Peru launches plan to combat lateness

Updated: 2007-02-22 09:56

LIMA - The government wants to take some of the manana out of Peruvian life. Manana, meaning "tomorrow," is an age-old euphemism for the lateness and procrastination that are common in Latin America. Weddings, funerals, meals and business meetings rarely begin on time, and it's even considered rude to be punctual for a party.

But Peru's government says it's time for an attitude adjustment.

On a recent Friday ! known affectionately as "sabado chico," or "little Saturday," because workers tend to have their minds on weekend parties ! the government announced a campaign to combat lateness, saying it reflects a negative attitude toward work and hurts productivity.

The Forum for National Consensus, a government-led council of business and citizens' groups responsible for the effort, says "La Hora sin Demora," or "Time without Delay," will begin with a nationally televised ceremony in Lima on March 1 at noon. Sharp.

Sirens will sound and church bells will ring out, alerting 27 million Peruvians to synchronize their watches.

But short of hoping latecomers will be shamed into mending their ways, the campaign offers no rewards for compliance or penalties for tardiness.

Schools, businesses and government institutions will be asked to stop tolerating "hora peruana," or "Peruvian time" ! which usually means an hour late.

"The goal is for citizens in general, not just public officials, to undergo a change in mental attitude to start fulfilling their obligations," Cabinet chief Jorge del Castillo says.

One problem, according to a poll by Apoyo, Peru's leading pollster, is that most Peruvians think it's the other guy who's always late.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they are punctual, but only 3 percent think others are too.

It's a vicious cycle, says publicist Jose Centurion.

"If you set the time for 3, you think 3:15 is OK," he says. "The problem is that if you think everyone else is going to be late, you are not going to show up on time."

At an upscale lunchtime restaurant in Lima's financial district, customers make reservations but rarely show up on time, manager Jose Melendez says.

Former President Alejandro Toledo showed up so late to events ! sometimes by two hours ! that Peruvians coined the phrase "Cabana time," referring to the mountain village where he was born.

While most elected leaders follow timetables down to the minute ! President Clinton was a famous exception ! Toledo was even late for the inauguration of his successor, Alan Garcia, last July. He took 45 minutes to travel four blocks through swarms of supporters, keeping dozens of foreign dignitaries waiting. Peruvians joked that he simply couldn't part with power.

"Every time ex-President Toledo arrived at a meeting on `Cabana time' it showed his lack of respect for everyone else's time," says Jorge Bruce, a psychoanalyst and social commentator. "He took pleasure in having so many people waiting for him. Taking up someone else's time fed his self-esteem."

Toledo now lives in California and refuses to be interviewed.

Garcia, on the other hand, is a stickler for punctuality. So is Alicia Lorenzo, 49, who has run a snack kiosk for 30 years.

She says she arrives at work at 6 a.m. "on the dot" to receive deliveries and have snacks ready to go.

Does she think the anti-manana initiative will work? "It depends on the government," she says. "They have to set the example."

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