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Trying To Understand Brazilian Timing- Part One

This week I wrote a guest post, focusing on some of the things I’ve learnt about teaching ESL in the five years I’ve been living in São Paulo (I’ll add this to the blog’s Facebook page when it’s published). Not long after hitting that send button I began to reflect on other aspects of life in the city that aren’t teaching related, those I’ve still not quite got the hang of. The most obvious one of these being – understanding Brazilian punctuality! You see, five years into my stay here and I’m still arriving everywhere on time.

“Oh gringo, when I said let’s meet at 8pm I didn’t mean let’s meet at exactly 8pm! Did you really get here on time? How funny!”

In my ebook ‘Trying to Understand Brazilian Culture’ I touched upon this subject. ‘Brazilians are notorious for working on a different concept of time. It’s as if they wear watches but don’t know how to read them; hence why they’re always late.’ And do you know what? The longer I’ve lived here the longer this has proved to be a constant source of both intrigue and irritation for me.

What I’d do now is give you an example of when this habit of being punctual ended up being pretty embarrassing!

Still Not Getting It, Five Years On…

This year my birthday fell on a Saturday, which just so happened to be the day of a pool party in Morumbi hosted by the collective Free Beats (I included these guys in my Top 10 list of things to do in São Paulo for 2014).

lion“There are only 200 places available” began the Facebook post advertising the event, “so make sure you arrive early to avoid missing out.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with São Paulo, let me tell you something. Morumbi is located on ‘the other side’ of the Tiete river, the side most people without a car won’t be too excited about venturing into. You see, without a metro line connecting Morumbi to the rest of the city, it isn’t very accessible to those (like myself) who rely on public transportation. So it was clear very early on that a taxi would be involved to get us to the party.

Now, the last thing I wanted to have happen on my birthday was that my friend and I would be guests 201 and 202 to arrive…so I pre-warned my Brazilian friend Ide to be ready for 3pm, the time the event kicked off.

“NO WAY, we’re NOT getting there at 3pm Andrew. That is just not happening. Nobody will be there at this time!”

Sensing that there wasn’t going to be much room for negotiation on the 3pm idea, I reluctantly proposed arriving a little later…at 3.30pm.

“Do you know what?“ he sighed, “it’s your birthday and you’re obviously not going to listen to me. If you really want us to get there at 3.30pm then let’s do it. BUT I’m telling you, people won’t start arriving until at least 6.”

I shrugged off his comments and felt the need to remind him that if we were too late we probably wouldn’t get in.


That afternoon, as we took a taxi over to the party in the depths of Morumbi, Ide again pointed out how ridiculously early we were going to be. “Of course there will be people there!” I argued.

I really believed it at the time too, I mean, we were already arriving a full 30 minutes AFTER the party was due to kick off.

“Well, you’re going to see when we get there! But I won’t say any more about it!”

I wish he’d kept his word on that! But as is often the case with people who’ve been proven correct, Ide was more than happy to remind me that I should have listened to him at least once every 20 minutes – for the rest of the day.

When the taxi dropped us off I was surprised to see that he was right. That there was absolutely no queue to get into the place at all.

“Oh my God” Ide laughed as he got out of the taxi and looked at the entrance. “There really is nobody here!”

As we walked over to the entrance the cashier greeted us by saying; “Hey! You’re the first people to arrive!” To make matters worse she didn’t even pretend to hide how surprised she was to be selling tickets so early on in the afternoon.

“I feel like such a loser” laughed Ide as we handed over our money.  “My friend is foreign” he said to the cashier.”I told him we should have come later but he wouldn’t listen!”

‘But we’re 35 minutes late’ I thought to myself as I handed over my money. ‘How can we be the first ones here?’

After buying our tickets we then walked towards the bar. It wasn’t too difficult to spot this because there were only 6 people around the pool at the time (two of them were DJs and other four were bar staff).

“Can I have a beer? “ I asked.

I was then told that they hadn’t actually started chilling the beers, and that I should wait another 15 minutes.

“This is really embarrassing” pointed out Ide triumphantly.

For the next hour we attempted to make ourselves less visible, by standing under a tree.

Screenshot 2015-07-04 23.08.25Things didn’t really get going until around six when everyone started showing up. Irritatingly, this was exactly when Ide had told me they’d arrive.

And here lies the thing about Brazilians I STILL don’t get. If an event starts at 3pm, why don’t people plan to get there on time or even just a little after?

I remember once arranging to go to a birthday party with my Brazilian friend Rita. When I asked her what time we should meet at the metro, she replied, “well it starts at four….so, seven thirty!?!”

“What?” I stuttered, “where did that time come from?”

I still don’t get it, but it’s pretty obvious that the rules Brazilians have for arriving to parties are still unclear to me. So I’d love to throw this question out there and get some opinions on it:

How late is too early when it arriving at parties in Brazil?

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