Friday, January 7, 2011

Monochronic Time

The concept of time is something I never thought about until I lived in Arizona. The blur between monochronic and polychronic time exists there. I didn't know it until one day at work someone was talking about a party they were planning and I asked the million dollar question. "How many RSVPs did you get back?"  How was I to know I was going to learn a huge lesson by that simple question?

My beautiful Mexican friend said, "Susan, Mexicans don't do RSVPs".  And, everyone in the conversation laughed.  Really? I said. "No, we just show up or we don't show up. It's no big deal."

After that exchange, I started paying closer attention to the culture I was living in.  My cousin had gotten married at the courthouse to a young Mexican guy. She called us and invited us over to his family's house for dinner on Friday night to meet his family.  She said, "Be there at 6:00 p.m." Now, I have a few aunts & uncles in Yuma and long story short, we all ended up at the front door about the same time ... 6 o'clock.   As we entered her new family's lovely home, I noted right away that the table was not set, they were just putting the rice on to boil for the Spanish rice and strangely, none of her new husband's family was there yet.  I had worked all day and I was starving but a little voice in the back of my head said, "that rice is going to take 30 minutes to boil and then they still have to mess around getting all the good stuff in it .... shoulda had a snack before I left work ... I'm going to starve to death right here in front of everyone and have a meltdown."  

We didn't eat until, let's just say, much later.  His family never even showed up, that is, until we were saying our goodbyes at 9:00 p.m. and just heading out the door.  Here comes his brother, his brother's wife, their tribe of children - all of them carrying little floaties to play in the pool, etc.  My eyes were rolling. "How rude", I thought (at the time) The party was just getting started for them.  I don't think my cousin really knew about this whole polychronic time thing either ... although she just went along with whatever was happening and seemed to just fit right in.  

Later on during my time in Yuma, when I was working at the county attorney's office, I got invited to hear a speaker talk and the gist of it was about American and Mexican cultures. She was a highly educated woman who had been raised in Mexico and I loved what she taught me. There are two or three main ideas I took away from that talk.  Mexicans are proud to be called Mexicans.  They don't really want to be called LatinosI love that!!!  And, Mexicans live on polychronic time.  Americans, not so much.

She gave an example that stuck with me. If I was on my way to dinner with friends and one of my best friends called and was in a real crisis, my monochronic self would say, "Hey sister, I'd love to listen to your crisis but I gotta go to dinner, I'm supposed to be there at 6. Can I call you after dinner?"   One who lives in a polychronic society would say, "hey sis, let's go have coffee and talk this thing out", and then either show up late for dinner or not show up all.  In a polychronic society, it's all good.  Polychronics know that time is fluid. Monochronics think time is linear. 

During the work week, I live on monochronic time, for sure.  But I totally look forward to Friday night at 5:00 p.m., when I can switch to "poly" time!


  1. I had the opportunity to go to that workshop in Yuma too, and it was a game changer for me. Very interesting. The thing I took away from it, that the way you look at time, and the handling of it were almost totally dependent on what you learn growing up... No big surprise there. The worst thing in all of this comes when folks from opposite time perspectives get in this cultural clash, and both go away angered and/or hurt due to the misunderstanding of the cultural "thing" that is planted deep down inside the both of them.

  2. In Alaska there is "Native"'s just "whenever"...LOL And don't get me started on the daylight saving time thing between us and the lower 48! save daylight? you have GOT to be kidding!!

  3. tal vez hoy tal vez mañana, cuando me presento


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