Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


Can Brazilians be on time?

Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


Brazilians are known for being friendly, festive and late. This is not a lie; however, it is not a rule either. Find in this article how Brazilians perceive time and how to adapt to it.

Yes, we are late…

It is true, we Brazilians are often late. This happens for several different reasons and some of them can even be plausible, such as traffic in major cities, bad weather conditions, poor condition of public transportation and many other “excuses”.

The truth is that we are always relying that things will work perfectly fine (that traffic will flow, that it is not going to rain or that the bus you take will show up on time), we never prepare ourselves to possible problems. Most of us simply do not have the habit of doing things in advance.

This is a cultural aspect that is reflected in our business models and political life (see how delayed is the preparation for the World Cup) and as mentioned in the article “The Brazilian Way of Doing Things”, we tend to leave things to the very last minute. So the tendency is that we are going to leave our houses for work at the very last minute and, eventually, get late.

How to make Brazilians be on time?

In Brazil, there is a general tolerance that goes from 5 to 10 minutes for late people and it goes from informal gatherings with friends to more formal meetings (although it is pretty common to wait 30 minutes for a friend to arrive). Actually, the Brazilian Consolidation of Labor Laws (CTL in Portuguese) establishes that the employer cannot punish employees who eventually arrive 5 to 10 minutes late at their workplace. Of course, things change when this delay becomes a habit.

If this delay is happening frequently, talk to your employee. If it does not work, then some drastic measures may be required, such as formal warnings and discount of the absent time. Brazilians tend to learn faster when their money is at stake.

There are several measures that can be adopted regarding the abuse made by employees, the problem is when it comes to meetings between businessmen or partners. Brazilians try to be on time for formal meetings and job interviews, so if you are hosting the occasion, do not arrive late hoping that the Brazilian will be late. There is a 50% that he will be on time and if Brazilians like to leave others waiting, they still see lack of punctuality as something negative and that can even compromise the image of seriousness he had of the other participant.

Avoiding headaches

There is a significant difference in the perception of time in Brazil. This is partially due to the fact that there is a high tolerance for delays: the soap-opera that was supposed to start at 20h starts around 20h45; the bar that was supposed to close at 10pm will remain open until the last customer has left; the hours you spend waiting in line at a bank when the ideal is that the waiting time would not exceed 20 minutes; your doctor appointment, scheduled to 16h15, rarely starts before 17h.

Also, if a Brazilian is having a party or any celebration, do not arrive on time. To be the first one to arrive in an event or the last one to leave is considered to be impolite in Brazil as in many cases the hosts are not ready to receive their guests yet.

There is not a recipe that will make people be on time, as in most cases it depends exclusively on them. But we thought that there are some measures that can decrease the time you will be kept waiting:

  • Try to avoid very early morning meetings, especially in big cities known for their traffic problems;
  • Brazilians are not used to appointments scheduled to “quarters of hours”, like at 9h15, for example. There is a high probability that the person will show up at 9h30;
  • Try to have a way to keep in touch with the person, such as a cell phone, just to check if he is actually on his way or still sleeping back home;
  • If it is imperative that the person shows up on time, schedule the appointment 30 minutes earlier, just to guarantee that he/she will be there by the time you were really expecting.

There is still hope after all!

Now it is time to answer the question that has entitled this article: can Brazilians be on time? The answer is: yes, they can. If on one hand being late is an aspect of the Brazilian culture; on the other, Brazil is known for an expressive community of foreigners (it has the largest Japanese community outside Japan, for example).

There are many Brazilians who descend from Europeans and Asians, and carry the culture values of their ancestors with them. Also, the presence of foreign companies has brought a more international business culture to Brazil, so even though a Brazilian is late in his personal life, he will be educated to be on time for work as this is an important policy in the company he works for.

We can also say that the perception of time changes in Brazil, with people being more tolerant to delays on the North and Northeast, and more intolerant in the south, especially in Porto Alegre. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are in the intermediate level, with cariocas being slightly less punctual than paulistas.