Colombian Concept of Time
Colombians do not typically have the same view as Americans about punctuality.
However, most Colombians expect Americans to be on time (one of the stereotypes they have about our culture). It is expected by ICBF, a Casa Privada, your agency contacts, your taxi driver, the judge, etc. that you will be ready and on time – even if you are trying to drag three young kids along with you.
However, Colombians themselves may not be particularly punctual – and do not expect for them to apologize or explain their reasons for being late. Here is a great example, we were supposed to pick up our son from ICBF at 3 pm. We arrived 15 minutes early and finally met him 45 minutes after our appointment time. There was no explanation, just a long wait.
To summarize, your job is just to be ready and present at the originally agreed upon time. Do not get frustrated or angry that you were made to wait with a screaming infant/toddler. Just roll with it, and be prepared to entertain your child while you wait – for perhaps a long time.
There is one exception to this general rule. Even foreigners are expected to arrive late for a social function.
If you are lucky enough to be invited to a party or a lunch at someone’s house, plan to arrive 15 minutes late. If you arrive on-time, you will typically not find dinner ready and waiting on the table – so plan this into your child/ren’s snack schedule. You may want to feed them a snack about 30 – 60 minutes before you leave.
I was pretty frustrated when we took our 3 year old to a dinner hosted by some friends. I wanted to make sure he was good and hungry so that he would eat and not complain. However, the food was NOT ready and wasn’t ready until at least an hour after we arrived. My son was cranky as can be until he got that belly full. (Remember a typical dinner in Colombia may be served as early as 8 pm and as late as 10 pm.)
I have been invited to functions where we arrived 45-60 minutes late and they were just starting to prepare dinner. So, just keep this in mind.
Also, if you arrive early or on time, the host will feel uncomfortable as he/she will be busy getting things ready while you hover. My husband also pointed out that many Colombians will think that you are starving “muerto de hambre” if you arrive to a dinner party on time – and this is not a good thing.
I must add a caveat here. Many agency workers have had LOTS of experience with foreigners and may be more accustomed to following a US punctuality schedule – but if they aren’t just be prepared for the wait. For those of you who have been to Colombia, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences related to time etiquette.