One of the common phrases you’ll hear from Bengali people in Canada is “I don’t mean BST”, referring to Bangladeshi Standard Time. What they mean is, Don’t Be Late!!! It comes from the fact that somehow time is a meaningless, loosey goosey abstract idea to some of us– they’ll invite you over for dinner, say at 7:30. And when you show up, not only will they be unprepared and still running around getting ready, they’re surprised that you didn’t somehow know that when they said 7:30, they actually meant 9pm Somehow the other guests had received the invisible memo as well, so no one else had showed up either, and you’re the only one there, feeling awkward and slightly sheepish.
So, I’ve kind of learnt to either avoid going to those kind of events, or showing up “late” (i.e, showing up at 9:15 pm, which makes me ‘on-time’). Which of course keeps the cycle going…
But now I’m in Bangladesh where I’m not dealing with once in a while Bengali time-based events. How does one deal when an entire nation runs on a slower standard of time?
Time is such a fluid concept in Bangladesh, that’s it’s hard to explain. It’s not just starting something two hours later than the scheduled time. If someone says they’ll see you in a bit, that can mean 15 minutes or it can actually mean the next day! Somehow people seem to instinctually know what is implied. I was in a meeting once, and one person got up saying he will be right back, but the other people somehow knew that what he had actually said was ,”I will see you when I see you”. I haven’t seen him since.
And no one seems bothered. It’s almost beautiful, this easy acceptance of c’est la vie. Life in Bangladesh is not just intense, it’s also somehow slow. Think Manhattan intensity with island life slowness. People here work hard, and yet are not hurried at all. It amazes me that in a country where you can get ANYTHING done for the right price (you want to throw a wedding party for 3000 guests next weekend? No problem!! It will be done! You want your prom dress designed, stitched and delivered to your house by midnight tonight? Even though it is already 2 pm? Piece of cake! :) ), no one can seem to keep to a schedule for the day to day things. This is why it’s so fascinating. On one hand, everything is urgent. On the other hand, no one is fazed by that sense of urgency. Things will get done when they get done. But then again, if you are somehow silly enough to want things right away – they’ll laugh indulgently at you, and they’ll make it happen. Like magic :)