general), and start living in the moment instead. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Familiarize yourself with “ahorita.”

Literally meaning “right now,” “ahorita” is actually understood to mean anything but. When spending time in Mexico and conversing with locals, if someone says that something will happen “ahorita,” bear in mind that it could mean within five minutes, days, years, or never. Useful examples include”ahorita vuelvo,” (“I’ll be right back”), “ahorita llego” (“I’ll be there soon”), and “ahorita lo hago,” (“I’ll do it later”).

2. Arrive at least an hour late.

If an invitation states 7 PM, note that nobody will arrive until at least 8 PM, with the majority of guests turning up even later. This goes for any kind of party, be it with your college friends, or your boss’s kid’s first Holy Communion.

That said, school or work requires everyone to be punctual. The same goes for appointments, although even serious commitments anticipate lateness, so you don’t need to worry too much if you find yourself running behind schedule.

3. You can fib a bit about how late you will be.

…or if you are coming at all. If you are talking to a friend who is already an hour late and they swear that they are “on their way,” “waiting for the subway,” or are “nearly there,” remember that there is no guarantee that they have left their couch or have any intention of leaving their house. So, if you have agreed to go out for the night but find yourself with some serious flojera (laziness), don’t sweat it. While it’s obviously okay to just say so, by throwing in some “ahoritas” and aforementioned excuses, your friends will understand the code and figure out that you’re already watching Netflix in your pajamas.

4. Don’t stress about the time.

Mexican people don’t like to feel confined by time and prefer to not pressure themselves to do things at a specific moment. This is evidenced by the way of life in Mexico — people are perfectly happy to take their time completing tasks, mealtimes are long and relaxed, and even if the workday needs to be longer to accommodate the slow pace, the atmosphere is stress-free. Time is not treated as a finite resource that is not to be wasted.

5. Wake up early.

Strangely enough, the work or school day in Mexico starts very early, so even though there is always plenty of time to get everything done, be prepared to be up at the crack of dawn to start the day at 7 AM. Many students start classes at this time, and it’s best to try and be punctual when it comes to school.

6. Move around your mealtimes.

Desayuno” does not always mean “breakfast” in the traditional sense. Even if you have been up since way before sunrise, you might not have a proper “desayuno” until 12 noon or 1 PM. Or, you might have two “desayunos,” one when you wake up and a more substantial meal later on in the morning or early afternoon. You also might not have dinner until 9 or 10 PM, and a midnight snack is not unusual, either.

7. Live in the moment.

Often, in other countries, tardiness is not tolerated and the feeling of guilt that ensues from being even a few minutes late can be extreme. “Mexican time” gives you the freedom to let that guilt go, and enjoy whatever you are doing. If you’re on your way to meet somebody but you fancy stopping for a cuppa, you’re free to do so without any guilt. So relax — you never know what might happen between now and “ahorita.”

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