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African Time
October 9, 2007 8:37 AM   Subscribe

There is time, and there is "African time". The Ivory Coast is fighting chronic lateness with a contest that offered a $60,000 villa as its grand prize. The winner, legal adviser Narcisse Aka, is known by his colleagues as "Mr. White Man's Time" and said that his punctuality makes him feel like "an extra-terrestrial."
posted by stbalbach (54 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I found my sockpuppet name.
posted by horsemuth at 8:44 AM on October 9, 2007


FYI there is also "Caribbean Time" (aka Trinidadian Time)
posted by neuph at 8:57 AM on October 9, 2007


What an odd mentality. I had always assumed it was just carried over from a more relaxed/casual culture in African communities - is it really because everyone wants to make a "grand entrance"? Can anyone back that claim up?
posted by chundo at 8:58 AM on October 9, 2007


In Afrika people have a greater understanding of the world, they are at one with motion and as such time or "being on time" is a meaningless concept.

It's something the Western world will never understand.
posted by carfilhiot at 8:58 AM on October 9, 2007


A sockpuppet named Mr. White Man's Time? I like it...
posted by SixteenTons at 9:02 AM on October 9, 2007


I've heard about this lax (oh yes, I went there!) timeliness about Europe, South and Central America, Asia and now Africa. Perhaps the real story is the CONSIDERATE AND EFFICIENT PUNCTUALITY of we Northern Americans.
posted by DU at 9:02 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Repent, Harlequin!" said the Tick-Tock man.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:02 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


carlfilhiot -

I would agree that slavish devotion to the clock is a bad thing. But if the first article's author is to be believed - then in your eyes does "a greater understanding of the world" equate to intentional lateness with the goal of being the center of attention? That just seems... selfish, not enlightened.
posted by chundo at 9:11 AM on October 9, 2007


"they are at one with motion and as such time...is a meaningless concept."

But motion is a function of time, surely!
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 9:11 AM on October 9, 2007


I find in China time is read a little differently... there's very little planning and everything happens last minute. Being late isn't a huge problem in my experience. I was stunned to find it was impossible to find an office calendar in Shenzhen. It's almost like people think you're full of it if you really think you can plan two, three months in advance. The partner schools we work with only have the most basic outline of an academic calender. Nobody really knows precisely when school starts and ends, when vacations begin, etc.

I think it's caused by top-down hierarchal thinking. Nobody questions bossman on about when things are going to happen, as bossman expects things to happen when he tells you. I've met people on long-distance trains traveling thousands of miles for the company and not knowing why. In their (the bossman's) defense, information just doesn't seem to be shared until it's complete - and thus, accurate. Keeping employees in the dark, in their mind, is better than sharing opinions on what they think will likely happen and being wrong.
posted by trinarian at 9:12 AM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've heard about this lax (oh yes, I went there!) timeliness about Europe, South and Central America, Asia and now Africa. Perhaps the real story is the CONSIDERATE AND EFFICIENT PUNCTUALITY of we Northern Americans.

it seems like you never made it to Germany...
posted by geos at 9:13 AM on October 9, 2007


"... In Mumford's great book Technics and Civilization, he shows how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, ..."

- Amusing Ourselves to Death
posted by trinarian at 9:16 AM on October 9, 2007


"Tonight on the O'Reilly Factor, Black people are lazy and cheap, and this woman admits it!"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:30 AM on October 9, 2007


In Afrika people have a greater understanding of the world, they are at one with motion and as such time or "being on time" is a meaningless concept.

Indeed. I know that my understanding of the world pales in comparison to that of the small boy watching his sister being raped endlessly by drugged out janjaweed militiamen in the dry valley of a drought-plagued savanna. I know far less than the village elder who thinks AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin. And don't even get me started on how at one with motion the corrupt bureaucrats of half a dozen countries who spend their foreign aid money on mansions, cars, and arms instead of their own people are! I mean they are really at one with motion! On second thought, your paternalistic generalizations are probably more accurate.
posted by billysumday at 9:32 AM on October 9, 2007 [5 favorites]


Anybody else get some kind of weird authentication dialog box when clicking on the "African Time" link?
posted by Afroblanco at 9:32 AM on October 9, 2007


