Let me begin this little post with a little diddy about how ironic it is that I tried, twice, to “save time” by dictating this blog post to Siri and to Google, both as giant fails. Only now can I really see how ironic that is. So, let’s continue…
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of spending time. Like most things I get deeply involved in (mentally), this subject was sparked by the cultural experiences I have as an expat American in the land of oversized bugs… Australia.
Growing up, my mom taught me many things and one of those things was the concept of a single minute. Like any young kid, I’d leave things around the house just to randomly walk away. Without a doubt, she would sense me with mom-dar and tell me, “Uh uh uh! Pick it up. Take it with you!” If I had time to walk, I had time to carry things. If I had time to eat, I had time to rinse my plate. I really perfected the eye roll during this part of my life, but it is one of those mom-doms that I feel I owe most of my success to. Honestly! My success is two parts mom-driven etiquette and one part grossly overpriced education.
My mom had this unbelievable way of making a minute seem like an eternity, and not in a bad way!
As a kid, I was notorious for cutting my piano practice short. I would run through the motions and jump to my feet so quickly that the pages of my piano books would ruffle from the wind, and before I could turn, letting my hand off the back of the green, wooden desk chair we used as a piano bench, I would feel the weight of her hand pushing the bench back down to all fours, pulling me back to the piano as she tapped her finger sternly on a large, white kitchen timer saying, “Tick. Tick. Tick. It’s not time!”
Did I mention she was German? I feel like this needs to be known to really envision the sternness of such moments.
She would leave the white timer sitting there on the left side of the piano keys. For one long minute, I would furiously run through chords, pressing louder and harder into each minor key as if I could somehow punish her with the annoyance. Dun dun dun dun DUN dun dun dun dun. Dun dun dun dun DUN dun dun dun dun. Over and over and over.
Eventually, I got it.
At that point, my entire future unlocked into a glorious and burdening trait. I no longer made arguments about, “But ma! The other kids…” and I never attempted to get away with only the minimum requirement. Instead, every day was an eager competition. What could I accomplish today that was greater than any other day?
After 20 years of competing with myself, it is no wonder that today, this unlocked trait that runs deep through generations of straight-mouthed, finger-wagging, grey-haired German women is now the very source of my roboticism (ha! new word).
For most of that time now, my mom hasn’t even been alive to witness how I’ve mutated such a gift into something that can be, quite often, more of a burden than a blessing. I’ve worked myself out of as many jobs as I have kept jobs due to this strange ability to capitalise on every. single. moment. And now, more than ever, living in Australia with Stark (who, by no surprise, functions entirely opposite of me in this instance), I will openly admit that my only drive to keep going on like this is simply for the reactions of continuous amazement from the people I work with when I deliver with impossible precision.
Now, absolutely everyone around me would insist that is no way to live. While some (and only some) Aussie professionals work a full 40-hour week, I can’t say I know of any that are dedicated to driving a month’s worth of work into a 5 or 6 day work week. Why would they?
Because… there’s time.
Here, in la-la-land, the concept of time is very different. While some things are no longer foreign to me (no pun intended) because I live here, it occurs to me that sometimes the smallest factors are completely unknown to people back home. Like, for instance, our refrigerator.
In Australia, I have a refrigerator that is less than half the size of the poor man’s fridge back home. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very nice appliance. However, the space allotted is what it is. To illustrate, I can fit two bottles of water, a bottle of juice, and our milk on one shelf. That’s it. Nothing more.
At this point you’re probably wondering what a refrigerator has to do with the concept of time, and I’ll tell you!
Back in Utah, there’s this nice but still kind of insane idea of food storage. If you think you’re a Costco-toting American with a truck waving a large American flag, your packs of toilet paper have absolutely nothing on the 12-children families of suburban Utah. These people make food shopping their business! So, back home nearly everyone I know has a room assuredly larger than your average European-sized bedroom filled with nothing but high-preservative, near expiration proof crap that will take two years off their life for every 10 days it keeps them alive. Point? There is no greater opposite.
In Australia, there’s simply no need for a gigantic refrigerator or endless space for food storage because what matters is time spent.
Contrary to what you might assume, stopping by the store almost every day to pick up food items for dinner takes far less time than even the most organized list-maker hounding the isles twice a month for two carts full of random shelf items. Consider what each person is doing? One is hauled up in their house, anxiously keeping track of a list and angry over spilled milk. He or she spends half their Saturday (this point is coming next) going to the store. The other person is out, in fresh air, stopping into a small store to pick a few choice items where they chat up their neighbors, support their local shops, and keep their diet fresh and in the moment. This is where I want to stress that it isn’t about saving time, it is about spending it.
Another thing that’s different about Australia is time in and of itself.
Back in the States, I can order takeout at 9pm and still have time to go through the Wendy’s drive-thru before 2am. I can go to the grocery store at midnight. I can shop at the mall at 9am. I can basically do what I want, whenever I want.
In Australia, the concept of time is money is not the Americanized sense of making money and more about the cost of business. Weekends and in some cases evenings require that stores pay double wages to anyone working these off hours. Double wages here comes out to a little over $35 an hour. Now, this is a chicken before the egg kind of story. You might think to yourself – well, fight against the man, demand lower costs, or you might think, $35 an hour isn’t a lot when you consider how much business you can get for being the only store open! On the contrary, the people simply don’t want it any other way.
While on one end I have been furious that I could be deathly ill over the holidays and my GP won’t even step foot in the office until January 11 due to “holiday break” and the pharmacy is only open from 9am to 2pm Monday through Thursday, I have also walked down the street at 2:15 on a Saturday afternoon to witness employees sitting and starring at the walls out of sheer boredom for having no customers. (Run on sentences ftw!) Life here demands a certain… how should I say it… whimsical schedule with carefree boundaries. If I were to go on wildly complaining that the grocery stores close at 5:30 and the cafes at 3pm, an Aussie would think I was joking. For one, why on Earth would I want to be at a cafe at 3pm? Cafes are for work day banter, offsite meetings, and caffeine overdoses – none of which need to be happening at 3. Why, instead, would I not be migrating with colleagues to happy hour? Note: No one would be wondering why I wasn’t hard at work in the office spending the next 2 hours completing a massive project. No, the bar may as well be an extension of office culture, and if you make it there around 3pm, that leaves you plenty of time to throw back a few drinks over a “team meeting” and still buy your entire family groceries on your way home before the stores close at 5:30. Just the same, no one is going to feel sorry for you that you can’t shop at H&M at 4pm on a weekend because you should be on your way home from a beach picnic. Even television schedules push people into living normal, human lives. Your standard daytime tv (like soaps) are on in the evening. Overall, the demand is different and the way people move through their lives is so much more relaxed.
Here in my new home, my minute-by-minute insanity simply makes me an American psycho, and while some locals may skirt around bare minimums, I believe that the culture overall has been able to give up the notion of expectation and give way to… life. It is kind of romantic when you think about it. Spend time with your friends. Spend time laughing. Spend time working out at a park. Spend time barbecuing. Spend time at the beach. Spend time with your family. Spend time socializing. Spend. time. together.
I could go on and on about differences, but mostly I try to celebrate this culture that lends itself to real, human experiences at every opportunity. No face buried in cell phones. No list making. No task organizing. No reluctantly moving from your desk chair at 6pm only to thumb around your cell phone in the elevator because work simply has to be done. Just simply moving around each other at any pace you choose (but mostly very, very slow).