The biggest cultural difference I have noticed thus far is the difference in the concept of time. As an American, I am very conscious of time, and I strategically plan activities to fit in my busy schedule. I usually carry around a planner to keep all my activities straight. Upon my arrival, I went to the store to look for a planner, and I found out Tahitians don’t use planners! Tahitians tend to have a go with the flow mindset. They do not rush to arrive on time to activities or appointments. As we walk around Papeete, we usually pass many Tahitians walking a lot slower than us. Many of them stop and talk to friends they see along the way to their destination. I believe they place a high value on living in the moment over living with the future in mind.
Patience is pretty non-existent within American culture. We automatically get worried and anxious when a friend doesn’t arrive at a certain time. The other day, a mom waited an hour after her daughter was supposed to arrive home from school to call the school. I can only imagine how worried my mom would be if I was a 10 year old girl and I arrived home an hour after I was supposed to! Patience is a virtue Tahitians have acquired.
The bus system really demonstrates island time. There is no set schedule for when the buses need to arrive in a certain location. We have tried to document each time the bus arrives but we found no distinct pattern. One day it might be a fifteen- minute wait; the next may be an hour wait! The bus driver may look at you and see you want a ride, but they may decide not to pick you up. After waiting two hours for a bus on the second day here in Tahiti, I learned my concept of time needed to drastically change.
The Tahitian concept of time is the opposite of how most Americans think about time. We are usually taught to think a lot about what’s coming next, and we tend to forget to think about the here and now. If we constantly think about the future instead of living in the present moment, do we ever have time to enjoy the present? Many questions similar to that one run through my mind as I analyze the differences in the concept of time. After three weeks of island time, I have noticed I am becoming a less anxious person. Instead of becoming really anxious while waiting forty minutes for a bus, I just relax and patiently wait. I am learning to throw away my habit of scheduling each hour of my day and really just going with the flow. I am learning to really respect the emphasis on living in the moment instead of what is coming next. I am interested to see how I am able to incorporate island time into my life back in the US!