“EARLY” Morning Cabinet Meeting, Chilean Style

This evening, Chile’s President-Elect, Sebastian Piñera announced his new cabinet. While the press will fully cover the newly appointed cabinet members, their background and intentions, and I will not use this blog for such, I would like to draw attention to his emphasis that the cabinet will meet EARLY tomorrow… at 9:30 am. The use of the word “early” strikes a chord for it brings to light the differences in business protocols between my birth country and my new country. “Early,” I have learned, is truly a state of mind, and lifestyle choice.

As a former marketing director, 9:30 was anything but early. By that hour, I was on my umpteenth cup of coffee, and already had an endless stream of people in and out of my office, all the while both cell and office phones rang non-stop.  A normal day would usually begin around 7. If it was a good morning, it was accompanied by a Tim Horton’s muffin and cappuccino.

In Chile, time has a different frame of reference. For many white-collar professions, the workday begins at 10, and includes a two-hour break for lunch. It is very common to find that stores, government offices, schools and banks are closed in the middle of the day for such a long respite. The time allows for families, friends and business associates to unite and share in a pleasurable meal. While two hours would be considered such an extravagance in the United States, in Chile, it serves to foster relationships.

Workdays often run until 7 or 8 pm. For the newly transplanted, it can seem strange that rush hour is at 8pm and not 5 pm. Five o’clock is usually the time that schools let out.

Given the “late” hours of work and school, Chile does not usually partake in dinner until 9 pm or later, just as many North American counterparts are ready to go to bed. Many restaurants do not open their doors until 8 pm. Visitors accustomed to early bird dining will find themselves part of the late lunch crowd.

On the weekends, much of Chile does not wake up until two in the afternoon on the weekends. Planning anything before that just isn’t civilized or considerate. Weekends are for enjoyment, and Friday night may not have ended until the late hours of Saturday morning.

For visitors conducting business in Chile, scheduling meetings can be a source of frustration. Meetings almost invariably never start on time. Tardiness can often be for 15-30 minutes or longer. Sometimes it’s anyone’s guess when a quorum will be reached to start. It is also customary for guests to arrive late to social events.

While the Chilean sense of time would drive a time-stressed New Yorker crazy, it does have wonderful benefits. Business still manages to be conducted, all without the panic-stricken frenzy and acidic stomach.  Family life is given it’s due recognition. There’s time to appreciate the day. Most blessedly for this former New York, there’s even time in the day to stop and smell my coffee before gulping it!

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