“This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down. ” – Gollum
Time should be easy to translate, right? Wrong! The passage of time is universal and inevitable, but the way different cultures experience it is not. And that can lead to confusion, especially when you’re traveling, or when you’re trying to socialize or do business with someone from a culture that treats time differently than your own.
With that in mind, here are 6 useful facts about time in different languages and cultures.
Most Western cultures are monochronic. Here’s what that means and why it matters.
Social scientists classify cultures are “monochronic” or “polychronic” based on how they view time. Monochronic cultures see time as a limited resource, something that can be “saved,” “spent” or “wasted.” In a monochronic culture (like the US or the UK), it’s normal to schedule tasks and appointments to start and end at a certain time.
But in a polychronic culture, time is seen as flexible. And that means that appointments and deadlines may be more flexible as well. In polychronic cultures, it’s also more common to do many things at a once. Interruptions are regarded as normal instead of undesirable.
(One caveat: These are just generalizations. They aren’t universal. Japanese culture is generally regarded as polychronic, but the culture is also quite fast-paced and punctuality is important).
Time isn’t always a line
Monochronic cultures also tend to see time as a “line,” stretching forward into the future and backwards into the past.
But that’s not universal. In some cultures, particularly Asian cultures and some Native American cultures, it’s a wheel, moving in reoccuring cycles. On a practical level, that means they may need to carefully consider past events before making decisions for the future.
And of course, if you’re a Time Lord, it’s a big ball of wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff that you can travel through. Read more