The Right Time?

They had told us to come at lunch time. It was lunch time. Where was everyone?! Where was the food?!

We were at the canteen for the farm where my husband was interning, and we were starting to worry we were in the wrong place! I watched the children while my husband looked around for someone to ask if we were in the correct place. After about twenty minutes of waiting, the American who ran the farm came in and greeted us. We told him we were confused and wanted to make sure we were doing what we were supposed to.He smiled and said he forgot to warn us about “how they did things there.”

We were in Indonesia, and in their culture, time is not rigid. The American who had been living there for years had simply gotten used to how the people did things there. Our entire trip, we never quite got accustomed to how they viewed time.

We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do what is right.                   -Martin Luther King Jr.

Americans have a very strict view of time. I like how Marcia Carteret, M. Ed., words it when talking about how American’s view time. She says, “We talk about saving or wasting time, managing time and beating the clock. Americans invented day-timers and added the term multi-tasking to the English language. We invented fast food and made it even faster by adding the drive-thru. Now even our pharmacies offer drive-thru pick-up.” Adding to this, I can give the examples of how schools and work are structured by time. There is even understood etiquette about when to arrive and leave at social events.

The view of time that Americans hold is not true of the rest of the world. Though I cannot speak for all cultures, many Asian and African cultures simply do not view time as structured. They are much more relaxed on when to be somewhere and how time passes.

Also, Americans view time as passing by. You can “waste” your time, and when your time is done for a certain activity it is “gone.” Other cultures have a much different perspective. I have talked to some who believe if you cannot get something finished today, there is always tomorrow. If we cannot meet for lunch today, we can just meet tomorrow like it is no big deal.

Americans are busy

Since time is so rigid with Americans, it also means we like to fill it up with all kinds of events and things to do. We want to fill our children’s summers with programs and all kinds of activities to keep them busy. During the fall and spring, there are plenty of after school or after work activities to make sure we are not stopping. When we do finally stop, we like to fill that time with TV shows. The concept of “filling our time” is very foreign to many other cultures.

Now, I am not saying being busy or keeping to a strict schedule is wrong, nor am I saying having a relaxed view of time is wrong. What I am saying is our view of time is ingrained in our culture, and many times we do not even know it until we see something different.

When I visit an international neighbor or travel to another country, I have learned to ask specifically how they view time. Simply asking and informing yourself on this difference will help you dive into the culture in a new way and maybe even enjoy their culture a little more. Also, it will help you be much more patient with them if they seem to take things a little slower than you are used to.