Saturday 7 January 2012

Asian Mean Time

You might be wondering what I mean by Asian Mean Time. It’s what one of my African friends also calls “African Time”. Partly, this is the inability of people to get to a place at an agreed time, but it’s more than that, it’s the idea that if you agree a time, you actually mean two hours later.

Like the time we were invited to a wedding in Lahore. We had to leave with the grooms party (baraat) at 8pm. At 8pm people were still mulling over what to wear I was panicking thinking we were late - much to everyone’s amusement. We finally left at 10pm, with me on my high horse thinking how terrible it was we couldn’t join the baraat on time. We got to the grooms house to find they were still getting ready! My mother-in-law pointed out – no-one here ever goes to anything on time.

Oh and then there was the time that General Musharraf tried to establish daylight saving time in Pakistan where the clocks change by an hour in the spring and autumn (not sure why, they don’t have the problem of very short winter days like we do). So now there was the time you agreed to meet, the time you actually meet which is two hours later and there is “Musharraf Time”, so people were asking each other: “Ok 1pm, is that normal time or Musharraf time?” Probably trying to work out if they should turn up at 3pm or 4pm.

I love my Dad-in-laws approach. If we had to go somewhere, we would all get ready and wait for him to get the car out. Dad-in-law has a long, leisurely breakfast in the kitchen whilst he yacks with mum-in-law. Then he goes off to pick what he wants to wear, gets one of his boys to iron it, wanders round a bit, has some more breakfast. One of us will remind him we have to go somewhere; he will reassure us there’s nothing to worry about. Goes off to get changed, gives the car keys to one of his boys to get it started…then decides it needs a clean. By this time we are about to explode with anxiety. He inspects the car, takes the keys, and finally gets in the car. We pile in and take off, with Dad-in-law mumbling about not having had a proper breakfast. At this point I realise why you have to add two hours to any appointment in Pakistan.

This still doesn’t explain why my hubby and in-laws were FOUR hours late to our wedding, but you can imagine it must have been a contributing factor (I’m still teasing him about this one and he is still making excuses!).

I have gotten used to my husband and my –in-laws’ time-keeping habits; probably some of it has rubbed off on me too. My family in contrast are sticklers for time. All of us seem to be full of nervous energy that doesn’t let us dawdle or relax and we are always early to an appointment or event (my parents are always one of the first ones to arrive at a wedding, because they actually turn up at the time on the invitation).

On the one hand, there is something to be said here about being more patient and relaxed. On the other I believe time is one of the most valuable resources available to us and we are negligent and careless about how we spend it. You can earn back lost money or property, you can regain lost health, but you can never regain time once it has passed, so I hate wasting time because someone hasn’t planned its use properly or because people are disorganised.

I also think that when someone keeps you waiting without a very good reason, they show a lack of respect. You wouldn’t keep someone you consider important waiting, you wouldn’t be late for an job interview or a meeting with your manager. So if you keep someone waiting, because you’re not that fussed about when you turn up, you can’t have much respect for them.

I feel that when you are agreeing a time with someone, you are giving them your word that you will be there at a certain time. For a Muslim, to break a promise is a big thing and we seem to take this very, very lightly. I can’t think of many Muslim events I have attended that have started or run on time, we generally seem to be hopeless at it and run on Asian Mean Time or African Time, or should we call it Chaotic Muslim Time?

One thing that helps me is to factor in salah (prayer) times. So usually when I agree to meet someone or go somewhere, I will work out which salah’s fall during that time and factor in the additional time to make wudhu (ablutions) and pray. Or often, I will agree with family members to do something by Zoher (afternoon prayer) or after fajr (dawn prayer).

Generally, though, I think we should be more careful to honour our word when it comes to agreeing a time for something. If you agreed 1pm, and know you can’t get there till 3pm, then agree 3pm. Whoever then says, “yes, but then I won’t get there till 5pm” really needs a bucket of water over their head, or an alarm clock, or some roller skates…


  1. I always try to be prompt and what I always think of is whan you read salah you are supposed to read it as soon as you can, so for example even though Zohur may last for 4 hours you are recommended to pray as soon as it is time. Plus I also think it shows a lack of respect for other people. Good post

  2. I was laughing as I read this post. This is an issue no matter which corner of the earth you're in. I'm in Canada and desi people here are HOPELESS at getting anywhere on time. This is especially troublesome when you take kids to weddings and such. I've long learned that kids (and I too) need to eat BEFORE we get to the wedding because dinner may not be served until 10pm even though the invitation said "Dinner 8pm SHARP".

    I grew up in Dubai and parties there don't even start until 10pm. But at least there, they proudly put "Baraat 10pm, Dinner 11pm, Rukhsati 2am" on their invitation cards.

  3. Oh dear! This post made me giggle.
    My family is renowned for having its own "Ahmed time"!!!

    We are always late to things, even if we try to be early. My dad used to jest to my aunt and I to start getting ready the whole night before an event! ;)

    The other half has made my timings slightly better now! ;) (I say slightly better, another few years I MIGHT have caught up with u guys!!!) ;)

  4. LOL! this post made me laugh too! I am ALWAYS on time if not early, but my husbands timings... GRRR... lets not even go there! We always argue about it. He is never on time and it frustrates me.

    Great post!