Is time finite or does it simple just melt away?
American Culture is a high-time culture; meaning that time is viewed as extremely valuable and is sometimes even viewed as a “master”. A typical American views time as a type of currency. Time is exchangeable, valuable, and has the ability to be monopolized. According to the textbook, Managing Across Cultures: The Seven Keys to Doing Business With a Global Mindset, high-time culture means that as a culture, time is viewed as finite and if not used, it is wasted. Since time is viewed as something that can be can be wasted, learning how to control time becomes an extremely valuable asset. There is a heavy emphasis on not wasting time and doing everything possible to better your future, not on building relationships. Most relationships are superficial, often leaving something hidden because you would rather move on to the next activity that is for yourself as opposed to the growth and development of relationships and community. Personal daily schedules are often managed and planned out to the second because that which is not used is wasted and cannot be returned. Given that schedules are so detailed a person must begin to prioritize necessities, activities, and additives. The scheduling and prioritizing of time that Americans partake in is often taught at a young age. Children must learn that time is very important and that some activities are more important than others; therefore, a child must learn which activity has the most advantages. American children begin to learn that time can be saved and used for future ventures. The value of time management and the thought of saving time are carried with an American for the rest of their life.
Italian Culture is more of a low-time culture. According to the textbook, in low-time culture time is not everything. People often begin their days later because they need to be well rested and looking their best. When an Italian goes into the world they look their best no matter what and this takes time. Even though it takes time out of their working day it allows for them to perform and put their best face forward. In low-time cultures there is more of an emphasis on building relationships rather than being on time for business ventures. They need to be able to feel and trust a person before they are willing to make business ventures. Due to time not being their master, Italians are often a few minutes late; therefore, there is typically a 15 minute leeway for tardiness and if you are someone of high status you will typically arrive more than 15 minutes late. There is a beautiful Italian phrase la gente importante si fa asperttare, meaning important people allow for themselves to be waiting on. Given that tardiness is acceptable, being late to a meeting does not reflect negatively on someone’s character.
Adjusting to Italian Time
One of the first biggest culture shocks that I endured was the concept of time. I was raised as a typical, over scheduled American child. I was used to having activities that were scheduled back to back. I learned how to eat fast and in between events of my life. When we arrived to Italy our first breakfast began at 7 am. The breakfast consisted of a croissant, a juice, a water, and a cappuccino. Not only is this a lot of food for and Italian breakfast but is also sinfully early. Since all of us were Americans and used to a high-time, fast paced culture, we ate our meal in about 5 minutes. Even though we finished our meal in five minutes we still had to sit at the table until 8 because school didn’t start until 8:15. This was a shock to me and my classmates because we learned that meals are for enjoying the company that you are with not about what you will be doing in five minutes or later in the day.
Our next lesson in time was for our first Italian lesson. We arrived to our class early not only because it was our first day but because that’s what you do in the U.S. In America if you are late it looks disrespectful, and reflects negatively on your character. However, being the good American student that we are, we were in class 5 minutes early. However, our Italian teacher arrived 5 minutes fashionably late, so very Italian of her. I asked our Italian teacher, Bianca, how Italian schools are typically run and how tardiness makes her feel. According to Bianca, since tardiness it so fundamental in Italian culture that Italian teachers must close the doors right when class begins. When the door is closed you are not allowed in and you will not be able to make up that lesson unless there are doctors notes. Bianca also stated that since our class is run through a private school, she is more lenient on our tardiness, and it does not usually upset her-she even allowed for all of us to graduate our Sorrento Lingue program.
Around 1 pm, on the same day, we went out to the street of Sorrento, Italy to do some shopping only to find that most of the stores are closed for a siesta. A siesta is a time meant for everyone to go home and relax in the middle of the day. This break allowed for store owners and professionals to take a break from the work day and go back out or home in order build relationships with their neighbors, families, and friends. During siestas, as a foreigner I felt alienated and cut off from the world. In America, from the time you wake up to the time that you go to bed you are constantly on the move. Americans rush from place to place, from breakfast to school/daycare/work, from activity to activity. Therefore any down time is not in an American’s vocabulary.