First!
posted by pardonyou? at 9:37 AM on October 9, 2007 [22 favorites]


In related news, I heard about a British politician who had his teeth fixed and was lambasted in the tabloids for "going Hollywood."
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:41 AM on October 9, 2007


Sorry to say, there's a UK equivalent in "Devon time". When we first moved down here, I was in constant eye-bulging rage at the slowness of getting stuff done, and the repeated experience of people breaking appointments without explanation or apology. You eventually get into organising work dealings by catching people when you meet them.
posted by raygirvan at 9:51 AM on October 9, 2007


Sorry to say, there's a UK equivalent in "Devon time". When we first moved down here, I was in constant eye-bulging rage at the slowness of getting stuff done, and the repeated experience of people breaking appointments without explanation or apology. You eventually get into organising work dealings by catching people when you meet them.


I think that's just English customer service writ large.


posted by generichuman at 9:56 AM on October 9, 2007


DU: That's such a great point. "Oh, Italy is so CASUAL, we ate lunch there at sunset and then had a nine hour dinner" and so on.

Along the same lines, someone famous once remarked that almost every nation on Earth also has a reputation for being legendary drinkers.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:06 AM on October 9, 2007


In Sosta Rica they called it Tiki Time. In Dakar they do things Senegalaisement. But I think there is more too it than tropical climates and a desire to make an entrance. The ability to plan weeks in advance, or to be on time today, both depend on a large number of factors beyond your control. If there are goats in the road causing a random 4 hour traffic jam, you will be late. This rarely happens in north America. If you can depend on government services and have reliable utilities, you can estimate the length of time it will take you to finish a project. If you have electricity only 3 out of 5 days and you have to spend a week convincing a government official to let you get access to the library, you will not.
posted by Nothing at 10:26 AM on October 9, 2007 [5 favorites]


I really need to edit. But to finish the point: If you become used to a world in which it is not possible to be on time or to make long term plans with reliability, you adapt, and learn how to manage without those things, and eventually it does not seem so important. Meanwhile, visitors from places with more rigid ideas of time will try their hardest to overcome all the obstacles to punctuality, and even in failing they will be more punctual than the locals until they realize it is futile. Which is why you get ideas like "white man's time."
posted by Nothing at 10:33 AM on October 9, 2007


We have "island time" here. I'm a natural at it.
posted by maxwelton at 10:37 AM on October 9, 2007


Rubber time. It's mostly a tropical thing all over the planet.

Indonesia. Malaysia. Japanese paradox rubber time. "It is inadvisable to expect punctuality in India" (major understatement).
posted by nickyskye at 10:43 AM on October 9, 2007


White Man's Time is overrated; I operate on Peanut Butter Jelly Time.

(With a baseball bat)
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:44 AM on October 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


I think Nothing has it. Being able to be on time, without also having to constantly obsess and leave early (and thus waste your own time) is a function of available infrastructure.

I suspect people in North America were a lot more 'casual' as well, before industrialization.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:47 AM on October 9, 2007


I've been to Mexico two years in a row now for vacation, and they have the same problem (yes, I consider it to be a problem) there.
posted by schlaager at 10:57 AM on October 9, 2007


Seconding trinarian's and nothing's informative and thoughtful comments.

The obsession with punctuality seems to make life less enjoyable in the West and Northern latitudes.

Here in the West, among anxious people, there is a tendency to hurry, hurry, hurry to get there, to come back, to plan, to go, to return, to "get it done" and there doesn't seem to be much enjoyment on the way, the process of getting there, the limbo of living life between now and 'arriving'.
posted by nickyskye at 11:08 AM on October 9, 2007


yes, but the parts of the world that are on time have developed certain efficiencies and economies, allowing them to industrialize, and these folks are now living large and pillaging the natural resources of the nonpunctual countries. maybe all those people need to do to combat western economic imperialism is show up for work on time!
posted by bruce at 11:15 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


In the Jewish community in New Zealand, this is known as "Jewish Mean Time". We also have Maori Time.

Anyway this is the stuff of anthropology and well know as Polychronic vs Synchronic time.

