Intercultural Miscommunication and the Expat Time Warp - The Defining Moves Trailing Spouse series

The Time Warp.

Intercultural Miscommunication and the Expat Time Warp - The Defining Moves Trailing Spouse series

This post has been prompted by an email conversation, trying to set a time for a conference call. I was aiming for calm, competent and professional. It was overambitious on my part.

Firstly, please let me reassure you that I can tell the time. I first learned when I was 3, and have been pretty successful ever since, if you don’t count the fuzzy haze that was college.

I even use advanced chronological strategies in the home to ensure timely arrival of assorted family members. Not one clock in the house is set to the right time, and all of them run a little fast. This means that on school mornings, they have the choice of :

  1. wearing any one of the many watches that have been provided for them,
  2. remembering how fast each clock runs and doing some simple math to determine actual time,
  3. just going with the time displayed.

Predictably they all take the path of least resistance and go with number three, which improves our punctuality by about 87%.

Sadly, this expertise comes to a screeching halt when it comes to navigating international waters. Hence this morning’s email correspondence.

It started well.

Him: I’m available any time today. Let me know when you are free to Skype.

Me: “Can we try for 11?   That’s 19.00 GMT, (hurriedly consults laptop Widget for clarification of time in Washington DC, because brain is fundamentally incapable of handling more than two timezones at a time) 2pm EST”

Him: “We are now on Daylight Savings. The difference between GMT and EDST is 4 hours.  19: 00 GMT is 3 pm EDST. Is that the time you want to chat?”

Me: (Cursing)” Ignore the GMT – they haven’t switched to BST yet, I don’t think..(Consults widget yet again, stares blankly at assorted clocks, then resorts to counting forward on fingers) Basically, in just over 4 hours time (4 hours, 15 minutes).”

I get it. I understand the need to switch the clocks back and forth to allow our children to walk to school in daylight, to allow agriculture to take place in the light, or whatever need first prompted the change. I’m sure there is a very reasonable explanation, but frankly, it’s killing me. And all the intercultural training, apps, widgets and alarms in the world don’t help one little bit when I need to tell the time forward, in more than one timezone.

I’m planning a new strategy, a rather sophisticated international version of the speaking clock. My mother has been using it for the last 11 years of our expat life, starting every phone conversation with

“Oh hello, Rachel – what on earth time is it there??”

She has a point. Why worry about navigating pesky time zones and do headache inducing calculations when you can just use the “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” approach and phone a friend?

So if you could all send me details of your geographical location and a phone number where you could be contacted at all hours of the day and night, I’ll be calling you.

It’s good to talk..

Photo courtesy of the Museum of Hartlepool


5 thoughts on “The Time Warp.”

  1. I too have never got the hang of this daylight-saving/losing-time thing! I don’t know why they can’t just start schools/offices an hour earlier or later according to the seasons. That’s what used to happen at home (Pakistan) when I used to go to school (loooong ago!). It was announced well in advance that school timings would change for winter/summer.

  2. I can SO relate to this, clocks all run fast in our house – and car, so good to know when we all finally bundle in, in our crazed and panic stricken state that we infact have an extra 4 minutes ….. to sit in the traffic queue – and as for time zones i have lost track of my march and oct clashes and crashes…. I have concluded that it is best to avoid all international activities for that week we are in limbo land – USA sprung forward, UK and Europe not… how inconvienient!Someone please tell someone – but who would that be?

  3. I just leave my clocks and watches the way they are. The one that are one hour late (or early) are thrown into storage or covered up and until the clock move … back? (or front, can’t remember which)

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