I awake in a panic. With groggy eyes, I look at my phone and discover that I overslept. I am going to be late. I jump out of bed and quickly open my phone to text someone about my plight (agh!). I throw clothes on, skip breakfast, and rush out the door. It was my second time going to my job shadow at the K-12 school, and I thought I was making a terrible impression. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of shame. Thoughts of “I am disrespecting them by being late. I am going to throw off everything. They must be so upset with me” filled my mind as I almost ran down my street to get to the school. When I arrived, I found my classmates and the teachers cheerfully chatting and snacking on foods in the staff lounge. They weren’t impatient; they weren’t angry. They honestly didn’t care that I was late. They even gave me time to eat something before heading to class since I had skipped breakfast. All my fears, self-annoyance, and humiliation melted away with the relaxed atmosphere of the teachers.
What does “late” mean? I have discovered it depends on the culture and it also depends on the person. For some, if an event is scheduled at 1:00 pm, then arriving any time after that (even 1:01) is considered late, while others believe arriving at 12:55 pm is late! Everyone has different expectations. One thing I have grown to love about Brazil is their culture around being late. From my own observations and conversations with some of my Brazilian friends, I have learned that for social events being “late” by 5 to 10 minutes is normal and not seen as rude. Of course, for things like job interviews and doctors appointments, it is crucial to be early or punctual, but when it comes to more casual events and appointments, people are more merciful.
Sao Paulo is a sprawling city that is infamous for its heavy traffic, so it is expected that people may be late due to the traffic. But traffic isn’t the only valid excuse. Brazilians understand that things come up: something took longer than expected, someone stopped and talked to you, a personal issue came up, and yes, that someone can wake up late. Instead of shaming someone for being late for these reasons, they understand and even expect people to be a few minutes late.
I have always been a punctual person. In fact, I have caught myself thinking less of others if they show up late (even by two minutes!), thinking that they can’t plan correctly. Time in Brazil has taught me to give others grace, because, as we read above, I myself need grace. As the Bible says, treat others as you want to be treated. Next time I am waiting for someone who is running “late,” I will remember the Brazilian attitude of grace and understanding.