I have now taken the bus from Kirovograd to Kyiv three times. This last time, I realized that Americans really could learn a bit from our Ukrainian friends about time and the emphasis we place on it.
The bus ambles along, and stops pretty much anywhere someone on the bus requests the driver to stop, whether or not it is an actual bus station. At first, this is a bit irritating, because after all, it is not a real stop, and aren’t we wasting precious minutes there? And to stop at the side of the road, just after we had left the place where we had the 15 minute “mid-way” rest – well, why? Because some mother wants to wash her kid’s hands?
Then I realized that it is not about how fast you make it to the destination. After all, you’ll make it – you are on the bus, after all. It is also not necessarily about “enjoying the journey” because well, you’re on a bus, and how enjoyable can that really be (especially the 4 a.m. bus). I realized that we as Americans place so much value on speed and productivity, indeed, maybe a little too much.
This is also illustrated by the fact that I walk about three times faster than people here. Even this past summer, when it was about 40 degrees Celcius, and I was walking “slowly”, and I was still passing people. I like to make it to my destination in time, and like to use the walk as a form of exercise. But the people here look at me like I am crazy, going so fast. Lena regularly asks me to slow down when we walk together (and that is with me at my “slow” pace).
People here stand in long lines with no complaints, wait for meetings to start late, take their time walking somewhere. At work they take tea breaks (at some places, a lot of tea breaks). Servers at restaurants don’t strive to greet you in the first two minutes after you sit down, and may take quite a while to bring you your food and drink (and bring different peoples’ dishes at different times). People sometimes seem more concerned with a conversation (be it on the phone or in person) than in taking care of you at a place of business.
This is sometimes annoying. But on the other hand, I am learning that there is so much more than the American value of productivity at any cost. Americans seem to be proud to complain about how “busy” they are, yet we are always seeking ways to busy ourselves. I remember when I would hear people complain about this, I would ask them “who is in charge of your schedule?” They had no choice but to answer “me,” to which I replied that if they were in charge of their schedule, they could modify it so it is less busy. But Americans, it seems, compete to be the busiest, because if you are not busy, then you are lazy. The most industrious people, we are told, will be the most successful (not usually true).
So though at the moment I am very busy, I am attempting to slow things down and enjoy the moment a bit more. Maybe by doing so I’ll be happier. Certainly I’ll be less stressed. I am trying to balance achievement and productivity with taking the time to spend with people, and making connections. After all, this is ultimately more important that what we have “done” in life, is who we have known and how we have impacted them. How you live your life is more important than what you do with it.