Island Time Or “Belize Time”: I’ll Never Get It Exactly Right But Maybe That’s the Point
Everything gets done eventually…probably not the way you planned it but…it’ll get done.
If someone had said that to me 15 years ago…when I lived in NYC…I would have openly rolled my eyes and secretly thought “are you f-ing kidding me?”
But here I am, now, saying it to you.
Time. It’s something that I grew up revering. I was a stickler for being on time or even early for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a family of sticklers for time. In a part of the world – NYC and her suburbs – where everyone is in a hurry almost all of the time. Frazzled is a way of life – a culture.
So moving from Manhattan to a Belize’s biggest island was a culture shock in ways big and small but getting on ISLAND TIME…it’s still one of the very hardest.
Just a few days ago, San Pedro Town Council threw a big Christmas Market on Saturday evening…vendors, live music, food. Here’s the announcement.
After running a bunch of errands in town, I went to the market. I had my vaccine card – and my money, I was ready to shop! I thought I’d get there just as it was opening, to get the good stuff before it was gone. It was about 10 minutes after 4.
The fairground was practically deserted. There were about 5 people there. A slew of empty booths – like totally untouched – just me and the Tiny Cement crew. Ceramic and cement miniatures by Toshiya. A Japanese native living and working in Belize.
Things would get going later – it looks like the event was a great success. Just not at 4pm.
This has happened to me before. I once arrived at a 10-year-old’s Birthday Party (scheduled to start at 3 pm) at about 3:15 pm and was there to let in the decorators and to help them start decorating the room. The rest of the guests started trickling in around 4…430. The birthday girl and family…arrived closer to 5.
Not rushing in…with hair half done…oh my god, I’m so sorry I’m late…just arriving at the party. Like I got the wrong invitation (I didn’t) or like I have a different clock. It’s sometimes like I’m in a different time zone.
It’s often called island time – or Belize time. And this stickler? I don’t quite get it yet. I’m not sure that I ever will.
But what does “island time” actually mean? To those dreaming about vacation or life in Belize, It can conjure up visions of flip-flops and afternoon naps in hammocks. It’s the dreamy, relaxed laid back attitude of island life. Like Caye Caulker’s motto that you’ll see everywhere on the tiny island – Go Slow.
The romanticized idea that you are going to ditch your watch and your smartphone and…just float.
But it’s not all rum punch and siestas under a coconut palm: Sometimes you need to get a few things done.
If you are new to living on island time – it can mean waiting at a shop that posts its Lunch Time as 12-1 pm. And it’s 1:30 pm…and no one is back yet.
It means waiting in lines..and on lines…queuing on lines…it’s very much a thing on our island. Online baking is just starting…and at the most basic stages. Banking requires standing in lines for up to an hour…maybe longer on payday/Fridays/the 15th or 30th of the month…
When the weather is bad, people are often going to be running late. If there is a heavy downpour, people often wait for it to pass. So they might be late or not arrive at all. I mean…you saw that it was raining, right? Not the time to jump in a golf cart for the ride to town.
It might mean getting to events at the wrong time…always.
Punctuality doesn’t have the same importance in Belize for many situations as it does in other parts of the world. I think it’s a cultural thing, just like being a slave to the clock is a cultural thing in the many USA cities.
Is Belize time a bad thing? I guess it depends on you. Because whether you like it or not, it’s A THING.
You can adjust. You must assume that errands/tasks are going to take longer than planned. And that you might not be able to get to all the items on your list. Maybe the Town Council has closed early this Friday or the guy you had an appointment with at the bank isn’t there yet.
Or you can fight it. You can get yourself in a huff. But…trust me. That is not going to change one thing. It’s just going to make you unhappy.
The phrase “Right now” is very common in Belize. But it may not mean what you think it means.
Let me use it in some sentences:
What time will you be at your house so I can pick up that screwdriver? “Right now”
What time will the repair work on our AC be done? “Right now”
I’m in town – do you want to grab a coffee? Sure…I’ll be there “right now, right now”
Your American/Canadian brain might think that means immediately. It almost never does. It can mean soon, a few hours, tomorrow, or even never. It can be a polite way of saying “not in our lifetime”.
You learn it…you adjust how you respond…all is good. It’s a learning process. And a test in patience…which is always a good thing. And an important message: “You’ve moved to an island, in a different country with a different culture and a different way of doing things – you don’t have to understand it (though you should try) or like it but that’s the way it is. And the only person who is unhappy or bent out of shape in this situation is you so…get over yourself”.
It’s a message that I repeat to myself at least once a week. A mantra let’s say.
But you can’t take away my watch – you can take the girl out of NY…
And it’s definitely in my post: How To Be A Good Expat