M-time and P-time

Hi everyone
Today I will try to discuss some about time, which I think interests everyone who come to India. A few days back I read an article about Monocrome (M-time) and Polycrome (P-time), which I found quite interesting. You will find the definitions here:

“M-time emphasizes schedules, segmentation and promptness. P-time systems are characterized by several things happening at once. They stress involvement of people and completion of transactions rather than adherence to present schedules” See ET Hall, Beyond culture, Ancor books New York (1981).

As you probably already have guessed, countries like Norway and Germany are denoted by working in M-time, while countries like India are denoted to be in P-time. So I have now moved from an M-time country to a P-time country. According to the article people in the P-time does things one by one, and then moves on to the next task, while people in M-time does more things at once, and they are not too worried about when to complete one task. At first when you move from one “time zone” to another, this can be quite confusing and frustrating. People will never be in meetings at time, and they will probably do other things even while they are in the meeting. Right now when I’m writing I’m supposed to be at a training session. The session should have started some five minutes ago, but not even the instructor is here…

After having been here in India for a few months now, I’m really starting to get adjusted to this, and it does not bother me that much. People in Mumbai usually tell me that life is so stressful here, but I really don’t find it that. In Norway, if you are late to a meeting, or not able to complete your things within your planned time, then you get stressed. A few days back I was in a shopping mall and the cash register had broken down. Everything had to be done manually. If this had been in Norway, people would have been stressed and shown their frustration. This did not happen in Mumbai. People were just waiting. Here, well, things will happen. At some time.

I don’t think it is correct to say that the one time zone is better than the other. In western countries I think it is a perception that Indians always deliver things too late and don’t stick to their given deadlines. That might be true to some extent, but you can be quite sure that Indians have done a lot of other things in the meantime.

You can read more about the differences in this article

What do you think? Is this observation correct or is it different?

Talk to you soon!



3 thoughts on “M-time and P-time

  1. Karsten, you hit the bull’s eye. Undoubtedly it is true about Indians in general. Only difference of opinion I would share is that ‘stress’ and M-time / P-time are not really related in my honest opinion. When people in Mumbai say life is stressful here, it is neither related with appearing in time for meetings, functions, events or even job interviews 🙂 nor related to finishing their job in time. Life in Indian big cities is a bit stressful because of humongous crowd, travelling through traffic be it extra crowded local trains or in a slowly moving luxury car in huge traffic choke, pollution, etc. and long distance day to day conveyance or red tapism for common man etc. Life in African cities might be stressful because of lack of rains, or very hot temperature, or mosquitos, or lack of employment opportunities, similarly life in Norwegian cities might be stressful because of the reasons you have mentioned. Stress is no way linked with any culture or religion or gender or society. I believe it is purely varies from individual to individual and situations as well. Stress is a perception. As I said, if I go to Himalayas I may get bored and eventually stressed for sitting idle and if a westerner wanting for peace goes there he may make that place his home forever !!

    Other than the stress factor I completely agree with your observation that generally Indians are very casual about performing their duties but on the other hand even more casual about their rights so it is balanced. You may find Indians wasting much of their time in sheer time pass at work place like spending time in tea-coffee chit chats, smoking arena, surfing on net and even blogging (like me 🙂 )… and that’s how it is. Things are slowly changing and any kind of cultural change typically percolates through multiple generations….

    • Hi Sarang. Thanks a lot for your comment. I couldn’t agree more. When I discuss this with colleagues, I usually say that life in Mumbai is more caothic, but less stressfull. While life in Africa might be more difficult. And off course all of this can feel like stress to people. I’m off course using my Norwegian perception of the word, which very well can differ with other persons view.


  2. Hi Karsten

    Stumbled on your blog. Taking the discussion a little deeper. This whole business of the way we view time could be because of the way we view life and death itself. In the M-time zones, generally the West, life is linear, while in India it is a cycle. So deadlines hardly matter when death itself is not final… why worry so much then? I am going off at another tangent, I am aware. But you know… just thinking aloud. Enjoying your articles…Keep writing

    PS: My view of death is linear by the way.


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