On Time

You are invited to the  …. Holiday party …

Wednesday, December xx, 7-9 pm

In Romanian culture, mentioning the end time of a party on an invitation is appalling. I mean, if you’re not ready to go all night long, don’t even bother. Mentioning the end time is like kicking people out of your house. Inconceivable. Rude.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people’s relationship to time, cultural differences, and the impact they have on relationship building.

I recently reconnected with an Indian friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years. We met for dinner. It lasted 6 hours. We parted ways when we were too tired to keep our eyes open and the restaurant, then the coffee shop, closed, and we had to leave.

I met a Romanian friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years for dinner the following evening. We hung out for another 6 hours or so. Lots of catching up to do. Lots of on-the-spot decisions: walk in the park? dinner? walk me to my hotel? glass of wine in hotel lobby?

Whenever I meet American friends for dinner, after about 90 minutes they get fidgety, don’t pick up on conversation topics, glance at their watches and then out around the room, their eyes projecting their urge to get going.

When we met for lunch or coffee, the same nonverbal behaviors occur like clockwork, after about 50 minutes.

It seems to me Americans have an internal clock that times their lunch, coffee, and dinner interactions, and when a situation occurs that might mess with that clock, they spell the time limits on the invitation. It’s part of this culture, nothing to blame on anyone. But it doesn’t work for me.

I guess I don’t know how to build relationships under these severe time limits. When I relate to someone, when we have fun talking, I don’t see the reason to stop, I don’t have the same internal timer. I can’t help but be slightly hurt by others’ internal timers, though I know they don’t mean to offend me.

When my husband and I first met, we spent the entire night talking.

It takes time and talk to build relationships.

So how do you build relationships?

How do you build relationships under strict time limits?

Does your relationship with time affect your relationships with people?

And what happens when you interact with other cultures, either in interpersonal or public relations settings?

Cause honestly, my feeling is, if this culture’s relationship with time were a bit more relaxed, I’d have more friends.