Indian time perception is a killer for Western punctuality

During a visit to the Southern regions of India, my Swiss precision watch that accompanied me for years suddenly stopped working. I concluded that it couldn’t handle the Indian time perception and couldn’t adjust its approach, so it collapsed.

How is that possible? Time perception in India is clearly different from Western Europe. Having grown up in Germany and living in a country that values punctuality, I have learned that appointments have a clear beginning and duration. We appreciate timeliness and find that people demonstrate disrespect for our time if they come late. And we expect that if we agree on a due date or a timeline that everybody fulfills his commitment without additional checks and reminders. We learn the limitations of this understanding when dealing with Indians.

In India, the understanding of time and due date is influenced by good intentions and trying to please everybody who requests attention. With that in mind, it is clearly impossible to meet all expectations in a timely manner.

The Indian culture forbids a straightforward “no” as an answer, that would be disrespectful and confronting. So every request will be honoured, maybe cautioned with the addition “I’ll try my best” – which to us sounds like: consider it done.

When you ask how much longer something will take, you will often hear: “5 minutes.” Don’t take that literal! It only means that it is still in process and will be completed shortly, within an hour, a day or a week. One piece of advice: Keep asking about it to make sure it stays on top of the priority list.

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