I still remember this incident from almost a decade ago. My husband had just started working for a U.S.-based company and was in Portland, Oregon, for his first regional meeting. He reached the meeting room at 8:35 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m., which was the time given in the official schedule. The president of the company took him aside and said, “You are late!” To this, he replied, “I’m just 5 minutes late,” to which came the reply, “You are 5 minutes late!”
Six months later, I joined him for another version of the regional meetings, which included spouses and some leisure activities. If the schedule said that the bus would leave at 1 p.m., we made it at 1 and were proud of being on time—only to find that everyone else in the team was already seated and ready to go by 12:55 p.m. And we were greeted by looks that said—Ah! The late comers! And for a supposed leisure trip! In fact, everyone would be down with drinks in hand by 6:30 p.m. when the dinner was scheduled to actually start.
Such adherence to and respect for time is a cultural shock to Indians. Because being late is a national tradition in our country. And why not? We believe in Indian Stretchable Time, which we invented and follow for our own purposes. It’s a given that everyone around us will accommodate tardiness. If a wedding card says 7 p.m., no one takes it seriously. A delay of 10-15 minutes is a given for any office meeting. And a client doesn’t care how long he makes you wait for that 10 a.m. meeting.
We always have a bunch of excuses up our sleeves. There’s bad traffic,...
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