If you have travelled around, you must have realised that Time is a cultural-sensitive concept that evolves depending on the country you are. On the one hand, an appointment at 5 pm is meant to start at 5 o’clock sharp in Germany, while on the other hand in France, it would start between 5 and 5:15, allowing a "quart d'heure de courtoisie" (a courtesy quarter, during which you are considered on time). What about a drink tonight? An English person might come up to the bar at 7 pm, while his Spanish counterpart would pop up after 10, since “la noche” only starts then…
Faster, quicker, swifter.
So, when you land on the British soil, and to a greater extend in London, you are forced to acknowledge a time-scale different from other places. I have already mentioned the perception of Time as a valued asset in a previous post, but there is more to be said beyond its commercial relation. In this country, time is not only valuable, it is shorter. According to me, a “fast-paced city” is a synonym for London. Although most of the Capital cities would claim this description, it is truer in London than anywhere else. Not because of its nightlife, nor for the speed of its public transportation or its hectic business activity… but because of the local intrinsic approach of Time.
To explicit this, just ask a Brit what is a long term commitment?
A shorter long term.
I settled in London a few months ago, and went through the tiring, though enriching, flat-hunting process. I was then surprised by my colleague reaction when I proudly informed them that I had signed my two-year lease. It was as if I had committed to an everlasting pact with the devil (who, all Londoner knows, does not wear Prada, but drives stickered Minis). Most of them would have rather opted for a six-month contract instead, which is a standard contract length here.
While in France we are used to three-year lease contract to protect the tenant against uncertainty and inflation, on this side of the Channel, 6 months are already long. 12, an eternity. Protection does not matter as much, Brits need to feel free to change, and a contract appears to be a burden that endangers their freedom. They don’t mind to see their rent increase at each contract renewal. Freedom has a price.
What if ultimately I did not like the flat? Or my neighbours? What if my job implied to be relocated in a further borough? Another evidence of this fast-pace life is indeed the job market.
My current position implies to have in hands resumes, and I must confess I was puzzled by the careers which were lying in front of my foreigner eyes. 3 months in this agency, 7 months as a freelancer, 6 months in this international company, and so on. Where I reluctantly saw instability, my English colleagues were witnessing normality. The job market is indeed faster. Or flexible, as they say. Resigning, applying, recruiting, being fired… everything happens rapidly, and seems to ideally compensate. Liberals love that. Adam Smith’sInvisible Hand must have worn a rushing watch!
Seize the day.
I am not personally convinced whether the advantages outnumber the drawbacks, or vice versa. I still want to allow me the time to experience it by myself. Nevertheless, I am sure that the truth lays in the Classics:
"Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus" (Time meanwhile flies, never to return), Virgil.
So let’s enjoy the little time we have, speed up the worse part, to focus on the better.