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  • Writer's pictureSapana Gupta

Is 10 minutes always 10 minutes?

Last week, I visited a local tailor in Berlin—a kind, older Turkish man. As I approached, he was assuring a customer her scarf would be ready in "10 minutes". As she left, he gave me a warm pat on the back, invited me to sit with him behind the counter, and asked about my background.

🌍 I explained I’m American with Indian roots, and we chatted about culture and immigration, which slowed his work. Soon, the customer returned, surprised the scarf wasn’t finished. “You said 10 minutes?” she asked. He replied, “Yes, about 10 minutes—this needs a little time!” She left again, and he sighed, “The Germans… 10 minutes always needs to be exactly 10 minutes!”

🕰️ This encounter made me think about the concept of time and how it’s perceived across cultures. In linear-time cultures like Germany and the U.S., punctuality is emphasized, and delays of just a few minutes can cause frustration. In flexible-time cultures like Turkey and India, time is more fluid, and delays are acceptable, sometimes even expected.

📜 These different perceptions can be understood by looking at a country’s historical roots. In Germanic and Northern European countries, industrialized pasts demanded punctuality. In contrast, societies accustomed to constant change, like many developing countries, have cultivated a more flexible approach to time to navigate life's unpredictability.

If you’re traveling, it’s relatively easy to adapt to the culture around you. But what if you’re leading or working within a multicultural team? Here, it’s essential to discuss and agree on a scheduling system upfront—this helps manage expectations and reduce frustration, ultimately fostering a team culture that acknowledges different time perceptions.

Have you ever experienced different perceptions of time?

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