Written by Linda Koswara, interfaith activist
One week after my family and I moved from our hometown to start a new life in another province in Indonesia, a neighbour of ours who happened to be my father’s colleague in his office invited me to short vacation on Saturday. We visited a beautiful beach. I had a perfect time, not only because I discovered new things and got to know new people, but the family also had a kid of my age which seemingly we could get along well with each other. After we came back home, his mother asked me if the trip was fun. I said it was entertaining, and I wanted to have another more. The lady responded, “Good. We will go again tomorrow.”
I was so excited and went back home immediately to tell my parents about our tomorrow plan. On the night, I prepared and packed my things into my school backpack. The next morning I woke up early and wore my best dress. While I had my breakfast, my mother asked me about this trip and whether I was going or not. She thought it was too early to have another trip. I was so much confident to say that the family promised me to go again today because the lady said the word “tomorrow” and I assured her that it was going to be another great time with them.
My mother believed me and let me go to the family’s house. Once I arrived at their house, I did not see any preparation or activity outside the house; the car still parked in the garage, and the door’s house was closed. I knocked on the door; then the kid came out. He greeted me in very casual clothes and did not mention anything about the plan. I was so confused and asked him about the another-trip we were going to have on that day. He said his parents did not mention anything about the trip and his mother did not ask him to get ready for another vacation. They did not have a plan to go anywhere that day.
Knowing that the trip on that day was cancelled, I felt a massive disappointment as I put so much expectation on the second trip. There was no doubt at all, or even a little thought came to eight years old girl’s mind who experienced moving out quite far from hometown for the first time that the trip was going to be postponed or even cancelled. I noticed and realised for the first time that there are differences between my home culture and this new culture, and this incident was the first sign. After that day, I was still hoping that the family would show up in front of my house, ready to go on a holiday, and asked me if I want to go with them or not. But the trip was never happened.
To analyse the situation, first of all, I need to mention that Indonesia is a large entity with 1340 ethnicities and 719 local languages scattered around the country. You will find people talk in different local languages whenever you cross the province boundaries. However, the differences are not very distinct. Each region adopts several practices or linguistics elements from neighbour regions which lead to another culture or linguistics creation. This is an example of what Morehouse (2004: 19) states that “[borderlands] are spaces where cultural identity, sheltered by the boundary, becomes blurred, mixed, creolised”.
The new place where the story took place is in West Nusa Tenggara—or known as Lombok—which locates in the middle part of Indonesia. My family and I need to cross four provinces to reach Lombok from West Java—my home province—which located in the western part of Indonesia. This means Lombok is not a close neighbour of West Java. We also speak different local languages—West Java people speak Sundanese language while people in Lombok speak Sasaknese language.
The most significant similarity that we have is the fact that we speak the same national language, which is Indonesian. Because we share a little amount of similarity in terms of local culture, different interpretation frequently occur between the people when we communicate using Indonesian language, mainly if we are used to speaking our local language in daily conversation. In the incident above, this can be seen on how the eight years old girl who just arrived from West Java captured the meaning of the word “tomorrow” uttered by her friend’s mother who lived enough in Lombok to know its culture pattern.
I had a chance to talk with one of my Sasaknese friend and told her this miscomprehension story. Reflecting to the story, I am not surprised when she clarified that in Lombok, people are not using “tomorrow”—”jemak” or “lemak” in Sasaknese language—to talk about punctuality or adherence to schedules. However, they use the word to make a promise to people, which could be broken. From this explanation, it is clear that they are part of polychronic culture as Hall (1983: 46) describes it as “[polychronic person] stresses involvement of people and completion of transactions rather than adherence to preset schedules”.
Then my friend added, if they want to make “tomorrow” clear, they usually add specific condition to complete the sentence. For example, “jemak jemak” to emphasize “tomorrow” that is actually tomorrow, “jemak kelemak” which means tomorrow morning, or “jemak Senin” that means next Monday. In my incident, the “tomorrow” uttered by the lady does not really mean “tomorrow”. It could be the day after tomorrow, the next week, the next holiday month, or the worst part; there is no tomorrow for the next trip. She explained further about how Lombok is part of polychronic culture by giving me one informal situation using “tomorrow” word: if a person ask someone for lending her/him some amounts of money, she/he most likely will say “tomorrow I will give your money back” to make promise that she/he will repay the money.
