The Infamous IST – Indian Standard Time – 29 Jul 13

Indian culture

As I was already writing about Indian habits, I think one diary entry should also be dedicated to IST, the ‘Indian Standard Time’. It is an in-official time setting that is, depending on the situation, somewhere in between half an hour and three hours later than what your regular watch shows. Indians and time – yes, I think it is worth a small study.

Again, it is good to start the observation from someone’s point of view who is not involved in this system. Any traveler to India who gets in touch even a little bit with the local population will realize that ‘being on time’ is relative. I have made the experience especially with Germans who are very punctual and precise when it comes to time.

My wife, who is German, as you know, had an experience a few years ago which taught her the significant difference of how she perceives time and how Indians in general do.

There was a fair in town which had a stage program where different schools were invited to give dance performances. Our school had prepared a dance program as well and on a detailed invitation card Ramona had read that the program should start at 2pm and that our school’s dance was scheduled for 3pm. In order to be on time, she had agreed with the teachers to start from the Ashram at half past one. That should give them enough time to reach and find out where the dancers should wait, where they could put on their costumes and so on, she thought.

Ramona, three teachers and five or six children left the Ashram at half past one as planned. They arrived at the festival fifteen minutes later, got out of the car, entered the main tent – and stood there in complete surprise: the stage was not even ready, decorators were still busy hanging garlands and posters, the chairs for the audience were still stacked on one side of the tent and none of the organizers was anywhere in sight.

To make it short, they waited until three o’clock for the program to start and then, about one and a half hours later, they finally had their performance. It was a great lesson for Ramona: when Indians say on an invitation that a program starts at 7pm, you can comfortably arrive there at 9pm and you won’t be late.

If you have an appointment with an Indian, don’t be surprised if he comes half an hour late. If the electrician says he will come in the morning, expect him in the afternoon. If you call him on his mobile to see where he is, he will say ‘I am on the way, already around the corner’. He will arrive an hour later, making you wonder how long he took for the last 500 meters.

The funniest thing for many non-Indians is that this is just normal for Indian people. If a German comes late for only five minutes, he will apologize and ask if you have been waiting for long. An Indian will come two hours late and just behave normally as though he was supposed to be there at exactly the time he arrived.

In that light you really don’t have to wonder why you won’t find two watches in India that display the same time. Give it a try: ask ten people along the way what time it is – you will get ten different answers!

It is normal here. Deal with it. 🙂

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