At first, all of the tardiness, slow meals, and an overall lack of time orientation were hard to get used to. America is a high-time culture that pinches and saves days, hours, minutes and seconds in order to get the maximum usage out of every day even save time up so as to exchange it for a vacation. For example, at my place of employment I am able to accrue paid time off and with that accrued paid time off, I was able to turn it in and participate in this study abroad program. To a high-time culture this will allow you to monopolize and dominate the time no in order to relax later. In these cultures a lot of relationship qualities are minimized. Not because people and relationships are unimportant but because time may not always allow for you to have time for everyone: careers tend to become more important than friendships. When a relationship is formed there are many different types: professional, personal, and familial. Of the three familial is the only one that is usually the most voluptuous and full, where as the other two are more superficial.
Understanding Italian time was the most difficult cultural boundary for me to cross. However, once I learned and understood it, it was one of the most beautiful and helpful tools I acquired while in Italy.
Practicing Italian Time
Now that it is near the end of our time here in Sorrento, we are immersed into Italian time. We are now regularly late to class, sorry Bianca, but it is slightly more acceptable since Italy is a low-time culture. We are usually late for class because we are busy creating a relationship amongst ourselves. At the beginning of this adventure we were seven strangers and due to our long meals we became a family. When we are late for class we are about 5-10 minutes late which is the equivalent of Italian punctuality. Strangely enough all of this tardiness and relationship building has become natural.
When a time is important and needs to be adhered to it is now referred to as American/German time rather than Italian time. Even when we are told that it is an American 1:05pm we are typically 5-10 minutes tardy. Clearly Italian time has really begun to rub off on us.
One of our first experiences where we were told that we needed to use American time since our arrival in Sorrento was on our first excursion to the Amalfi Coast. Our guide, Luca, was a southern Italian man who knew about that Italian culture was a low-time culture. He stated that there many different types of time and that during this excursion we were no longer on Italian time but we were on American time. This excursion was on Saturday May 25, only 5 days after we arrived and learned about Italian time. For some of my classmates, Italian time was easier to pick up on but for me. I was still calculating and recording how long each activity took so that we were where we needed to be at the correct time.
The first two cities on our roller coaster ride through the Amalfi Coast were very prompt. We adhered to the American times that were given. However, our last stop in Ravello was different. Ravello is a beautiful town that was about a five-minute walk from where our bus dropped us off. If we were back in the U.S. we would have left Ravello 5 minutes earlier just so that we would be back at the bus on time: this was not the case though. We went to the Villa Rufolo in Ravello. What we saw while we were there were simply indescribable. The beauty, the lore, the relationships that were created in ancient times as well as those between us was so captivating that we completely lost track of time. The point at which I finally understood Italian time and the importance of relationships was when we finally were pulled back from our fantasy land in Villa Rufolo and cruelly pushed back into reality. We were late for the bus but none of us could care less because what we had witness and experienced was much more important than being on a bus back to Sorrento.
Our next time that we were asked to be on American time was when we were going on another excursion to Pompeii on Tuesday May 28th. In order to get to Pompeii we needed to take a train from Sorrento to Pompeii and the last one that we could catch so that we were on time to meet our guide was at 1:25pm. Making this train was a must. We were all able to adhere to the American meeting time. However, once we were in Pompeii time again ceased to exist. We wandered the streets touching and watching history come back to life.
As a history lesson on Italian time: back in Pompeian time people used to lounge and lay down while eating dinner-this was because time was less important than the relationship that they were building. We had no idea as to what time Pompeii closed, but that didn’t matter to us. The magic was so captivating that time was no longer in our mind. The only thing that pulled us back to reality was our aching bodies and hungry stomachs. When we walked back from history into the now we realized that there was a train back to Sorrento in about 10 minutes. Trains in Italy are on a schedule that is not even the same as the one that is put out for the public so we began to talk and continue to build the relationships with our roommates. We were so lost in our relationship building that some of our group almost missed the train back. This no longer phased us because we were becoming a family and building the relationship was more important than being on time.
