Are you one of those people who turns up 5 minutes early and starts tapping your foot if others are 5 minutes late? I read an interesting blog post about cultural attitudes towards time that has got me thinking.
I used to be a stickler for punctuality and the use of time. So much so, that I’ve had to change my attitude. As a language teacher, I had to learn to accept students arriving late. As an artist, collaborating with other artists, I’ve been insulted when a collaborator turned up late and have ended working relationships due to persistent tardiness.
This definitely gives me what Dutch interculturalist Fons Trompenaars calls a sequential attitude towards time, yet when I’m creating or doing any kind of deep-thinking, or look at my general attitude towards life I am definitely synchronous. So how come I grew up with a mind set for punctuality and respect for time? Is it because I grew up in Canada? Or is it due to my family of origin? But of course, family of origin is a large part of cultural identity!
My parents are English (British), and my mother is definitely sequential when it comes to time, and perhaps my father was synchronous because one could say my mother’s mantra was: “Come on Henry, get a move on! We’ll be late!” followed by a moan about his consistent tardiness.
As a language teacher, working abroad with private students in Hungary, they understood if they were 5 minutes late they lost 5 minutes of class time. Yet, when working with students from Turkey and the Middle East, they seemed to think the class could start whenever they turned up and end when the paid-for number of minutes were completed.
In Spain I was working for companies and academies where the class started and ended at a designated time, yet the Spanish students were invariably late. African musicians I worked with there would arrive for a rehearsal when I was getting ready to leave, and wonder why I was leaving.
In England, nothing seems to ever start on time (except trains), and some musicians I’ve collaborated with here have also been consistently lax about time, whereas others are more fussy.
It has me wondering if one’s attitude towards time is more due to family of origin and personality type than national cultural identity. Yet surely, broadly speaking, within cultures there’s a prevalent attitude.
One would think schools and teachers generally have a sequential attitude towards time – though if Trompenaars is right, that probably varies from culture to culture. There are probably cultures where turning up late for school gets a raised eyebrow, whereas in other cultures it means detention. Schools may very well be the place to determine a culture’s attitude to time.
It would be interesting to look at attitudes towards time within certain professions/personality types. It stands to reason that linear thinkers would also have a sequential attitude towards time – irregardless of their cultural background, whereas creative/abstract thinkers would be synchronous. But hey, I’m a creative, and I’ve had to adjust my sequential attitude towards time.
This certainly has me thinking – not so much about intercultural communications as inter-personal within the workplace/collaborations etc. I do think it’s dangerous to blanket any one culture or any one profession as either synchronous or sequential. It would be interesting to see a list of different cultures and which group Trompenaars puts each into.
At the end of the day, it’s probably best to check when booking an appointment with someone how they view punctuality and the use of time. A simple: “How punctual are you?” when booking an appointment could save the relationship and also flag the attitude you need to carry into the meeting.
What do you think? How much tardiness do you put up with?
- Professor Fons Trompenaars one of the world’s top 50 business thinkers (studyinamsterdam.wordpress.com)
- The move toward (Philippine) punctuality (stimuluscapitalideas.wordpress.com)
- Punctuality Is a Virtue (radicalrenier.wordpress.com)
- TED Video: Gringo Discusses Brazilian Perception of Time, More Focused On The Present Than The Future (portugueseblog.org)
- Punctuality Is Necessary Or Overrated? (everydaygyaan.com)
- ‘The umbrella Iyer’ (thehindu.com)
- c2c named most punctual train operator in 2011 (rail.co)
- ScienceShot: Insomnia Linked to Punctuality (news.sciencemag.org)