On Time

You are invited to the  …. Holiday party …

Wednesday, December xx, 7-9 pm

In Romanian culture, mentioning the end time of a party on an invitation is appalling. I mean, if you’re not ready to go all night long, don’t even bother. Mentioning the end time is like kicking people out of your house. Inconceivable. Rude.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people’s relationship to time, cultural differences, and the impact they have on relationship building.

I recently reconnected with an Indian friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years. We met for dinner. It lasted 6 hours. We parted ways when we were too tired to keep our eyes open and the restaurant, then the coffee shop, closed, and we had to leave.

I met a Romanian friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years for dinner the following evening. We hung out for another 6 hours or so. Lots of catching up to do. Lots of on-the-spot decisions: walk in the park? dinner? walk me to my hotel? glass of wine in hotel lobby?

Whenever I meet American friends for dinner, after about 90 minutes they get fidgety, don’t pick up on conversation topics, glance at their watches and then out around the room, their eyes projecting their urge to get going.

When we met for lunch or coffee, the same nonverbal behaviors occur like clockwork, after about 50 minutes.

It seems to me Americans have an internal clock that times their lunch, coffee, and dinner interactions, and when a situation occurs that might mess with that clock, they spell the time limits on the invitation. It’s part of this culture, nothing to blame on anyone. But it doesn’t work for me.

I guess I don’t know how to build relationships under these severe time limits. When I relate to someone, when we have fun talking, I don’t see the reason to stop, I don’t have the same internal timer. I can’t help but be slightly hurt by others’ internal timers, though I know they don’t mean to offend me.

When my husband and I first met, we spent the entire night talking.

It takes time and talk to build relationships.

So how do you build relationships?

How do you build relationships under strict time limits?

Does your relationship with time affect your relationships with people?

And what happens when you interact with other cultures, either in interpersonal or public relations settings?

Cause honestly, my feeling is, if this culture’s relationship with time were a bit more relaxed, I’d have more friends.

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3 Comments

  1. This is great. I love the idea that stating an end time for a party is frowned upon. I’m not sure what’s worse, though: going to a party with a pre-determined ending; or going to a party with no end time that ends at midnight 😉

  2. Great post! Compared to what I’ve heard of other cultures, I’ve always thought that we Americans share a constraining concept of time. I’m especially envious of cultures in which they sit around at dinner socializing for hours instead of rushing to finish their meals. I think we would have deeper, more meaningful conversations if our internal timer didn’t go off so early.

  3. This is exactly what everybody in the world needs to hear. Like most accomplishments, relationships take time! People in today’s world get irritated or even frustrated when they are running off to their yoga or cooking class and an intended 3 minute ‘hello” with an old friend on the way turns into a 10 minute discussion. What will it matter if you are 10 minutes late to an extra-curricular event? Life is about relationships. PR is about relationships.


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