I returned to the US about three months ago, and many people have asked about the “adjustment.” Is it hard coming back? Do you miss HK? And yes, it has been hard coming back, and I’ve needed to readjust back into American culture. One of the things that I am still struggling to “get used to” is American time.
I grew up being a very structured, type A personality. My mother always wanted to be early, if not “on time.” So we always got to events, parties, church, etc. early. I hated being the first one to everything always, so in high school and especially college, I began to rebel and started to show up to things just slightly late.
Traveling abroad fed into this tendency because most cultures do not value being on time, so I taught myself to “let it go” and be present with people and if I was late, I was late. My habitual lateness reached a pinnacle while I was living in HK. For example, my apartment-mate Beth and I didn’t know that our church service included a call to worship because we ALWAYS arrived at least 10 minutes late (and so did half the congregation). Imagine our surprise the one morning that we arrived precisely at 9:30!
I worked primarily with Filipinos in HK who generally operate on what they lovingly call “Filipino time.” But even in the larger culture in HK, things generally start AT LEAST ten minutes late (closer to 30 at my office). By the time that I left, I basically operated 30 minutes “behind schedule” and this is NOT how the US operates.
Church starts on time here with the entire congregation present. Bible study, meetings, protests, parties, performances, everything starts on time here, and I’m so used to habitually being late that I forget how much it offends people when I’m late. That’s my adjustment. I am re-learning that American culture values being on time. And that’s OK. Just as Filipino time is part of Filipino culture, American time is part of ours, I will adapt back into American culture just as I adapted into HK culture. Although I will probably continue to run late, I promise that I’m working on it.