The people involved in the situation understand that “tomorrow” indicates a condition in the future when the borrower has enough money for repayment. They both know the uncertainty. In a specific case, there is a possibility the borrower does not repay the money to the lender. Therefore, it is mutually understood that if they lend money to someone, they are ready for this consequence. I can relate my incident and the story my friend told to what Hall (1989: 46) states later in the book that “[for polychronic people, a]ppointments are not taken as seriously and, as a consequence, are frequently broken.”
In order to make this incident more understandable, I will refer to the theory about low- and high-context communication system. The fact that the lady omitted some words from the sentence and did not make “tomorrow” clear indicates she communicated in high context which is described by Jandt (2010) as ‘less has to be said or written because more of the meaning is in the physical environment or already shared by people’.
A question arises from this statement that how come the lady and I have shared lots of meaning in our conversation, whereas we only have met for a few times? To analyse this, Young (2005) states in Jandt (2010) that “characterisations of high- and low-context communication system are closely associated with the characteristics of individualism and collectivism”.
Hall (1976) in Jandt (2010: 71) also described when high- and low-context cultures is situated, our verbal communication tend to be stated clearly or profoundly explicit when we explain something to people we do not know before because we have not share any experience with the person.
On the contrary, we tend to communicate implicitly and not directly expressed whenever we speak to our family or close friends because we have shared experiences with them. The incident between the lady and I is assumed she treated me as if I was one of her close relatives by seeing the system she used to communicate with me. The fact that the lady’s husband was my father’s office colleague makes this argument stronger.
My family and I met the lady and his husband for the first time at the airport. My father introduced her husband to us as his subordinate in his new workplace. They were very friendly, kind, and sweet family; they drove us to our new home, helped us moving-in, and they talked to us as if we were their close relatives.
Reflecting on this, I would say that this situation indicates part of the collectivist culture. This is what Jandt (2010: 165) explain as “[c]ultures characterised by collectivism emphasise relationships among people to a greater degree” and furthermore “in collectivist cultures, the employer-employee relationship is perceived in moral terms, like a family link.” Indeed, the lady and I had not met each other before, but the fact that our families linked and shared one significant similarity made her talked explicitly using high context of “tomorrow” to me as if I was part of her close relatives.
Furthermore, there are study by Levine, West and Reis (1980) and Levine and Bartlett (1984) in Smith and Bond (1998: 147) that find significant correlation between public clock accuracy, speed of walkers in the street, and post office clerks that sold postage stamps. This “accuracy” may lead to classification of monochronic culture.
According to this study, Indonesia is one of slow-moving nation which our pace of life is less fast compare to countries in Northern and Western Europe. Seeing some polychronic evidences and information from the natives in Sasaknese and Sundanese culture, the study might be right.
Nevertheless, again, as we are known as a large country which consist of thousands of ethnic groups and hundreds of languages, does this incident signifies time perspective culture of some regions in a nation can be considered as the culture of a whole nation?
Hall, Edward T. 1983. The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time. New York: Anchor Books.
Jandt, Fred E. 2010. An Introduction to Intercultural Communication: Identities in a Global Community. 6th edition. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan. 2018. Badan Bahasa Petakan 652 Bahasa Daerah di Indonesia. [Online]. Available from: https://www.kemdikbud.go.id/main/blog/2018/07/badan-bahasa-petakan-652-bahasa-daerah-di-indonesia
Morehouse, Barbara. 2004. Theoretical Approaches to Border Spaces and Identities. In Pavlakovich-Kochi, V et al. ed. Challenged Borderlands: Transcending Political and Cultural Boundaries. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp.19-39.
Portal Informasi Indonesia. 2017. Suku Bangsa. [Online]. Available from: https://www.indonesia.go.id/profil/suku-bangsa
Smith, Peter B. and Bond, Michael Harris. 1998. Social Psychology across Cultures. 2nd edition. Prentice Hall Europe: Hertfordshire.