What is time? Is it a thing to be saved or spent or wasted, like money? Or is it something we have no control over, like the weather? Is time the same all over the world? That's an easy question, you say. Wherever you go, a minute is 60 seconds, an hour is 60 minutes, a day is 24 hours, and so forth. Well, maybe. But in America, time is more than that. Americans see time as a valuable resource. Maybe that's why they are fond of the expression, "Time is money."
Because Americans believe time is a limited resource, they try to conserve and manage it. People in the U.S. often attend seminars or read books on time management. It seems they all want to organize their time better. Professionals carry around pocket planners-some in electronic form-to keep track of appointments and deadlines. People do all they can to squeeze more life out of their time. The early American hero Benjamin Franklin expressed this view best: "Do you love life? Then do not waste time, for that is the stuff life is made of."
To Americans, punctuality is a way of showing respect for other people's time. Being more than 10 minutes late to an appointment usually calls for an apology, and maybe an explanation. People who are running late often call ahead to let others know of the delay. Of course, the less formal the situation, the less important it is to be exactly on time. At informal get-togethers, for example, people often arrive as much as 30 minutes past the appointed time. But they usually don't try that at work.
American lifestyles show how much people respect the time of others. When people plan an event, they often set the time days or weeks in advance. Once the time is fixed, it takes almost an emergency to change it. If people want to come to your house for a friendly visit, they will usually call first to make sure it is convenient. Only very close friends will just "drop by" unannounced. Also, people hesitate to call others late at night for fear they might be in bed. The time may vary, but most folks think twice about calling after 10:00 p.m.
To outsiders, Americans seem tied to the clock. People in other cultures value relationships more than schedules. In these societies, people don't try to control time, but to experience it. Many Eastern cultures, for example, view time as a cycle. The rhythm of nature-from the passing of the seasons to the monthly cycle of the moon-shapes their view of events. People learn to respond to their environment. As a result, they find it easier to "go with the flow" than Americans, who like plans to be fixed and unchangeable.
Even Americans would admit that no one can master time. Time-like money-slips all too easily through our fingers. And time-like the weather-is very hard to predict. Nevertheless, time is one of life's most precious gifts. And unwrapping it is half the fun.