Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What time is it??

One of the toughest adjustments to living in Morocco has been getting used to cultural differences regarding the concept of time. During our first two months of training, we learned that Morocco tends to have a "polychronic" culture, compared to America's "monochronic" culture. In polychronic cultures, people are not as ruled by precise calendars and schedules; human interaction is valued over time and material things, leading to a lesser concern for "getting things done" - they do get things done, but more in their own time (sometimes quick, sometimes not so much). Additionally, a polychronic system has a much more fluid approach in scheduling time, and many things are done simultaneously, in a way that Americans might consider less efficient.

Interesting stuff huh? Well, it's very interesting to read about but waaaay harder to live it! A few examples of how this has affected us - We might speak with a friend about meeting at a cafe in the afternoon and we set up an exact time to meet. As you can imagine, we arrive at the cafe right on time (because that's how we monochrons roll, right?) and the Moroccan strolls in an hour late. Are we upset? Maybe a little, but if we take off our American cap we realize that this is due to cultural differences in the approach towards time. 

Another example is with lines at the post office. Well, I can't really call them lines, it's more like mass huddles of people around the service window. The postal employee does not help people one by one; rather, she tries to help five people at the same time and whoever gets their letters nearest to her are the ones who are helped next. What works here to my benefit is that she often sees me (because as you can imagine, I stick out here a bit!) and will gesture to me to come up to the front of the "line." In America this would be unheard of, but here, with a more fluid approach to time, it's the norm.

And just when you think you have it all figured out, Moroccans throw you a curveball - daylight savings time! Which started a few weeks ago, changes back during Ramadan, and then changes back again afterwards. But what gets confusing is that not everyone changes their clocks. Government-run offices (i.e. banks, post offices) seem to run on new time, and our Youth Center runs on new time, and schools run on the new time, except for Fridays when schools run on new time in the morning and old time in the afternoon (that's because prayer time at the mosques runs on old time and Friday afternoon is the most important time for prayer). Local stores and the markets seem to run on old time, so whereas we used to get groceries around 4 PM, now we have to remember not to go until at least 5 PM. Individuals are totally mixed; we have some students and friends who automatically made the switch, but many who stroll in at the end of our classes and then realize that our classes run on new, not old time. And many times when we make plans with people, we have to confirm with them if our plans are based on new or old time (but they'll be late anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter too much!).

Confused yet? On a positive note, it's a really great way to shed the impatient-New-Yorker mentality :)  I spent an hour on the phone today, booking plane tickets due to a delightful quirk in Iberia Airlines' website. In New York I would have been fuming. Here, no big deal. Where are we going??? In true polychronic style... I'll post it when the time is right!

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