Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On The Western Concept That Is Time


There was an offsite meeting in Denmark for which group transportation was arranged. Everyone was to gather at a particular parking area in the morning. Precisely at 8 AM, the announced departure time, the bus driver was about to close the door when my husband asked to wait a few more minutes because his colleague wasn’t there yet. At 8:05 AM, his colleague showed up, and the bus departed. Days after this retreat, everywhere his colleague went, “he held up the whole bus” was the popular narrative. His response would always be, “But I wasn’t late!”. One time, he extended his response to add,”It was only 5 minutes, so I wasn’t late!”

I don’t know if this narrative would have continued on this long if he weren’t from South America, but I do know that a Dane would probably not have defined being late that way. I asked him what he would consider late, if x was the designated time. “x + 20 minutes, perhaps,” he said. Because x + 5 was less than x + 20 (which is his definition of late), then x + 5 ≠ late. Ok, it made sense within his framework.

The Danes, however consider x to be on time and anything larger than x to be late.

When another friend heard about this story, he shared with me how he planned a party at his house. He told his Greek colleague to come at 7 PM, and a mixed race couple (Austrian woman with her significant other from Jordan with Spanish heritage) to arrive at 7:30, and his Danish colleague at 8 PM. Result? Everyone showed up at 8 PM.

The problem only occurs across cultures. Within a particular culture where everyone has the same definition of being late, it may be fair game to deduce that frequent lateness reflects a lack of respect for the others’ time.  In this global community, where 0:00 Zulu has to mean the same thing, for planes and trains departing, it gets tricky. When my husband was going on an international trip with his South American colleague, he didn’t bother telling his colleague what time the train to the airport departed, but simply to show up at the station to meet up with him at 8:45 AM, 15 minutes before the train was supposed to depart. They both made the train, and the plane.

My Indian friend who now lives in Denmark also struggles with this slippery concept of time. He has coined the term Indian Standard Time to differentiate which definition of time he is using.

Just as beauty, time is in the eyes of the beholder.

Photo: Tulips in Norway in late May, because time is shifted there also

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This entry was posted on October 12, 2015 by in Culture and tagged , , .
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