“How Different Cultures Understand Time

“In Western Europe, the Swiss attitude to time bears little relation to that of neighboring Italy. Thais do not evaluate the passing of time in the same way that the Japanese do. In Britain the future stretches out in front of you. In Madagascar it flows into the back of your head from behind…
Southern Europeans are multi-active, rather than linear-active… Multi-active peoples are not very interested in schedules or punctuality. They pretend to observe them, especially if a linear-active partner or colleague insists on it, but they consider the present reality to be more important than appointments… completing a human transaction is the best way they can invest their time. For an Italian, time considerations will usually be subjected to human feelings…
By contrast, the Malagasy consider the future unknowable. It is behind their head where they do not have eyes. Their plans for this unknown area will be far from meticulous, for what can they be based on? Buses in Madagascar leave, not according to a predetermined timetable, but when the bus is full. The situation triggers the event. Not only does this make economic sense, but it is also the time that most passengers have chosen to leave. Consequently, in Madagascar stocks are not replenished until shelves are empty, filling stations order gas only when they run dry, and hordes of would-be passengers at the airport find that, in spite of their tickets, in reality everybody is wait-listed.”

Obviously, rank generalizations from a somewhat un-self-aware American perspective — but it’s so useful to think about time and how we perceive our lives. I enjoyed seeing these models described and diagrammed, although I did not enjoy seeing them labeled. Actually, probably best to read the labels as made up countries.

I sort of want to draw out a diagram of my own.