Living Abroad…and the perception of time

Living Abroad

A Column

In its most general understanding and what I was taught in University, “economics might be defined as the study of how society allocates scarce resources”, (Conrad, Resource Economics, 1999).

I always imagined /tʌɪm/ to be a resource, clearly fullfing the basic characterics of such – utility, limited availability and potential for depletion – and triggering stress wherever you look at (“Deadline tomorrow…”, “Now you are thirty…great!”, “Chicken is overcooked…arrrghh!). Physicians or philosophers might come up with some other definition at this point (infinity!), but sorry guys, there´s no time for that…I am an economist, this is about scarcity here…

Living and working in South America however forced me to reconsider the basic economical understanding of time, making me a part-time philosopher every once in a while. It´s not that I haven´t been warned or acted naively surprised when things weren´t finished by “mañana”, although someone said so…but somehow, time seems to be an unlimited resource in this part of the world in so many ways (see, there the physical definition creeps in…). No stress. No worries. No consequences?

Adapting my (European) working style to the Southamerican perception of time and managing to meet deadlines set by the (European) headquarter, was a real challenge at the beginning and costs me a lot of time and effort to push through on a monthly basis. Imagine the movie “Groundhog day” and replace the wake-up scence with me saying “It`s the last working day of the month – time to hand in the sales forecast goals. Are they ready yet?”, and everyone looking at me totally surprised…but not getting stressed at all.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Is it me that takes things way too seriously? May it be better to decelerate every once in a while? And so the inevitable happend: I caught myself being quite thankful for the gift of having “more” time when I was showing up too late for a dinner table reservation for 20 minutes and just happy that the table was still available – something unthinkable in the land of rules and regulations. “Time is money” (for sure, they could have sold the table to someone else and maybe even twice on the same evening…thus a rather bad decision from an ecomomical point of view), but being kind and a little bit less rigid never killed nobody…


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