Crossing Cultures: Time

How someone views time can be observed in how they spend it. For some, this means time is something to be saved, and they spend lots of their days rushing around “saving” themselves time by going faster and fitting more into the number of hours they have. For others, this means that time is to be savored and they spend their days more slowly, more intentionally, stopping to smell the roses, though maybe lacking in accomplishments and efficiency. 

For Peruvians, time is something that must be available. “Convenient” is not an often-used word. They cannot opt to choose the faster method because there isn’t a faster method. Legal procedures are done by hand and on paper and take time. Cooking is done from scratch and takes time. Washing clothes is done by hand and takes time. Even getting from one point in the city to another takes time. This translates into starting times for events or get-togethers being very flexible. When I say flexible, I mean that saying everyone should show up at 4:00 p.m. means the majority will have arrived by 6:00. It can drive us Americans crazy, since we are used to efficiency, respecting the time of others, expecting that a stated piece of information should be taken at face value, and generally assuming that we have the power to have an effect on those with whom we interact. 

We can tend to think that Peruvians are ignoring those things, and thus choosing to do things in ways that do not make sense. However, in the age old trade off of time versus money, the majority of Peruvians choose to go with spending their time rather than their money. The starting time for activities must be flexible because it is highly likely that the attendees are either arriving by bus (significantly cheaper than taxis) or on foot (free). Thus, there is a great degree of flux possible in their travel that they cannot control. There is no basis for finding offense in someone riding a slow bus from across town. 

They cannot change it. Neither is anyone bothered by the party starting late. They assume it will happen as such and are still preparing for the party at the stated time rather than sitting ready and annoyed that no one has shown up. The same things goes for any official processes that seem to drag on or tasks that must be done by hand. Or for a meal that starts long after expected because the food was not yet ready. They finish when it so happens that they can finish. 

It is not that they are lazy or do not care to do a good job, mostly. They have merely come to accept that being in a rush is not something that they can control, and isn’t really worth it. You will rarely find a Peruvian in a hurry, stressed over being late, or who brushes off having a conversation with you because they need to continue on their way. I find that they are generally calm, willing to stop along the way if needed, generous with those who do the same, and are able to be flexible and ready when the time comes rather than forcing a timetable that ends up not working for the majority of people involved. I think we can learn a great deal from those who have chosen to value people more highly than schedules.