Time and Its Cultural Pendulum

Time is a very culture-centric topic that my father taught me well across the countries we lived in.

He was a stickler about time. Spain, where I was born, is the land of “mañana”—later, or really, “not now.” According to my mom, Spain drove my dad to distraction. I was too young to understand punctuality then, but my father made up for this when we moved to Guam.

Guam was a rough patch for my dad as well, because time was merely a suggestion. People were usually an hour late on an island that was 20 minutes wide to drive. I think my dad’s difficulty with island time was because of his work in the military and other areas of the government. I can always remember him wearing a watch, and telling us when we needed to be ready to leave the house. I suppose this is how he coped. Every child under his roof got a watch early on. Mine had a red leather band and a Mickey Mouse face that I cherished.

It must have been a relief when our family lived in places like Germany, where they were exposed to ruthless local punctuality. “I’ll see you at 1:00” meant I will expect you by 12:50. My early home-schooling in promptness meant I was a cool observer of my friends who were from more time flexible cultures, and had big issues in our little county south of Munich. I watched as some adapted and some didn’t, and found Germans could be both very hospitable, and very inflexible.

Where other people say “time is money”, my father says things like “respect the man, respect his time”. He often tells me “you can’t give back lost time”, too. Time is a lesson my father taught me well.

So here I am a man in my fifties, and when you say, “see you at Hachiko in Shibuya at 3:30”, you know I will be there by 3:20.