Your time or my time?​

    Spotlight 10/2023
    © Sylvia Wolf

    Past, present and future ​

    Where would you point if someone asked you where the past is? What about the future? And where is the present?​

    In Europe and North America, we see time as being linear, the past beginning behind us and passing through us and going forward into the future. The present is where we are physically at this moment.

    Perfectly logical, you may think, but there are cultures in which the concepts of time are understood differently.​

    Studies of the Amerindian Aymara people, who live in the high valleys of the Andes, show that, for them, the past lies ahead and the future is behind them. For the Aymara, this is logical: they know the past and what happened then, so it’s in front of them, where they can see it. But the future isn’t visible yet: they can’t see it, which is why it lies behind them.​

    The Yupno people of Papua New Guinea see the future as moving uphill and the past as flowing downhill. Professor Rafael Núñez from the University of California, who studied the Yupno, says this may be because early Yupno settlers arrived from lowlandTiefland, Ebene​lowlands and travelled up into the mountains, which they made their home.​

    Days, hours and minutes​

    Time, though, is not just about the big sweepZeitlinie, -spanne​sweep of past, present and future. For most of us, it’s about weeks, days, hours and minutes. Anyone who has worked in an international team will know that words such as “early”, “late” or “on time” may be interpreted differently in Leipzig, Lusaka, Los Angeles or Lima, for example.​

    The vexingschwierig, verzwickt​vexing question about why this is so has kept social scientists busy for decades.​

    One of the most prevalentvorherrschend​prevalent theories was put forward in the 1950s by the American anthropologistAnthropologe, Anthropologin​anthropologist Edward T. Hall. He to coin sth.etw. prägen​coined the terms “monochronic” and “poly­chronic” time to describe how different cultures see timekeepingZeitbegriff, Umgang mit Zeit​timekeeping differently.​

    According to Hall, in monochronic cultures – like those in the US, Germany and the UK – the effective use of time is highly valued. Sticking to a schedule is all-important and tasks are generally completed one after the other.​

    In polychronic cultures – such as those in many African, Arab and South American countries – interpersonalzwischenmenschlich​interpersonal relations are more important than keeping to a strict timetable, and fluidfließend; hier: ohne festen Zeitplan​fluid multitasking is an accepted way to work.​

    In Ghana (a polychronic culture), there is a humoroushumorvoll, scherzhaft​humorous term that people use when scheduling meetings and appointments. GMT might mean Greenwich Mean Time in London, but in Accra, GMT is short for Ghana Maybe Time!​

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