All of our tardiness was no longer a character flaw. We were just trying to fit in with the town and culture that we were in. Now we were the ones laughing at the other “tourists” rushing through meals and running from spot to spot. From a time perspective we have become immersed in the Italian way of life. As a group of classmates from two different universities we had gone from being timely and superficial to becoming a family that was tardy and deeply connected with each other. Building the relationship between two people had become more important than the grade that we would earn in this course and being on time for anything. Time was now the foreign object and relationship was the center of our little famiglia.
Readjusting to Our “Master”: Time
Now that our time in our paradise and home, Sorrento, Italy, is almost up we are going to need to begin to think about how we will be readjusting back to the American values. During our time here we have gained many things that are both positively and negatively viewed in the U.S.
Meeting time will be strictly adhered to in the U.S. Tardiness will once again be a fatal character flaw, and building relationships will not be as important. Since we have been in Italy for three weeks it will be a struggle for many of us to be timely again. Classes will not wait for everyone to be seated and ready to begin as they have here in Italy. We will not have a “siesta” in the middle of the day because time is money and if it is not being used it is being wasted.
I will be happy to go back to a high culture time because I find that when I don’t have something scheduled, I begin to feel antsy and don’t know what to do with myself. Being timely is something that I am good at and therefore it will be nice to have things begin when they are scheduled and to have people show up when they say that they will. It may be the many years of having a tough schedule that is organized and orderly but to me I still view tardiness as a negative thing. After viewing the beauty of the relationships that everyone in Sorrento has I am able to see the beauty and understand why being tardy is ok.
The Things that I will personally miss: more dressed up in my clothing for daily life, long meals, siesta, and building relationships. I love that Italians take pride in beauty, not only in landscape but in themselves. I have learned that you should always put your best face forward because life is a performance and you should perform at all times: “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Here in Italy you better not plan on having dinner quickly. Meals are events rather than meals. You dress up, socialize, and eat far too much for any one person individually. All of our meals have been opportunities for us to bond with each other, and go from classmates to family members. Here we have discussed many things and built relationship that will last for a lifetime. In the U.S. meals are to eat to satisfy your hunger, not to build relationships. I feel that so much can be learned through not rushing through meals and I hope that I can bring this value back home with me.
I will also take more time to meet with live in the moment: more than just capre diem but actually godere la vita (the art of enjoying life). In the moment is where relationships are built and life is lived– enjoyed, in fact! Relationships are what connect us with people in our community as well as people around the world. When I am home I have realized that I do not take enough time to learn about things in other people’s lives because before I came to Italy I was too focused on myself and my needs. I need to learn to set aside time for other and continue to let relationships grow.
“I AM A SENIOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF, DENVER. I DECIDED THAT THIS WAS THE STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM FOR ME BECAUSE I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO GO TO ITALY. WHEN I USED TO THINK OF ITALY I THOUGHT ABOUT THE ANCIENT RUINS COEXISTING WITH THE NOW. I ALWAYS THOUGHT ABOUT THE BEAUTY, NOT ONLY IN THE LANDSCAPE, BUT IN THE PEOPLE CULTURE AND BEAUTY. I HAVE FOUND A SECOND HOME IN ITALY AND I HAVE LEARNED SO MUCH ABOUT INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION. I WILL BRING THE VALUES THAT I HAVE FELL IN LOVE WITH AND INTEGRATE THEM BACK INTO MY AMERICAN LIFE. ITALIA, FINO AL PROSSIMO INCONTRO, AMORE!”
Special acknowledgements to our host school, Sorrento Lingue Institute, The University of Colorado – Denver Department of Communications, department chair Dr. Stephen J. Hartnett and our instructor Dr. Julia Khrebtan