Should we spend time or pass it?
Like a lot of Americans, I like to get shit done. Smooth, efficient systems make me happy. I like it when things go as planned. It makes it so that I can do a lot of things in one day, and that gives me a sense that I have accomplished my goal of getting shit done.
If you’ve ever spent any time in Nepal, you’ve heard about “Nepali-time”. It usually translates into 15 or 20 minutes later than planned, but can sometimes mean hours or days later. Nepali people operate on a different schedule than Americans. It’s similar, but slower and less fixed. Plans aren’t expected to start on time, so why would you show up on time?
In Nepal, many of my colleagues literally grew up without clocks and watches. I’ve heard more than one story about moms who sent their kids to school in the middle of the night thinking that the sun would rise soon.
In America, time is money - we spend time. In Nepal, time is not a thing - it just passes. The most direct Nepali translation I’ve found for “spending time” is “passing time”. Because we see time as a thing, then we can control it and monetize it. This is a very masculine way to relate to time, and it has its place.
For example, if you want to accomplish a task in a short amount of time, America is really suited for that. Efficiency is a virtue, and there’s usually something of a system already in place to direct you. Most people make an effort not to waste time for the sake of getting shit done. Once I planned a wedding in Nepal. After dinner I tried to form an assembly line for a quick and easy clean up. It was such a foreign concept to the employees, it did not fly. The place was clean by morning and it didn’t bother them one bit.
Countries with perceptions of time like Nepal may be a good place for Americans to vacation. It can be discombobulating at first, but I think being forced to let go of our imagined schedules and expectations can really be good for most of us. A flexible and low pressure environment is a nice respite for the standard American life. It’s a feminine relationship with time, more nurturing and forgiving, and it also has its place. It’s really OK for you to take your time.
Living in both of these countries, on both of these times, has given me a lot of ideas about which culture does it better, and what a challenge it is to balance the two. If I’m not careful, American-time can be oppressive in Nepal, and Nepali-time can be downright insulting in America. I’m fairly certain this challenge has no end. Because for time to work, everyone must agree on their perception of it. And once they agree it’s really hard to convince them otherwise. Nepali-time is at once one of my favorite perks and greatest frustrations of my job. I’m a libra - I look for balance as a default. My happy place is where we can all “get shit done”, but not before a cup of tea.