Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's a matter of time...

Are you a polychron or a monochron? With six years of living outside of the United States you would think that I would have heard these terms before.  But I haven't.  Maybe you haven't either and have no idea what I am talking about.  Let's take a look at a definition I found on these terms:

Do you see yourself in these terms?  Do you like to be on time or does all time flow together and is not a big deal for you?  Some of us get uptight when our schedules are disrupted and, after all, those of us from the US have often heard the phrase "time is money".  However, our US culture also sends out the message "just go with the flow" to those of us who are stressed and need to learn to slow down.

Anthropologist Harley Han said  "Culture reinforces biology".

Tom and I lived for five years in a polychronic culture while we were in Russia.  While there were some people who kept schedules and liked to plan out their time...many did not.  It was not uncommon for people to be 15-30 minutes late and still see themselves as on time.  The same is true here in Belize.   

When you travel or live in a different culture it is helpful to understand this concept. Pay attention to the guidebooks about the country you are visiting.  In Germany I have heard that public transport runs with precision but in other countries there may be long gaps between buses or trains.

If you don't come to terms with cultural differences regarding time you may find yourself feeling disrespected when people are late, or perhaps you may become judgmental and condemn a whole people group as lazy.  When what is actually true is that polychrons are relational beings who value people over appointments.  If they are on their way to meet with you and come across a friend or relative who needs to chat they will stop and visit with that person and then come to see you.  All the while believing that you will understand the importance of what they HAD to do.  It is simply a difference in cultural values not a lack of pride in self or disrespect for you.  Each of us tend to believe that the way we do things where we come from is the way that makes the most sense.

So for you monochrons when you have to face a situation like this outside of your monochronic culture give yourself and others the gift of letting go.  Schedule your meetings and then plan for the lateness of the polychrons you have invited.  There is much we polychrons and monochrons can learn from one another but to start we need to bless each other with the grace needed to find a common ground.


  1. Anonymous1:44 PM

    what an interesting post. I never thought of this..

  2. This is the first time i am hearing the terms.

    I guess I am a polychron, because I am always late, although I try to not be.

  3. This is very interesting..i also think this concept is individualized as well! Some people are more structured than others...I guess I am a poly!

  4. MrsP- you are does apply to individuals. I think I am multichronic if that exists. It just depends on the day for me. However, in my heart I know I am a polychron trying to be a monochron!

  5. I never heard of those and that is interesting. I'm definitely monochron.

  6. SS- Thank you, I was hoping to hear from a monochron...I didn't think blogland was all polys!

  7. Belize is one of my favorite countries...and yes it's certainly slow paced. I'm definitely a go with the flow always late person who's struggling to become a type a kind of person when it comes to time.

  8. This is my favorite part about traveling because I hardly ever am on time! It is interesting how our culture so influences us though!

  9. 8 years ago my son married a girl from Venezuela- she was late to her wedding. :) since then we have come to understand the difference between her time and ours along with other cultural differences. She is such a precious addition to our family.

  10. wow, i've never heard of these terms before! very neat.

    in the city i'm pressed for time, can't be late.

    in the mountains...well, time stood still in a wonderful way. i miss mountain life.


  11. This really is an enlightening post. There are times when I need everything structured. But there are times when I am late--I need to respect another's time just as much as I do my own.
    Good thoughts here,