Italy and the United States are thousands of miles apart, have an eight hour time difference, and a different vantage point of time. Before an in depth comparison of the view points of time also known as time orientation we must discuss what is time orientation. Our course text book (Managing Across Cultures) defines time orientation as, “the degree to which people believe they can control time and whether schedules or people are more important.” These degrees are also known as different orientations to time. In a world where time is viewed as controllable and adhering to a schedule is important is known as high time oriented. In a high time oriented culture, people move faster in order to not waste time and accomplish more, to meet deadlines and achieve goals. In a low time oriented culture, time is viewed as more fluid and is at the expense of the relationships one has with others around them, thus schedules are not as concrete as in a high time oriented culture because of their respect for relationships with other people.
In our time here in Italy we have learned much about the Italian orientation of time, everything is here based on the fact time takes time. Dinner in Southern Italy is an event in and of itself. A full Italian dinner consists of drinks, an appetizer, three separate courses, and then dessert. From an American perspective just eating the food would take an hour, but during and between courses socializing happens, this socializing can be about almost anything from politics to soccer. One of the many cultural differences we noticed was that after having a meal people sit and talk even more! For my classmates and me, we wondered if we would ever get our bill. Eventually we realized that we had to ask for the check. On one of our mini excursions we needed to take a public bus to a walk-able distance, the bus was about half an hour late. To me, if RTD is one minute late I get upset, in Italy it was different, the late bus allowed for us to leisurely grab gelato and develop more of a relationship in the group. Using the definitions provided by our text, the United States is a high time oriented culture and Italy would be defined as a lower time oriented culture. This means that in the United States it is common to believe that time is under our control and in Italy time and schedules are at the mercy of personal relationships.
Referring back to our bus example, because of the delay of the bus when we got gelato this allowed us to perform multiple tasks at one time, at the expense of our scheduled deadline of arriving at our destination. This is also known as polychronic, meaning that because of a relaxed schedule with flexible deadlines, more than one task can be achieved at a time. In the United States focusing on one project at a time would be known as monochronic, meaning that with more strict deadlines the focus of a group on a project is narrowed and precise.
Traveling from the United States to Italy has two kinds of time changes. There is the literal time change and the culture orientation to time (explained above). Crossing between orientations and adapting to a different time orientation is called change tolerance. Change tolerance is defined by our class text (Managing Across Cultures) as, “The perception of how much control we believe we have in our lives and destinies, Along with our comfort level with change, risk taking, and innovation.” Change tolerance is all about how the culture perceives innovation and change, in the textbook the United States and Italy are rated about the same on the larger scale, but if you look closely you can see Italy is less likely to change. In our class we discussed differences between the US and Italy, in Italy you see only one person handling money or performing a difficult task because they are the most senior employee or the most trusted. In the United States we see that the more difficult tasks are given to the most talented person no matter seniority. There are also differences in the education systems of the US and Italy. In Italy tradition is strictly adhered to, in the United States innovation is rewarded with praise. This continues on even into the professional work world. A change of career in the United States can be a good and easy thing, but in Italy it may be a difficult task and not looked upon in a good light.
While spending our meal times out and about in Sorrento we noticed that waiters at restaurants were both old and young. We brought this up during class one day and our Professor discussed that many restaurants were family owned and that to be a waiter at an advanced age was fairly typical because it was for the family and that job mobility was fairly hard to obtain because you needed to know someone and have a guaranteed position in order to switch jobs. This makes sense because of our lectures on hierarchy and family, which we will be discussing in this blog.
About The Author
Hi! I’m Tanner Scurto; I just finished my third year studying at the University of Colorado, Denver. I am a political science major with a double minor in Communications and history. Part of my family is originally from Italy which I it thought would be interesting to visit and understand his cultural heritage and where I came from. That was I total understatement, Sorrento and the surrounding bay area was BEAUTIFUL! I thoroughly enjoyed the food, music, and lifestyle of a costal Italian town!