English for Everyone
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Episode 9:
How Americans View Time

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Transcript of the Episode:

 

Welcome to the English for Everyone ESL Podcast! I’m your host, Caren Hayden, and I’m here to help you improve your English.

 

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Today, I’m going to discuss how Americans view the concept of time. I will explore this concept by examining some very common values and beliefs. Two frequently used idioms about time will also be discussed. Stay tuned!

 

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Cultures around the world view time differently. Before we talk about the concept of time in American culture, I should tell you that this is largely a generalization based on a more traditional European-American value system. Being of German ancestry myself, I completely relate to this way of thinking because it is just the way I was brought up. In fact, I can remember one of my grandfather’s favorite

sayings, “It is better to be an hour early than five minutes late.” So, while it is true that the traditional American value is to always be on time, I have known many fellow Americans who are frequently late. I will explain today, however, the traditional value and concept of time in the U.S., not the exception.

In the U.S., time is a resource – something to be used effectively and wisely. Americans don’t like to waste time. They like to save it. Being punctual, well-organized, and efficient are highly valued in traditional American culture. Americans seem to always be in a hurry. Being late to a social event or keeping someone waiting at a restaurant will likely result in ill feelings or frustration. If you have a lunch date, for example, with an American at 12pm, it is best you get there at or before that time. Being late, even a few minutes, especially with some frequency, will probably annoy your friend. In addition, if you are running late or think you might be late, it’s best to just text or call your friend to let them know – even if you’re just a few minutes behind schedule.

 

It’s no wonder, then, that the fast-food industry started in the United States. We have sacrificed nutrition and quality for efficiency. One of the first fast-food restaurants was White Castle, a burger joint that opened in 1921. White Castle restaurants can still be found today, but mostly in the mid-west. Unfortunately, this concept of fast-food has spread throughout the world.

Eating fast food is not the only way we try to save time in the U.S. Like many other cultures, multi-tasking has become a very common occurrence, although I’m not sure it actually helps you to save time. Other supposed “time-savers” are online shopping and banking, emailing, and texting.

 

One very common idiom about time is: Time is money. This idea is very present in the American business world. It means time is very valuable, and if you waste it, you might lose money, or not make as much. So, using your time wisely, you might be able to make or save more money. That’s the idea, anyway.

 

Another idiom about time is: Time flies when you’re having fun. Some people may also just say the shortened version: Time flies. This means that time seems to move more quickly when you’re enjoying yourself. On the other hand, when you are bored or doing something you don’t enjoy, time may seem to drag and not pass at all. People may also use the shortened version, time flies, to express how quickly time passes, for example, when they are talking about how much a child has grown.

 

Finally, what does all of this mean in regards to daily life in the United States? Well, for one thing, you should be on time to work. If you want to have the respect of your boss and coworkers, being punctual is important. Next, if you’re invited to a party at someone’s house that starts at 7pm, it is probably a good idea to get there shortly after 7, unless the host has told you otherwise. Showing up later is usually not acceptable, especially if it’s a dinner party. Also, be sure to arrive to doctor, dentist, and other formally scheduled appointments on time. If you are late, other patients that arrive on time may be seen in your place, and then you might have to wait quite a bit longer before being seen.

 

So, how does the American view of time compare to that in your culture? Are you the type of person that is always on time for meetings and events, or are people frequently waiting on you? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Feel free to send me comments or questions through the podcast website.

 

Thank you so much for listening to the English for Everyone ESL Podcast! Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You will find the transcript of today’s show and some helpful links about today’s topic on the show website: www.englishforeveryonepod.com. [Stay tuned for the slower version of today’s episode].

 

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[slower version, same transcript]

 

Bye Bye!

 

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Music is Where’s My Jetpack by Computer Music All-Stars found on www.freemusicarchive.org