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Time: Better Late With a Treasure?

August 6, 2014

It’s almost time for me to go back home, and unlike with many things here, that can’t happen late.

I got an email kindly reminding me I was due (overdue) for writing a blog post and my first thought was, “let me see how quickly I can write this thing.” It is crunch time in my second internship – a research project on CAFTA-DR (DR, Central American, US Free Trade Agreement), and I feel like I am just getting my footing on it. I chuckled at my thought because I’m never able to write these things quickly, but also because here [in the DR] things just don’t happen quickly. It’s a cultural thing and I’m catching the bug. So, I thought I’d write a little post about time.
In the last blog I talked about culture and stereotypes, and emphasized underlying similarities. Keeping within that framework, I do want to talk about one difference. Let me also add: I know I am talking in generalities. I know these aren’t true for everyone. I don’t mean this to be offensive towards either culture, but to be a critical thinking exercise about culture and stereotypes, and our tendencies to be either blindly close-minded or blindly open-minded. That being said, everyone knows the stereotypes about Latin Americans and time. On time is 10 minutes late, at least – and it is mostly true. It is also often considered a negative side of Latin culture, and for this blog and my experience, specifically Dominican culture.

I can get caught in this fast-paced New England mindset sometimes where everything is go, go, go. Before I finish one thing I am already planning on how I’ll get to the next thing; at home [in Rhode Island] I often pack a day more full than my average week here in DR. I don’t hesitate to eat on the go, and sometimes run from one place to another. Here, things don’t work like that. In fact, I rarely see anyone seemingly in a hurry, except maybe to the corner store (“colmado”) to grab an item while cooking. People stop and chat from place to place, and I’ve sat behind so many non-aggressive drivers allowing cars to cut them off through multiple light cycles (though they are quick to honk at a green light). Obviously there are exceptions, but overall the pace of life is just slower here.

Honestly, it can drive me crazy, but frustration doesn’t solve any problems so I choose to just accept it. That’s one step in the right direction, but I can go further. Rather than simply not being bothered by the different flow of time here, I need to learn how to appreciate it. Cultures evolve for reasons. Dominicans weren’t thrown into this cultural view of time and said “these are the rules, do your best.” No, these norms evolved based on the ideals, values and interests of the people in the nation. So, what were these values? What interests does it serve?

There are many answers to that question – and this is an oversimplification of one key factor, but I think it has key truth.

To answer this, I thought about what a successful day for me would look like in the stereotypical cultural frameworks. In the US cultural mindset I might say, “I hurried to work this morning so I could manage to squeeze in a short lunch date. After work I went to a class at the gym where in 30 minutes I sweat more than most people in a week (thanks Crossfit, for your short, but killer workouts) and, even with a grocery run, I made it home with enough time to change, toss a load of laundry in to the wash, and grab my crock pot dinner to eat in the car on the way to my church group.” My successful day is action packed, a little rushed and schedule-oriented, but accomplishes tangible objectives.

A stereotypical successful day for me in the Dominican cultural framework might look a little different. I might say, “I got off to a slower start at work because my coworker was having some difficult situations at home; we got to talking and I offered her some advice and encouragement. Later, I had some extra time for lunch and enjoyed a big meal with my coworkers. After work I stopped in to visit my aunt and she made me fresh fruit juice and a small soup for dinner; two hours later I left with mangos for my mom and plantains for me. I finished the day meeting a few friends for a jog in the park.” My ideal day is relationship oriented and has enough room to allow time to flow more freely, but has little I can check off the to-do list.

And lastly just for fun a few of my pictures:So, back to the question: how does Dominican culture, relating to time, serve the Dominican people? How is this pace good? How do I appreciate it? Simple, this view on time allows people to build deep relationships with their friends, coworkers and family. The flexibility with time often says you are more important than my next plan – or than me making a next plan. This aspect of Dominican culture is a treasure. When I navigate this culture with this mindset I can still be critical in my view on time, but recognize the treasure that is the other side of the coin.

So what is the take home? We live in an increasingly globalized world; one where many countries, especially developing countries, are criticized for certain aspects of their culture like time. I’ve met a lot of Dominicans who talk about this negative side of their culture but not about where it comes from. My message is: Know the nature of the problem. Dominicans, treasure your culture and the way people are cared for. Understand that is a big factor in the time “problem”. Be critical, but think critically both of others and yourself. I don’t encourage stagnancy, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can’t have it all; what do you want as your treasure?

Lastly, your challenge: Do the same thing for US culture. Select a “negative” and see what the complimentary positives or treasures are. I’d do it, but this blog post is probably already past our short, instant gratification period aka: American culture’s current attention span, hint hint ;).

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