LIMA Guidebooks warn tourists of Peruvian time -- be fashionably late for parties and dinner or risk a faux pas.
But visitors may now miss out on some social life should locals take to an official "punctuality" drive launched in Peru with fanfare far and wide -- from the ancient Machu Picchu fortress to Lima's Spanish colonial-era center.
As police and fire truck sirens wailed at noon Thursday to mark the start of the campaign, President Alan Garcia sounded a bell, chiming with gongs of Lima's cathedral towers looming overhead.
"(We must) stop this horrible, pitiful, disastrous custom of failing to be punctual," he intoned in a speech, inveighing against the $5 billion in annual economic damage caused, he said, by being late.
Tallying tardiness, he said Peruvians' as a whole were annually late by 3 billion hours. That works out to over 107 hours of tardiness for every man, woman and child.
Many Peruvians took the scolding in stride. A survey by leading pollster Apoyo showed 84 percent of Peruvians believed their fellow citizens were never or rarely on time.
Punctuality program organizers said the campaign will feature government radio and television spots reinforced by posters plastered in offices and highway billboards, all reminding Peruvians of their timely duties.
But some were skeptical, noting the profound cultural challenge ahead.
"What we have to do is synchronize our mental clock," said taxi driver Virgilio Macedo, a 60-year-old father of seven. "Passengers who get on board tell me (to speed it up and) and fly but my car has no wings."
But authorities sought to show Peruvians' tardiness was not historically ingrained.
At Machu Picchu, Peru's top tourist site, officials marked the noon hour at the ancient Intiwatana sundial.
(Additional reporting by ean Lusis Arce)