Accustoming to Peruvian Culture (Shock) - La "Hora Peruana"

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Peru Culture Shock

A Story

My Peru Culture Shock

When I was little, my grandpa would teach me "It is better to be an hour early than a minute late." Wise words by a wise man and words that I lived by. Then I came to Peru. Where everyone is always late. Where "I'm on my way" means "I just got out of bed and am starting to get dressed now". Where "I'm almost there" means "I'll probably be there in about 20 minutes as I'm just leaving my house now". And, where "You'll get picked up at 3 am" means "We'll be at your hostel at around 3:45 probably". Time would become kind of a culture shock for me.

Cultural Background on different perceptions of time

This was definitely one of the hardest things, culture shock wise, for me to get used to and it's based on cultural differences. Bare with me through a bit of theoretical background here - as an Austrian (similarly to US Americans, Canadians, Germans, Swiss, as far as I'm aware) we have a sort of "linear" understanding of time - meaning that time passes as we do one thing after the other and if we're not "doing things" time flows away unused and is therefore wasted.

Time is scarce and precious to us overly punctual people and people being over a couple of minutes late is considered rude and lacking respect towards the other person. This is about diametrically opposed to how Latin Americans or southern Europeans see and use time - they have a so-called "multi-active" understanding of time, meaning they tend towards valuing the meeting itself, the relationship with the other person much more than the exact time you agreed upon for the meeting - the time you meet doesn't matter as much as the meeting itself, so, so what if you come half an hour late? While Austrians, when a meeting is running late, tend to interrupt it in order to end on time, the immediate reality of the present and the importance of the conversation at hand is much more valuable to the Latin culture than arriving punctually to the next meeting.

This is also manifested in the national culture model by Kluckholn and Strodtbeck (1961, similar definitions can also be found in Hofstede's and Trompenaar's and the GLOBE model of cultural dimensions) who define cultures as either past/ present or future-oriented. Therefore while Austrian culture is more future-oriented and always thinking about the next thing, Peruvian culture is much more present-oriented and therefore doesn't care as much about future appointments.

A friend and me enjoying Toro y Torre in Ayacucho during Semana Santa - one of the many aspects of Peruvian Culture I greatly enjoyed. 

A friend and me enjoying Toro y Torre in Ayacucho during Semana Santa - one of the many aspects of Peruvian Culture I greatly enjoyed. 

How to handle Peruvian Time

So now, how did I handle the "Peruvian time"? Admittedly, at first, it annoyed the crap out of me, excuse the language. Over time, however, I learned that there is no "better or worse". It's just a different way of how things are done and it was something that I had to learn to live with. Otherwise, I would've probably gone crazy. And let's be honest, if everyone is late, isn't nobody late again? For once, I have to admit, I couldn't get rid of my innate need to be on time. I was still the first one to arrive almost every single time. Getting to know my Peruvian friends, I figured out who would be on time and who would have a tendency to be late. Along the way, I learned to deal with people's lateness and not letting it bother me as much anymore. I always had a book and my iPod in my bag to read and listen to music while waiting. However, the big one for me was stopping to expect people to be on time altogether. This way I was mentally prepared for people being late and I just saw myself as "being early" - something I was used to from home anyways ;) Plus, this attitude actually led to some positive surprises every now and then :D

Formal vs. Informal

One more thing - while, these kinds of things do happen in all aspects of life, they are much more common among friends and in an informal context and it very much depends on the people involved. In one of my classes, for example, our professor would lock the door five minutes after the start of class. Students were generally quite punctual in that class. Another professor, on the other hand, had her class at 7 am and would never be on time herself. Her class usually started no early than 7:45.


Overall, I encourage you to prepare yourself mentally for this different kind of behavior. It's something that took me quite a while to get used to, simply because it's so different from everything I had known before. In the end, everyone needs to find their own coping strategy and I know a friend who just started to be late herself all the time (she still does this, even back in Austria ;) ). What was your experience? Did you develop a specific mechanism that could help me in my future travels? Let me know! 

Holding Peruvian Culture up high ;) In the background: Lake Titicaca

Holding Peruvian Culture up high ;) In the background: Lake Titicaca

If you want more information on how different cultures see and live time, check out
"How different cultures understand time" by The Business Insider and
the Model by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck.