Cultural similarities: India and Latin America – Polychronism

by Dave

Continuing on the theme of cultural similarities, one other cultural trait that is shared in these 2 regions is polychronism (From the Greek – “poly” – many, “chronos” – time), as coined by the anthropologist Edward Hall.

In polychronic cultures, time exists to serve people – and not the other way around. No trains show up at 1402 hrs and no meeting lasts for exactly 25 minutes. Time is seen as a renewable resource and people can always ‘make more time’ for you. One of the outcomes is people tend to over commit – e.g. senior government officials can have 5 or 6 people show up outside their office between 11hrs and 11:30hrs. Wait times for appointments are to be expected – 10 to 30 minutes is routine, even longer if meeting a someone at a senior level in an organization.

People tend to do many things simultaneously. It is not necessary to finish one task before starting on the next one. One of the places to see this in action is during a hotel check-in – usually at a locally owned establishment, not typically at a foreign-owned star hotel. A receptionist will process 3 or 4 check-ins at once. Also, it is not necessary to finish an appointment with one person before taking on other comers. 1-on-1 business meetings can be interrupted to take/make personal phone calls; 5 or 10 minutes (or more!) can pass before the meeting is resumed. Meeting agendas are not typical – even if prepared, meetings can deviate wildly from them and “go all over the place”.

If 2 people are having a conversation, other persons overhearing or passing by can jump right in. It is not seen as an interruption.

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