Pakistani Bloggers

The Best of Pakistani Blogging

Why are We Not on Time A rather old phrase states time is of the essence, well not if you're living in Pakistan apparently.

A few days ago I got an interview call letter for a job I had applied for. The letter said that the interview was going to take place at 9 am. On the day of the interview I managed to get to the venue at 8:50. I was seated and asked to wait because the interview panel had not yet arrived. This was hardly unexpected. Although I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised I didn't actually expect the interview to begin any time before 10:30.

Since they didn't have a waiting area I was hanging out at one of the clerical offices. There was a bit of conversation thrown in here and there with the clerks.

"When do you think the interview will start?"
"What did the letter say?"
"9:00 am"
[Clerk smiles] "Well you know, it is Pakistan and this is a government institution"
"Yeah, I know"

And so the waiting game began and I waited patiently, and then sleepily. Similar words were said over and over again. After the third or fourth time I began to think: isn't this kind of bad that although we (the candidates) have been asked to come in at a specific time; those who asked us to come haven't arrived. And this is expected, this is normal.

This was hardly an isolated incident; it happens all the time. We seem to have this attitude that it is ok to be a 'late'. Everyone seems to accept this as normal. Growing up my parents were, and still are always careful about being on time, even a bit earlier. And they always got irritated when things were not on time. I suppose it is instilled in their system, but my system although similar, has adapted to the Pakistan standard time. And though I try to be on time I'm usually mentally prepared to be kept waiting... to a limit of course.

But why are Pakistanis not normally on time? Well it is partly because we are a poly-chronic culture as opposed to a mono chronic culture, where time is neatly compartmentalized, schedules are followed and things are expected to happen at specific times. Poly chronic cultures are more 'fluid' and 'flexible' in their time perception. But it should kept in mind that one culture type is not better than the other, there are pros and cons to both.

However, in Pakistan along with other poly-chronic cultures (Latin America, Africa and Arabs are usually cited as examples) it seems that things are expected to NOT happen on time. Be there at 9 is taken to mean get out of bed at 9.

I've often heard people say "if you tell them the event is going to start at 4, maybe they will arrive by 6" of course the other party is thinking "there's no way the event will be set up at 4, maybe by 6; anyway no point going there before 8".

On one occasion a barat reception at my old neighbourhood was scheduled to take place at 2:00pm but the barat was delayed and come reception time, the lunch had become dinner.

When delays like these happen, it is still expected. There is a saying I've heard a lot "Aisay Kamon mein aisa tou hota he hai" (these things happen at such events). People in authority are especially NOT expected to be on time; and people who think they are superior also have no problem keeping you waiting.

I don't like to be kept waiting. Not only is it boring but its well...a waste of time. It is also disrespectful. It sends a message that 'I don't think your time is valuable'. And de-valuing a person's time isn't any different from de-valuing that person.

Maybe it is something that we have all just come to expect and accept; but that hardly makes it right.

Not being on time is definitely behaviour that should become unacceptable. How do we do this? Well like any worthwhile improvement in any society. Take a look at yourself and make the change. Try to be on time people, if possible start whatever was planned at the proper time even if a few people are 'missing' and always be respectful of other people's time. At the very least, apologize if there have been delays at your end.

Oh! And in case you were wondering about that 9:00 am interview, I mentioned. Well it took place after 12:00, and the 'complete' panel still hadn't arrived. punctuality