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Valuing Time in Different Cultures

By Jonathan Nesvig – ReEntry Coordinator

Westerners prize punctuality.

We love to have schedules and calendars that map out our day, week, month, and year. We like to make goals and to fulfill them by a specific time. “Time is respect” and “Time is precious” and “Time is money.” We show respect to others by being on time. Even if not everyone has arrived (i.e. to a meeting or class), class will still start and end at the same time.

Time is something that we cherish because life is short, and we’re all running out of time. And, in terms of business, time is money. If I use my time to do something I want it to be worth it.

Eastern cultures have a different concept of time. In the east, the event is generally more important than the specific time. Time is much more flexible and loose.

This was a great challenge for me when I lived in China. When people invited me to do something, I would always be concerned about the time. I would ask and clarify with them, “You will pick me up at this time, right? And then I will get back home at this time, right?”  I would make sure that they agreed with the specific time that I was hoping to be back home at. However, I hardly ever got home at the time we agreed upon. As a Westerner, this drove me crazy. I began to realize that easterners care more about the event and the relationship than they do about the time and schedule.

Is this a cultural difference you notice? Tell us in the comments.

*pictographs from Liu Yang’s book, East Meets West


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