One major cultural difference that Americans experience while living in Tanzania is what is known as “Tanzanian time”. This phrase can be used in two different ways. First, Tanzanians don’t start their day at 12:00 a.m. as we do in America. Tanzanians start their day at 6:00 a.m. As a result, if you were to ask someone what is the time at 7:00 a.m., a Tanzanian will respond that it is 1:00. This is because their day starts at 6:00 a.m., so 7:00 a.m. is just one hour later, hence 1:00. The most confusing part is that most Tanzanians are aware that their system is different. So, if I were to ask about time, some Tanzanians will give me the standard way of reading time. I always have to clarify – is that Tanzanian time or ??? A perfect example is that Jon and I bought bus tickets and they wrote the time the bus departs is 3:00. Jon and I simply assumed it meant 9:00 a.m. Meanwhile, our friend was sure it meant 3:00 p.m. We had to clarify with the bus company afterwards and it turned out to be a 9:00 a.m. bus. The interesting part is that even though Tanzanians do time this way, they will set their watches to military time and then read it off in Tanzanian time.
Another nuance of Tanzanian time is that punctuality does not exist. So, some westerners might say, it’ll happen in “Tanzanian time” meaning it might take months or even a year to get something accomplished. The reason for this is because social relationships are far more important in Tanzanian society than punctuality. If you are late to something, no one cares because they assume you must have had some sort of social obligation that was more important than the meeting or whatever it is that you are late for. Appointments and meetings are just an approximate time that people might meet. People are late to things that no one in the United States would ever consider being late for. For example, weddings, graduations, teaching, you name it. While it can be very frustrating to adjust to this mindset, it is also easy to fall into the trap. It is a delicate balance to become accustomed to this and remain responsible and professional.