As much as I pride myself on being a creature that is not “time bound” there are those moments when I wish that I operated more efficiently….in other words, I’m not always proud of being late.
Culturally based views of time have been the impetus for millions of cross-cultural conflicts – probably since the beginning of time. The conflicts are not pretty. The people on the “mañana” and “bukra” side juxtaposed between those with Swiss watches and German minds. The sun dials vs. the Swiss watches. Empires can rise and fall based on views of time, business deals can perish, relationships can sour, all because of time.
I am a sun-dial. I have already confessed to this in an earlier post. I have a loose view of time and one not-so-pretty conflict came at the dentist office.
To get the full picture of this story, one has to appreciate two things – how much I love being a sun-dial and how much I despise the dentist. When I am told to hurry and be on time, I am paralyzed. I have also had 5 babies naturally, coping with the discomfort of labor through good breathing and good support. I would rather have 15 babies naturally than ever have to go to the dentist. I realize that the word despise is not weighty enough for the way I feel. That dreaded question: “Did you floss?” And of course I answer yes, and with one look, they know that I’m lying.
But on to the story. It started with the dentist’s able assistant Debbie. She was perfect. Her teeth were even more perfect. They were the straightest, whitest, teeth I have ever seen. And I’ve lived in Arizona where Botox and white teeth are fairly common. Read on…..
“I’m Late” I announced rushing through the doors to the dentist’s office.“Yes you are” was the curt reply from Debbie.“Am I quite late or just a bit late” I was desperate to justify my ‘lateness’.
“You are late”. Three words from Debbie. She was diligent, she was beautiful and she had pearly white, straight teeth. My teeth are somewhat crooked and not so white and somehow all this made my lateness worse. I began to babble and felt myself growing hot trying to explain cross-cultural views of time. This was not the time or venue for a teaching moment.
This scenario had happened several times and although I wanted Debbie’s approval it was not going to come until I arrived on time.
I found that when I most wanted to get approval from this strange world filled with unrecognized cues and cultural nuance, I blew it even more. Like being on time, saying the right thing, ordering coffee. All seemingly simple, but like bringing snacks for soccer games, I would panic. For instance, in America you are supposed to deflect compliments. I didn’t know this. When someone gave me a compliment on what I was wearing I would tell them where I got it and how much it cost. In America when you are offered something to eat and you refuse, you are not usually offered it again. In the places where I lived you always refused the first time, and the second, and usually said “Yes, if it’s not too much trouble” the third time around. In America you come on time.
Like most conflicts we were both convinced that we were correct. She told me that I “was in Rome and should do as the Romans” to which I responded “But I’m an Egyptian in a Roman empire!” and she didn’t think I was funny. So we did what is important in cross-cultural conflict: We negotiated. Like all resolution of cross-cultural conflict, it took coming to an agreement in the middle. In this case the “middle” was the little reminder card that comes from my dentist letting me know that the exciting appointment is coming up. She agreed to set my time on the reminder card as a half hour earlier than it actually was. The first time using the system I was early. I would have been twenty minutes late if it was the real time but because the reminder told me that the appointment was earlier I arrived 10 minutes early. She was pleased and I was delighted. It worked well for a time. Then I figured out the system, arrived late, and war broke out.
Time for another round of peace negotiations between Debbie and I. What will the middle look like this time? No wonder the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is so complicated. It’s about a far more than teeth and time.
- Review: Third Culture Kids Growing Up Among Worlds – Understanding the World of Cross-Cultural Childhoods (analternativeeducation.com)
- Cross-Cultural Leadership: How Misinterpretations of Dishonesty Can Destroy Team Alignment (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)