Jamaica time


Sunday, January 20, 2019

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'Thus we may see, quoth he, 'How the world wags,

'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,

And after one hour more 'twill be eleven;

And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,

And then from hour to hour, we rot and rot.'

— Shakespeare, As You Like It, II, 2

I chose this topic today, all because of Basil Dawkins' play, Maas Mat Comes to Town. The play is really good and the acting superb, for Basil is a class writer who recently was presented with the Doctor Bird Award for excellence in theatre.

But what also impressed me was the promptness of the production. Yes, I have been going to Basil's plays for many years now, and they always start exactly at 8:30 pm. Not 8:32 or 8:35, but right on the dot of 8:30.

Who can make that claim regarding other events in Jamaica? I saw where one reggae show, Ghetto Splash, held over the holiday season, started four hours late. That must be a record.

Jamaica time has been synonymous with our culture. So much so that many years ago there used to be a series of musical comedy revues, written by Tony Gambrill, titled 8 o'clock Jamaica Time. They poked fun at our scant regard for time, our tardiness, our wanton disregard for punctuality.

Naturally they all began a few minutes late every night and were quite funny too. But Jamaica time is really no laughing matter when you are the victim of it.

We'll see how Jamaica time affects us, right after these responses to 'The twelve dont's of Christmas'.

Hi Tony,

Your article reminded me of a time when I was in high school and worked part-time on Saturdays to earn extra pocket money. There were also two young ladies working at the same place, earning money for university. Christmas came and I spent my hard-earned money on gifts for these young women who I had a crush on. I was certainly crushed when there was no reciprocation on their part, and I was hurt for many years to come. It was a lesson learnt not to give gifts to people you don't really know or know how they feel about you.


Hi Tony,

You forgot to mention no boyfriends or girlfriends until after Valentine's Day. Regarding your footnote about weed weddings, how come your friends complaining about weed parties? The all male and all female and drag theme parties are of more concern to me. Those concern me more than weed parties. Wives go home to different husbands and husbands go home to different wives until the next party.


I got so many responses regarding those weed weddings that I'll have to share with you next week. But right now it's all about Jamaica time. We really are a laid back people, and this attitude is reflected in our scant regard for time.

The British, Japanese, Germans and Swiss are all known for their strict adherence to time. When they say 11:01, they mean 11:01. I remember while at television school in London I had to take British Rail from Brockley, which is in the south-east, into London to catch the tubes. The train left at 7:35 am, and if I arrived at 7:36, I'd see the back of that coach pulling out of the station.

Maybe only the Italians have our laissez-faire attitude towards time, and their buses and trains reflect this. I remember asking someone in Rome what time the bus would arrive, and the response was, “Ah signor, zee bus willa get here whenna it gets here.”

But Jamaica time is no laughing matter, so I was heartened to see that it's being taken seriously in the public forum and is being discussed by people of influence. My classmate and Fortis brother Leachim Semaj pointed this out in the media a few weeks ago, saying that it starts at the top and filters down. “Prime ministers and ministers of Government are always late for functions,” he suggested.

He was right on point as he gave examples of our leaders being guilty of tardiness which has now become a way of life. I do recall back in my JIS Television days while covering assignments where the prime minister or other ministers were scheduled to speak at a certain time, they invariably turned up late.

Everyone had to sit and wait as the dignitaries were “Unavoidably late as they were tied up at a previous function.” It still happens today, so what do you expect from the common man? We are averse to punctuality, so much so that everyone actually expects you to be late, and factors that into their planning. “Cho man, tell them eight o'clock, but nobody not coming until after nine.”

When someone invites you over for dinner at 8:00 pm, do not dare to show up at the people dem place at 8:00 pm. If you do that you'll see the hosts not even dressed and the pot still on the stove. They say eight but they really mean Jamaica time, which is around nine. So don't be a gladiss and show up on time like you're a hungry belly.

My better half is a stickler for punctuality, and always insists on being on time for dinner events. No such thing as being fashionably late. When she cooks and says 8:00 pm, she expects you to be there for 8:00, not eightish.

As for ish, that gives you licence to arrive late at all functions. “Yeah man, I'll come at around eightish.” That means anytime between 8:00 and 9:00. It's so disturbing when people arrive for a play late. You have to get up out of your seat as they pass: “Excuse me, pardon, sorry fi mash yu corn, hush.”

There are theatres in Britain that won't let you in until the next act begins.

I remember back in my single days I invited a Cuban lady out and told her that I'd pick her up around eightish. When I arrived at 8:40 I was met with a verbal barrage of palabras malas. And that's why I had to learn Spanish.

Jamaica time is an alien concept to other cultures that are steeped in punctuality. There is no 'soon come', 'check you later', or 'in the hours.' And yet we can be punctual when we want to be. Who remembers Air Jamaica, The on time airline? And yet there's a price to pay for being prompt.

Seido puts on an annual karate tournament that starts promptly at 9:30 am. Unfortunately many other schools do not share that view on punctuality. People will arrive late at Seido tournaments because they assume that they would start late, just like the other tournaments do. “I arrived now because I thought that you'd be late like the others.” So should they capitulate and join the other late starters too?

Back in my JIS days, we produced and aired a live TV programme every evening at 6:30. We rehearsed at 5:30 and were on the air at 6:30, so when master control said, “Cue”, we had to be ready.

Jamaicans will leave home and adapt to the punctuality of foreign lifestyles. Miss the train or bus and lose de work. “Man, I catch the F train to Grand Central Station, then hop on the Long Island Express to reach work by 7:30, every day.”

But back home, Jamaica time it is. Top traffic cop SSP Calvin Allen pointed out that in almost all the traffic stops for speeding, the motorists give the same excuses:

“Officer, I was late for an appointment.”

“My child was late for school.”

Well, leave earlier then.

It's always a mad dash to get from here to there, if you manage to get there in one piece. Speed kills. I was surprised when I heard of the billions of dollars lost because of lateness.

When someone is late it's a flagrant lack of respect for you and your time. Those actors and performers put in countless hours to perfect their craft, and you dare to walk in 20 minutes or half-hour late. How disrespectful! Yet no one arrives late for an appointment at the embassy.

There are some people whose lateness is a way of life. “Cho man, is so him stay, always late.” When a man tells a lady that he's picking her up at 8:00, and he arrives at 9:00, that's a huge lack of respect. When a lady tells a man that she'll be ready at 7:00, and when he gets there he has to wait two hours, it's a basic lack of respect.

Recently I learnt that a bride was three hours late for her wedding, even though it was held at her parents' house where she also lived. The guests suffered until the parson put his foot down and threatened to leave.

Look around you and see how some people are perennially late for everything. Some make lame excuses while others simply don't care and expect you to accept it.

“You late again?”

“Cho, a nuh nutten, is Jamaica time.”

More time.

Footnote: Now, I'm no policeman, lawyer or judge, but I do have common sense and can sniff out when something doesn't seem right. There's this case against Sandals by these foreign people who accused a worker of sexual impropriety against a bride-to-be. It's alleged that he went to the couple's room very late on the night before the wedding and sexually assaulted the bride. That makes no sense. Why would a butler, assigned to the bride, go to her room, late at night, knowing that her husband-to-be was there, attempt anything untoward? And where was the husband in all this? As Shakespeare said, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

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