The thing that interested me in the first link was the explanation that it was entirely status-based. Perhaps that's true in Nigeria but I'm not convinced that's universal in unpunctual cultures.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:34 AM on October 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


The Time Clock:
The first time clock was invented in November 20, 1888, by Willard Bundy, a jeweler in Auburn, New York. A year later his brother, Harlow Bundy, organized the Bundy Manufacturing Company, and began mass producing time clocks. Bundy Manufacturing, along with two other time equipment businesses, was consolidated into the International Time Recording Company (ITR). In 1911 ITR and two other companies were merged, forming Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (CTR), which would later change its name to IBM.
After work (in your spare time), start in your car and work your way through your home counting how many clocks — including those in alarms, radios, computers, cell phones, TV sets, cable receivers, microwaves, iPods, wristwatches, etc. — are watching over you. My own quick walk-through reveals over 35 time-keepers.

One of these days, Citizen, they're all going to be connected, and the Directorate of Time will make sure you're using this vital national resource properly.
posted by cenoxo at 12:20 PM on October 9, 2007


Among Indians and Pakistanis we call it DST: Desi Standard Time. There's no point in showing up to weddings on time because you'll be the only guest there. I try to get to weddings around an hour late, and I'm still usually one of the first.
posted by exhilaration at 12:30 PM on October 9, 2007


Cool thread, lots of interesting additional links.

Nice to have a name for this "polychronic vs synchronic time". Thanks i_am_joe's_spleen, really enjoying that article.

In America people talk about arriving "fashionably late", so I think in some cases, like for parties, lateness and "making an entrance" by being late, when others have already arrived, putting the latecomer in the spotlight, is a status issue here too.
posted by nickyskye at 12:30 PM on October 9, 2007


So these Africans fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way?
Kicking around on a piece of ground in their home town
Waiting for someone or something to show them the way?
Perhaps they’re tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain, but they are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
But then one day they’ll find ten years have got behind them
And they’ll run and they’ll run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
...time is gone the post is over, thought I'd something more to say
posted by Smedleyman at 12:43 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


It sounds like a great labor-saving system. If you look at your watch and it's 3pm, you can say "Oh, right, I have a 3pm meeting". Then you get dressed, go there, and arrive at the correct moment.

For your dinner at eight, start going to dinner at eight. Whenever you arrive, that's your 8pm dinner.

If everyone does this, life should work out fine. :)

It's sure less complicated and less stressful than the math gymnastics we go through in the USA: Dinner at eight, so leave at 7:30, dress at 7, shower at 6:45.... hmm....
posted by rokusan at 12:54 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you can track down a copy of (the still extremely funny) Parkinson's Law by C Northcote Parkinson there is a chapter ostensibly describing how scientists have learned how to identify the most important person at a cocktail party. Among other things, arrival precisely 1 hour and 45 minutes after the nominal start time and departure 45 minutes later, is indicative.

If I was at home right now I'd type the relevant passage in.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:07 PM on October 9, 2007


I've never been around a single small ethnic group that didn't have "ethnicity x time".

When I was an Ashkenaz Jew in a Syrian Jew school there was "Syrian time." At the wedding of a Guatemalan guy recently there was "Guatemalan time." I've heard black comedians go on about the difference between black people time and white people time.

Incidentally, I never noticed any of those people or groups to be any earlier or later than anyone else. People just want to feel culturally unique, I guess.
posted by birdie birdington at 2:23 PM on October 9, 2007


White Man's Time is the worst.

It irks me how being a little late is considered a moral failing in the West. I really wish everyone would just chill the f___ out.
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:25 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


when i first moved here, to the shores of Lake Superior, i assumed the concept of "Indian Time" was a sort of disparaging way of of saying "those injuns are always late for everything."

it took more experience to realize that amongst many Native Americans, it is a perfectly acceptable way to refer to a difference in time perception, getting right down to the idea that white folks' adherence to timeliness was just another way of attempting to control both people and the natural world.

Paula Gunn Allen addresses the concept in her book, The Sacred Hoop. “For an Indian, if being on time means being out of harmony with self and ritual, the Indian will be ‘late.’ The right timing for a tribal Indian is the time when he or she is in balance with the flow of the four rivers of life.”

Somebody even did a study, though its backing purpose seems to be about fitting those Native adolescents into the institution we call schooling.

