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Time is money in the West. Workers are paid by the hour, lawyers charge by the minute, and advertising is sold by the second ($117,000 per second at this year’s Super Bowl). Think about this: The civilized mind has reduced time, the most obscure and amorphous of all intangibles, to the most objective of all quantities — money. With time and things on the same value scale, I can tell you how many of my working hours equal the price of the computer I am typing on.

Can I really? As a social scientist, I’ve spent much of the last 25 years studying the “personalities” of places. Much of this work has focused on the attitudes toward time held by those who inhabit those places. My colleagues and I have found vast cultural differences in definitions of what constitutes early and late, waiting and rushing, the past, the present, and the future.

Perhaps the biggest clash is between cultures that operate on clock time and those that work on event time. Under clock time, the hour on the timepiece governs the beginning and ending of activities. Lunch begins at 12 and ends at 1. Punctuality is the governing principle. When event time predominates, schedules are spontaneous. Events begin and end when, by mutual consensus, participants “feel” the time is right. Many countries exhort event time as a philosophy of life. In Mexico, for example, there is a popular adage, “Give time to time” (“Darle tiempo al tiempo”). In Liberia it is said, “Even the time takes its time.” In Trinidad it is something of a cultural bedrock that “any time is Trinidad time.”

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Robert Levine is a Professor of Psychology and former Associate Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at California State University, Fresno where he has won awards for both his teaching and research. He spent last semester at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University in the UK. He is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association. His books, A Geography of Time and The Power of Persuasion: How We're Bought and Sold, have each been translated into seven languages. He is currently part of an International Expert Group convened by the government of Bhutan to write a “New Development Paradigm” based on their concept of Gross National Happiness. He is current President of the Western Psychological Association.

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