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- Military Time for Expats in Latin America
Around late last December, I remember walking over to the gym I go to in Pedregal de Santo Domingo of Mexico City.
The gym hours are normally around 6 AM to 10 PM from Monday to Friday and 6 AM to 3 PM on Saturday.
However, the day I was heading to the gym was on the day before Christmas.
Which was a Friday.
For obvious reasons, their hours were set different for that specific day.
However, I got what the hours were supposed to be that day and got thinking to myself: "Was it set for 15 or 17?"
Meaning 15:00 or 17:00?
For the Americans out there, that would be 3 PM or 5 PM.
Down here in Latin America, it's not uncommon to find hours listed in "15, 16, 17" instead of "3, 4 or 5."
Basically, any hour past 12 PM continues on towards the 23rd hour and then it sets to 0 at midnight.
Now, to be fair, a majority of Latin Americans I interact with speak in hours typical of folks back home.
Like if you had a meeting with someone and they'd say "let's meet at 3" instead of "let's meet at 15:00."
Though, having said that, some Latin Americans do text you using "military" time (the 15:00) and it's less uncommon for technology to be listed in military time.
Or, like in the case with my gym, for them to write down their hours using military time also (15:00 or 17:00? Which did the sign say for December 24th?).
However, I genuinely forgot which of the two it was.
I walked over at around 16:00 (4 PM) only to find the doors closed.
And that was that.
Went back when it was open again a few days later and life moved on.
At any rate, it wasn't a big deal but it did demonstrate how people down here can use a different style of time than what I was used to back home.
The first time I ever had this problem was years ago when I took my first solo trip to Guatemala where I wasn't as familiar with "military time" as I am now.
"What Time Do We Leave?"
Back when I took my first solo trip to Latin America without any other gringos coming along with me, I arrived to Guatemala City almost a decade ago.
When I arrived, I had a Guatemalan chick waiting for me at the airport who was part of some homestay.
She and her mother were very nice.
Anyway, I remember a minor incident that left me confused while staying at their house for just a night.
I was supposed to get up at a certain hour the following morning to be ready to head out to some bus station to take a bus from Guatemala City to Xela where I spent most of my time in Guatemala.
However, I didn't understand the time I was supposed to leave.
Due to my very limited Spanish (class taught but with no real world experience), I didn't understand perfectly when I was supposed to be up and she ended up writing down on a piece of paper in her own broken English.
And the number I saw must've been something in the afternoon time for when the bus leaves because I didn't know what I was looking at.
Since it's been a decade, I don't remember the exact hour it was but it was something past 12 PM as that is when you get those hours like 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, etc.
Anyway, it wasn't much of an issue because I woke up in the morning anyhow.
And so it wasn't like their family caught me sleeping past the hour I had to be up.
Only that I looked at the letter and just not sure what the actual hour was supposed to be but I didn't question it much.
Just assumed they would let me know when to be leaving the house and so they did.
Life went on without issue but it was a minor confusion in the moment.
Anything to Add?
Since then, it's not as much of an issue.
In the earlier years, I remember being confused sometimes as to when to show up to something due to this other way of expressing time.
But I learned quickly enough after a quick Google Search as to what the hours mean down here versus back home.
Regardless, I think that, as an American from the US, we always have the "way back home" built in our heads.
Not once in my life down here do I think "oh, I'm going to see this person at the 15th hour."
I always translate it back to "normal time" or 3 PM.
It never became normal for me to think of "the 15th or 17th hour."
Just translate it back to how it is back home.
And, like I hinted at before, even technology changes too.
My phone for example says hours like "15:00" instead of 3 PM.
Not sure if that is some automatic thing that changes when the phone recognizes in what part of the world it is.
Though I never changed it personally to that.
Not an issue anyhow as I'm used to it now.
And, above all, it's not really much of a talking about as it relates to the expat life in Latin America.
Or, better said, the expat life for folks from the US and other countries where military time isn't used at all for normal civilians.
It was a minor adjustment to life down here and not something overly important.
Though perhaps worthy of a very quick mention for those thinking of a life abroad who might find it unusual at first before getting used to it like myself.
Anyway, if you got anything to add, drop a comment below.
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Thanks for reading.