Culture, Race, Economic Class and punctuality: A question

First off, let say up front that I realize that someone is going to misread what I say here, and probobly jump in and call me a racist. This is not true at all. If I thought this was a race issue, there would be nothing to post. This is a subject that gets interesting when you look beyond the surface ( “oh, blacks do such and so” ) and try to find the root cause of the problem.

Just FTR, the term “lower class” throughout this post, refers ONLY to economic situation

In my job, what I do is to call on clients to represent and sell small business benefits and discounted health insurance to self employed people. I spend the first part of the week phoning people who have inquired about what we have to offer, making appointments, and the second part of the week I actually call on them at the times specified. What a lot of people in my line of work will say, I’ve heard it before, is that black clients are more likely to stand you up than white ones, that is, make an appointment for a certain time and then not be there. On the surface, this apears to be true, anecdotal evidence only. BUT…it’s not. When you are dealing with people who could be considered economicaly middle or upper class, they are not likely to stand you up, no matter what hue their skin is. So maybe it’s an issue that is linked more to income than anything else. I think that’s the case. This brings up the first question I have here: To what degree is the ability to schedule business appointments, and follow through on them a prerequisite for business success? I tend to think it is of paramount importance, and perhaps these businesspeople are not poor time managers/appointment keepers because they are lower-middle or lower class, but are in that economic situation because they have poor time management skills. Opinions?
Ok, now that leaves race and culture. Now even among lower class people in general, I have found from experience that blacks are more likely to make appointments and not keep them than whites, although frankly whites are no great shakes in this area either. Why would this be? The color of skin has to do with only one thing, and that’s a climatic adaptation to sunlight, basically. Using that as a basis for behavior is stupid, unless you are comparing the likelyhood of sunburn in July. Two thought come to mind here. Number one, I live in urban, northeastern United States. The number of lower class blacks here is greater than poor whites, so I am going to interact with more of them, just by sheer numbers. If I was working in, say, West Virginia, the situation would be flip flopped, I have no doubt. That leaves us with…culture.

Or should I say sub-culture? We all live in America, so that is the uber-culture. Beneth that though, there are certain sub-cultures, African-American, German-American, Japanese-American, etc… These have historically been based on ethnic origin. Most of the white sub-cultures have homoginized to a large degree over time, but black sub-culture has remeined somewhat apart from the others, no doubt because there is a visual difference that is immediately aparent to see, dark skin vs. light skin. Even there, It has been my experience that middle class blacks live and act pretty much the same way as middle class whites, but I’m not sure the same can be said for lower classes. This troubles me to some degree. I have observed, among some poor blacks, a cultural bias against success. Children who excell at school are often acused of “selling out” ( selling out what? poverty? :confused: ). People who befriend whites may have to deal with being called “uncle toms” or other not so nice things. Here in the NW, where there are clusters of very poor people living in one place, a welfare mentality of “gimmie, gimmie, gimmie, I am owed money and support without being required to do anything” atitude is rampant. ( To be fair, I see this exact same atitude among whites on welfare too. I think it’s a by-product of being human, and having stuff given to you w/o learning you need to earn what you get) What troubles me is how this impacts the population as a whole. In my mind, it adds up to a signifigant portion of the population that not only has to deal with the lingering disenfranchising effects of 300 years of racism, bigotry and slavery, but is also in some ways doing it’s best to disenfranchise itself. There is nothing but trouble and conflict down that road. As I see it, it is this cultural atitude that leads to more missed appointments.

Boy, did this OP swerve all over the place! I tried to frame the questions in terms of my work, but I think the question of cultural compatibility and acceptance ( both ways ) in the last paragraph is perhaps more important. I would welcome any and all discussion of the topics brought fourth here.

We hire around 10,000 people a year in our company. Most are from the lower economic echelons. Teaching emloyees that they must come to work for every shift, be on time and sober is indeed a matter of course. People who are not acculturated to corporate america do not know the expectations.

Similarly, someone from an upper class German background may not be familiar with the expectations of behavior in a lower class Nigerian community.

i suppose culture by definition means conforming to behavior and ideas of people around you. i think the psycholigists refer to these as attitudes. they can be totally illogical. in the BAD neighborhood i grew up in, the kids had a negative ATTITUDE about the boy scouts. when i went to high school i met another kid who eventually became my best friend. he mentioned that he had been in the boy scouts and i immediately derided it. he said “what’s wrong with the boy scouts.” and i thought “damn, i really don’t KNOW ANYTHING about the boy scouts.”

since THE CULTURE may teach you to conform to things that are useless, sometimes you get rebellion even when it is selfdefeating.

Dal Timgar

you’ve noted a correlation 'tween economic status and on-time-ability, and speculate that the cause of the economic status is related to the on-time-ability.

a. