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Lesson 29

                              The Voices of Time

                                      Text A

    Time talks. It speaks more plainly than words. Time communicates in many ways.
    Consider the different parts of the day, for example. The time of the day when something is done can give a special meaning to the event. Factory managers in the United States fully realize the importance of an announcement made during the middle of the morning or afternoon that takes eveiyone away from his work. Whenever they want to make an important announcement, they ask; "When shall we let them know?"


    In the United States, it is not custorriary to telephone someone very early in the morning. If you telephone him early in the day, while he is shaving or having breakfast, the time of the call shows that the matter as very important and requires immediate attention The same meaning is attached to telephone call after 11. 00 P. M. if someone receives a call during sleeping hours, he assumes it is a matter of life or death. The time chosen for the call communicates its importance.


    In social life, time plays a very irrrportant part. In the United States, guests tend to feel they are not highly regarded if the invitation to a dinner party is extended only three or four days before the party date. But this is not true in all countries. In other areas of the world, it may be considered foolish to make an appointment too far in advance because plans which are made for a date more than a week away tend to be forgotten.


    The meanings of time dif#er .in different parts of the worid. Thus, misunderstandings arise;; .between people from cuitures that treat time differently. Promptness is valued highly in American iife, for example. If people are nvt prompt, they may be regarded as impolite or not fully responsible. In the U. S. , no one would think of kee.ping a business associate waiting for an hour, it wouid be too impolite. When equals meet, a person who is five minutes late will say a #ew words of explanation, though perhaps he may not complete the sentence.


    Americans look ahead and are concerned almost entirely with the future. The American idea of the future is limited, however. It is the foreseeable future and not the future of the Soath Asian, which may involve centuries. Someone has said of the South Asian idea of time : "Time is like a museum with endless halls and rooms. You, the viewer, are walking through the museum in the dark, holding a light to each scene as you pass it. God is in charge of the museum, and only he knows all that is in it. One lifetime represents one room. "


    Since time has such different meanings in different cultures, communication is ofte.n difficuit. We will understand each other a little better if we can ksep this fact in mind.


                                            Text B

    I am a member of a small, nearly extinct minority group who insist, even though it seems to be out of date, on the sanctity of being on time.
    Which is to say that we On-timers are compulsively, unfashionably prompt, that there are only handfuls of us left, and, unfortunately, we never seem to have appointments with each other.


    The fact is that being on time has become a social mistake.
    The fact is that generally speaking, the time that the Late-people set as the Moment of Rendezvous is a code. It is a code meaning at least one half-hour later. The fact is that we Ontimers can't get that into our heads.
    We arrive invariably at the appointed hour at people's houses, which means that we have occasionally eaten'all the sandwiches before the other guests arrive. Which means that we are rude. 


    Let me explain. We are, for example, invited for dinner at eight o'clock at the home of friends who live exactly twenty minutes away. We leave our house at ten to eight so that for once we will be a comfortable ten minutes late. Then even the traffic defeats us. We meet only green lights and arrive at four minutes to eight. We drive about for a while and then enter at one minute past , to the astonishment of the host and hostess.


    She is at an important stage of preparation with the saucepans. He is thinking about taking a shower.
    We end up helping with the first course and putting the baby to hed and mixing the drinks and are still left with enough time to analyse what kind of people our hosts are from the magazines on the coffee table.
    As for meeting in restaurants , you can immediately recognise us On-timers. We are the only non-alcoholics standing in restaurant doorways in December. If not, we can always be found killing time in the cloakroom or trying to look as if we are not alone at the bar.


    Now, we all know that these very same Late-people do not routinely miss planes or the beginnings of films. But, as I told a late-person recently, "If I were a train, I'd be gone. . . "
    With regard to meetings there are two kinds of peoplc. Those who hate to wait and those who hate to make others wait. The sadists and the masochists? I hope not.


    There was a New York magazine piece once about the power struggle involved in business lunches. It intimated that you could always tell the powerless and the powerful. The Indians were waiting, while the Chiefs arrived half an hour or an hour later. If you are an On-timer, you cannot make an entrance.


    The Late-people, of course, are always terribly sorry, "but something important came up" (in contrast to us, for instance). Besides, as they say, their minds are always so full of big questions (like The Bomb) that they never know what time it is. In comparison with the On-timers , 'they suggest , who have their little brains filled with stupid details like the big hand and the little hand on the clock.


    The problem is getting worse. If you adjust to the Late-people and accept the fact that they're half an hour behind the time you arranged to meet , they arrive an hour late.
    Fewer and fewer of us On-timers remain. We are now surprised when anyone else is on time. We have begun to make certain adjustments like setting our clocks and watches back or bringing the novel we're working on to dinner parties.
    How late we are to recognise that being on time is out of date, that in fact, our time has passed.

                         Additional Information

                         How Americans See Time

    Americans recognise that there is a past on which the present rests.But they have not developed their sense of the depth of time to the extent that this has been done in the Middle East and South Asia. The Arab,looks back two to six thousand years for his own origins. History is used as the basis for almost any modern action. The chances are that an Arab won'r start a talk or a speech or analyse a problem without first developing the historical aspects of his subject. The American assumes that time has depth, but he takes this for granted.


    The American never questions the fact that time should be planned and future events fitted into a schedule. He thinks that people should look forward to the future and not dwell too much on the past. His future is not very far ahead of him. Results must be obtained in the foreseeable futureone or two years or, at the most, five or ten. Promises to meet deadlines and appointments are taken very seriously. 

 

There are real penalties for being late and for not keeping commitments in time. The American thinks it is natural to quantify time. To fail to do so is unthinkable. The American specifies how much time is required to do everything. "I'll be there in ten minutes. " "It will take six months to finish that job. " "I was in the Army for four and a half years. "


    The Americans, tike so many other people, also use time as a link that chains events together, If one event occurs on the heels of another, we inevitably try to find a causal relationship between them. If.A is seen in the vicinity of B's murder shortly after the crime has been committed we automatically form a connection between A and B. Conversely, events which are separated by too much. time are difficult for us to connect in our minds. This makes it almost impossible for us as a. nation to engage in long-range planning.