I thought it was pretty fascinating that people involved in creating and promoting the asynchronicity of online learning see it as a perfect modality for Native students.

in the end, it seems to me that native american Indian Time refers to both a connection to a higher chronometer than humans could produce, along with a certain strain of rebellion.

(i am notoriously punctual, to the point of extreme anxiety when late, even for something where no one will notice.)
posted by RedEmma at 2:31 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, being on time can be a sign of respect and being late disrespectful - it's all how you look at it, and whose doing the looking, and whose late, and whose waiting. Just don't try to change the word by being late to your wedding or first day on the job "hey, the world needs to chill!"
posted by stbalbach at 2:32 PM on October 9, 2007


This thread has become very interesting - I did a lookup of "Africa time" on Wikipedia and came up empty. How would one categorize or label these various "times" in an encyclopedia?
posted by stbalbach at 2:35 PM on October 9, 2007


oops. "perfect modality" link here.
posted by RedEmma at 2:36 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


What if time didn't exist anymore? Maybe its been playing us for fools all along!
posted by UseyurBrain at 3:17 PM on October 9, 2007


I'm getting to this conversation fashionably late, but it reminds me of this article I just read (I'm not a libertarian; it was on aldaily) about how most of what makes rich countries rich has to do with neither natural resources nor infrastructure. My guess is showing up on time (for business appointments, if not for parties) is one of the intangibles that keeps Switzerland richer than Nepal.

If you read the diary of Samuel Pepys (1660-9), by the way, he spends a lot of time sitting around taverns waiting for dudes to show up. Before Europe was industrialized, people were late for stuff all the time there as well.
posted by sy at 6:32 PM on October 9, 2007


the parts of the world that are on time have developed certain efficiencies and economies, allowing them to industrialize, and these folks are now living large and pillaging the natural resources of the nonpunctual countries

You've obviously never been to Ireland.
posted by fshgrl at 6:39 PM on October 9, 2007


Something at the back of my mind is saying that there's a big, well-researched article out there tying punctuality to the 19th century factory, the railway (with its timetable) and improvements in timekeeping mechanisms. I just can't think where I read it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:59 PM on October 9, 2007


Here in the West, among anxious people, there is a tendency to hurry, hurry, hurry to get there, to come back, to plan, to go, to return, to "get it done" and there doesn't seem to be much enjoyment on the way, the process of getting there, the limbo of living life between now and 'arriving'.

You need to stop hanging out with anxious people.
posted by davejay at 9:09 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sorry to show up to this thread late.
posted by Eideteker at 9:20 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you read the diary of Samuel Pepys (1660-9), by the way, he spends a lot of time sitting around taverns waiting for dudes to show up.

i'm so glad to find out that Pepys and i have got yet another thing in common. i used to be fond of writing in my journal during those waiting times. this has led to some rather mundane repetition.
posted by RedEmma at 9:31 PM on October 9, 2007


Here in the West, among anxious people, there is a tendency to hurry, hurry, hurry to get there, to come back, to plan, to go, to return, to "get it done" and there doesn't seem to be much enjoyment on the way, the process of getting there, the limbo of living life between now and 'arriving'.

Yes, but here in the West, we're able to soothe our psychic wounds by rubbing dollar bills against our temples.

You know. The dollar bills we earned because we actually give a shit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:44 AM on October 10, 2007


Or have you guys never heard of that crazy thinker Benjamin Franklin and his "early to bed, early to rise, makes a man..." rap?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:46 AM on October 10, 2007


In Afrika people have a greater understanding of the world, they are at one with motion and as such time or "being on time" is a meaningless concept.

It's something the Western world will never understand.


Is that why all Africans have such great rhythm, too?

I call "bullshit", but not just regular bullshit - "racist bullshit", with a touch of "noble savage" thrown in for good measure.
posted by kcds at 4:51 AM on October 10, 2007


I'm surprised no one has mentioned gay standard time.
posted by desjardins at 7:57 AM on October 10, 2007


I'm here! How nice of you to show up. Been waiting long? What? Y'all been here since yesterday? Damn!

Now get off my porch.
posted by t2urner at 1:57 PM on October 10, 2007


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