Saturday, 21 July 2007

About time and clocks

I am often asked questions that I don't really know how to answer. For example, when I explained that we went swimming to a lake last weekend, I was asked about the water temperature. I said that it was a little cold for me, but they were asking about the actual temperature, in degrees. I learned afterwards that water temperature is normally displayed in public baths, and Austrians seem to be obsessed with it. Is it that important? Especially when we are talking about 19ºC or 21ºC. What a difference do 2ºC make? Does our skin really have the resolution of a thermometer?

One of the facts that still astonishes me about Austria is the concept of time. If the bus should come at, say, 07:21 and it's already 07:23 and it has not come yet, you'll start to see angry faces who look at clocks with exasperation and shake heads. Even if the bus actually comes at 07:24, chances are high that someone will complain to the bus driver. Sie nehmen von uns Zeit! (You are taking time from us!).

Time seems to be really important. I can understand it when you are going to work, because you don't want to be late. No problem. But the same happens when they go home after work. Time you are commuting is lost, seems to be the idea. They seem to be in a hurry and would rather take the car (or the train, or the bus) if it saves 3 minutes (3 minutes!!!) on the way back home. I don't understand that. Is it maybe because they still have something important to do? Not really, most of them just want the time for themselves, to sit around on the couch drinking a beer and watch TV. So, do really that 3 minutes make a difference? Why do they always seem to be in such a hurry? More importantly, why do they keep pushing my butt with their trolleys on the supermarket queue? :)

Even when you want to meet a friend, you say Hast du Zeit am Samstag? (Do you have time on Saturday?). Time is a very important resource here, and the question Do you have time? puts the stress exactly on this resource. Are you willing to spend your precious resource time meeting me? The expression to spend time is significant as well. Time is spent as if it were money.

I can't imagine myself saying ¿Tienes tiempo el sábado? to a Spanish friend of mine. I would say ¿Quedamos el sábado? (Shall we meet on Saturday?). The stress is not on the resource time, but in the fact that I want to meet you. I think the language that we speak is shaped by the way we think. You will have heard the word Zeit quite often at the end of the day here.

I guess it's because I come from a southern country that I'm surprised. Because, you know, time is not that important there. And I would say that Austria is just in the middle, I guess (I heard) it keeps getting worse as you go up north.

I met once a sahrawi girl, who told me that the desert people have a very wise saying: You Europeans may have the clocks. We have the time.


Bek said...

About the water temperature: my guess is they want to know because Austrians just don't like being cold.
About time: yes, Austrians like to rush you at the checkout. You don't even have time to put your change away without a reminder from the person behind you to move on. Growing up there it was normal for me and I didn't notice that it's also possible not to rush that much until I came to Virginia;)

Schokolade Madchen said...

Germans are just as anal retentive about time. As an American, engaged to a German, most, if not all, of our disagreements are about time - I'm never dressed on time, I'm sometimes 5 or 10 minutes late meeting our friends, and I don't "plan" our weekends. Isn't the weekend about relaxing and not being on a schedule???? It drives me crazy!

Tonicito said...

Many thanks for visiting! :)

Bek: It's funny that Austrians don't like being cold, because of all the jokes that I already heard: "You come from Spain? Isn't it a little too cold for you in here?" ;) About the pushing at the checkout, I think I am going to write about the physical distance between people across cultures. Yet another myth to be revisited! :)

Schokolade Mädchen: I can't understand this need for planning as well. I mean, a little planning "tut nicht weh", but our weekend plans are never more detailed than: we are going to have breakfast in a Kaffeehaus or how about hiking on Sunday? I don't like having our weekend planned on a minute basis. Where is the fun of improvisation then? ;)

christina said...

Yes, the being constantly in a rush thing gets to me too, with people always moaning about how little time they have and how much there still is to do. It's hurry, hurry hurry and never a spare minute to just relax. We often get asked "Well, what did you DO on the weekend" and when we say "Um, nothing actually, we just sat out on our terrace and enjoyed the sunshine", their eyes get all wide...:-)

Tonicito said...

Christina: They can't stand loosing time, do they? ;) I get the same all wide open eyes you are mentioning when I say (for example) that I drove back home along another road, which takes like half an hour longer, but it's much more beautiful.
I don't want to do publicity for those renowned Swiss watchmakers here, but I love the multiple meanings of "'Cause time is what you made of it."

Bek said...

Schokolademaedchen: it's so funny to hear that. My American husband is also always late (of course), which drives my dad crazy when we are back home visiting:)As a kid I learned that when an "event" starts, you need to be there at least 10 minutes earlier. I changed a little bit over the years and adjusted to the "slower" life-style, which is I think easier than the other way round.

Incurable Insomniac said...

It's ironic that the Austrians are so obsessed with their time not being taken from them. Whenever I've sat in a cafe, they seem to take all the time in the world to get my order to me!

But I've learned that the Austrians are human paradoxes, and I love them.

Tonicito said...

Incurable Insomniac: Austria is a country of paradoxes, a country of contrasts. In Spain it is quite usual to go into a bar, order a coffee, drink it and pay it right away, directly in the bar, not taking a seat at all. Try doing the same in an Austrian Kaffeehaus and for sure you are going to be late to you next appointment. Time does not exist in coffee houses . I haven't seen a single one with a clock on the wall.