Can we get rid of ‘Filipino time’?

Shakira Sison
Can we get rid of ‘Filipino time’?
Is tardiness truly cultural, and therefore endemic to a particular country? Is there no way for Filipinos to arrive on time?

Growing up in Manila, it was almost a given to treat the time as a vague guideline instead of an exact point in the day. If a party invitation says it starts at 9 pm that would usually mean 11:00, and showing up on time meant one would be waiting for everyone else and making a fool of herself.

I did that once at my prom. My date and I got the Adam & Eve Award for being “the first couple” to arrive.

Even in work situations, each time requirement seemed to be subject to a variety of excuses – traffic, coding, not having a driver, “I don’t have a watch,” and so on. It was strange to me that people got away with these excuses, but it seemed like a way of life. It wasn’t until I moved to the US that there were actually repercussions to tardiness.

I was recently reminded of “Filipino time” when a Filipina friend who had just moved to New York sent me a text message 10 minutes before our 3 pm meeting time to say that she was just leaving from her home an hour-and-a-half away. I was already waiting for her at our meeting spot, so my wife and I just rolled our eyes, shrugged and said, “Pinoy talaga (Truly Filipino).”

Where does ‘Filipino time’ come from?

Some references date the origins of the term “Filipino time” back to the Spanish period when Filipino Indios were asked to appear at gatherings 30 minutes to an hour later than their Spanish colonizers. Whether or not the term has been around for centuries, it is pretty much understood that in the Philippines there is an allowance of 1-2 hours from the set time of a meeting or an event.

Other parts of the world also have their own relaxed nature when it comes to time so we are not unique in this predicament. In my travels I have heard the mention of “Caribbean time,” “Portuguese time,” “Italian time,” and “Brazilian time,” usually within a warning at the beginning of the trip to not be so inflexible when it comes to the clock.

Apparently, how different cultures approach time greatly influences their citizens’ punctuality. Spanish and Italian cultures, for example, understand time as a guideline and not a fixed point, and definitely not something that is expendable.  

I’ve seen this in Hispanic cultures and countries where there is bigger value placed on the conversation at lunch or the importance of siesta than whether or not a place of business opens exactly when the sign on their door says so.

The American/Swiss/German concept of time, on the other hand, is linear and expendable. Time is considered “wasted” if no actions are performed or if no decisions are made during a period allotted for a particular objective. 

That makes me wonder: is tardiness truly cultural, and therefore endemic to a particular country? Is there no way for Filipinos to arrive on time?

Growing up punctual

When I was a child and my family of 6 had to go somewhere, my father would set a time when everybody had to be inside the car. If you were not in the car by say, 11 am, the car would start and drive off without you. No reminders, no grace periods, and no explanations. It was ingrained in me and my siblings at a very young age that there are consequences to tardiness, and if you are 3 seconds late, you will get left behind.

It took me a while to realize that not everyone had this internal time consciousness that obliged me to show up on time regardless of whether anyone else would do the same. I found that most people are more flexible with time and give allowances to themselves and to others when it comes to lateness.

In a time-lax culture such as in the Philippines, this leaves the punctual person annoyed by the tardiness of others. But because he is the minority, he is the one regarded as inflexible, obsessive, and accused of nitpicking when he complains about the lateness of others.

Tardiness in the workplace

One’s concept of time isn’t as evident as it is in the workplace or in business settings. In the office, unless there is a punctual manager to implement them, rules about being on time will fail. Nobody wants to show up on time when the punctual person will only end up waiting for the rest to arrive. Like all management directives, the initiative must come from the top.

Here are some tips to improve punctuality where tardiness is endemic.

1) Install a clock

Hang one above the doorway where everyone can see the late person coming in. Peer pressure works well for tardiness, because it is shameful to appear like a slacker when everyone else is witness to it. 

2) Accept no excuses for tardiness

Treat lateness as an offense that is a result of irresponsibility. Do not accept one excuse over the other, like “traffic,” or “no driver,” or “no train.” The truth is, save for the real emergency, all lateness is a result of bad preparation or poor time management. 

3) Consequences must exist

Punctuality is the most visible indicator of one’s commitment to her job. If there are no firm penalties for tardiness, it sends a message that punctuality is not a priority for the company.

It is difficult to believe that as a worker, one would have the courtesy and commitment for anything else if he begins his day unable to make it in on time. Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” It’s hard to think of a habitually late person as anything other than irresponsible.

A personal commitment 

Whether in the professional or personal setting, a tardy person disrespects everyone else’s effort to be on time.

He disregards the time others spend waiting for him, and is inconsiderate of their other commitments.

A look at the psychological factors affecting one’s nature to be early or late may help in addressing one’s punctuality, but in the end it is simply a matter of whether one’s tardiness has consequences, or if it’s “Okay lang, na-traffic lang naman (It’s okay, he/she just hit some traffic).”

Are you often early or often late? Is tardiness endemic in your workplace? What do you think causes “Filipino time”? Tell us in the comments below. – 

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