Rubber Time

In a recent conversation with a friend from Malaysia, I found a new term that fits how time is seen in this part of the world.

I struggle with the fact that not everyone means the same thing when they say “on time”. To some people 6 pm means 7 pm. The idea of punctuality varies from place to place.

I always found it a little amusing that we give an addendum to Adolf Hitler’s legacy like this: Well, at least the train ran on time. I guess I would trade some late trains for a little less atrocity.

Okay, back to the topic at hand.

Living in Thailand, we get accustomed to Thai time. That means things will start when the people arrive. To our Western minds, we think, make the event start, and the people will come. The further we delay, the later people will come next week. The endless cycle of tardiness will spiral out of control. Or will it?

Timeliness just doesn’t play the same roll in all parts of the world as it does in the West.

My Malaysian friend explained how in Malaysia when they set a time for an event, they have to tell everyone the time is 6 pm sharp. They have to say sharp, you see. Sharp. That is so people know for certain that the event will start at 6 pm. He went on to say that everyone still comes later than 6 pm.

The term for this kind of time in Malaysia is rubber time. We can just stretch the time to fit what we want, my friend explained.

In high school, my coach implemented “Lombardi time” which meant unless you were 15 minutes early, you were late. That just wouldn’t fly in most of the world.

How does punctuality fit you? Are you an early arriver or a fashionably late comer?

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2 thoughts on “Rubber Time

  1. I try to be a couple minutes early, as a courtesy to the person/people I’m meeting or to the event I’m attending. I also find it makes me more relaxed, having a few minutes to acclimate my mindset off of my previous activity and onto the one at hand.

    I would probably find “Thai time” pretty rude here in America, but I think I could accept it as part of the culture there if I were to visit.

    I think over here, we tend to book ourselves to the maximum, I know I do. “I’ll just type out one more quick e-mail,” “another five minutes won’t hurt,” “If I speed a little, I can still make it on time,” and the excuses continue. Blunt as it may be, I think it’s a mark of unconscious selfishness, that what I’m doing right now is more important than the person waiting on me.

    But back to “Thai time,” if that’s the cultural idea, then saying “6 p.m.” isn’t a contract of some sort like I would consider it here.

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