Magazine article Management Today

When Time Is Lost in the Translation

Magazine article Management Today

When Time Is Lost in the Translation

Article excerpt

Depending on where you are, time can either be money, a near-religion or something to ignore. In the first of two articles, Richard D Lewis explores the different cultural attitudes to time.

Time is thought to be universal and nonnegotiable. While for the most part true, the world views held by different cultures mean that time can be subject to strikingly different notions. Eastern and western cultures view time in almost opposite ways. Even within these groupings, attitudes can vary widely. In the West, for example, two adjacent countries -- the US and Mexico -- use time in such opposite ways that it is often the cause of friction between them. Similarly, in Europe, the Swiss attitude to time bears little relation to that of neighbouring Italy.

As a whole, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Dutch and Scandinavian people are essentially 'linear-active' and time-dominated. They prefer to do one thing at"a time, concentrate on it and complete it within a scheduled timescale. It is irk this way, they reason, that you get more things done -- and done efficiently. The prevailing Protestant work ethic also dictates that the harder you work -- or, rather, the more hours you work -- the more successful you will be.

For an American, time is truly money -- as anyone who has had dealings with an American doctor, dentist or lawyer knows. In a profit-oriented society, time is a precious commodity. It flows fast, and to benefit from its passing, you have to move fast with it. Americans, like their pioneering forebears, are a people of action. Past time is dead time, but the present you can seize, parcel and package and make it work for you in the future.

Time similarly assumes a near-religious importance in both Germany and Switzerland. Germans see the compartmentalisation of programmes, schedules, procedures and production as the surest route to efficiency. The Swiss, perhaps even move time- and regulation-dominated, have made precision a national symbol -- whether in their watch industry, their optical instruments, their pharmaceuticals or their banking. Planes, buses and trains all leave on the dot. Accordingly, everything can be calculated exactly. If nothing else, Switzerland is a very predictable society. …

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