Last month the Prime Minister of Nepal was in New York for the UN General Assembly. In his weeklong visit he took the time to speak at the New School in Manhattan and at The Chian Federation in Queens. Both places drew a crowd and the concept of “Nepali time” seemed to get rebranded.
At the New School, the Prime Minister arrived on time and the program went as scheduled at 12:45pm. At The Chian Federation, the Prime Minister and his delegation arrived at 7:25pm and the event was scheduled to start at 7pm. The Prime Minster went on stage and immediately apologized for the tardiness. He stated that if he had known that getting to The Chian Federation would take long from Manhattan, he would have left earlier. I applaud him for acknowledging that he was late and apologizing to the audience.
The Prime Minister’s acknowledgement of his unpunctuality triggered a few thoughts to me. First, it showed that he valued time. When you acknowledge the value of time and especially other people’s time, you are being considerate and respectful to others who are there to listen to your speech. Second, he apologized for it. As a person of his stature, people could understand why he could be late but he did not offer excuses. Instead the PM acknowledged and admitted his part.
Nepali people are familiar with the concept of “Nepali time.” Generally the case is you tell someone that you will meet them at a certain time but show up 15, 30, 45 minutes or even an hour later. Of course, there will be times that you cannot avoid being late because of weather, traffic or some unforeseen circumstance but I am talking about the times when you arrive late for no valid reason.
The idea of “Nepali time” has paralyzed our culture and can be seen at its highest level of governance. This is a bold statement and I stand by it. The drafting of a new democratic constitution has been postponed several times from the original date. When we have created an environment where time is not highly valued, it should be little surprise to hear when critical government deadlines are not met and decisions not reached on time. The concept of time has definitely played a part in the decision dilemma. If as a culture, we regard time as a valuable commodity, meeting deadlines would not be such a monumental task.
My point is that we need to rebrand the concept of “Nepali time”. This new concept of “Nepali time” will mean that we arrive early rather than late. Why can we not arrive at least 10 minutes early to a meeting or an important event? Do we want to be known as a culture who does not value time? Are we teaching our youth that arriving late should just be expected?
There are major implications culturally that comes along when living by the “Nepali time”. In the Western business context, if someone says to their clients to meet at 2:30, coming later than that time will mean tardiness and a lack of consideration on the person arriving late. You will lose your client’s trust and most likely obliterate business opportunities. When at times you’re late because of certain unforeseen circumstance, it is good practice to call the other person waiting on you to let them know that you are running late. A simple courtesy can save the reputation of an entire group of people.
I believe the concept of time in our culture is generational and context based as well. I observe that most young people who have grown up in Western societies arrive on time. It’s much harder to change a cultural reputation that we have built so far. When you arrive late because you expect the other party to arrive late too, what is the value in that relationship? If we build a reputation on always being on time or completing work on time, I am sure we will be regarded highly for our punctuality and also build trust and credibility with the people we are dealing with.
I strongly propose that we work on rebranding the concept of “Nepali time” and establish a reputation that we are ALWAYS early than the scheduled time. This message is more for the younger generation who can change a cultural stereotype that we have built. As the saying goes, first impression is the last impression. Just imagine that first impression saving your culture face.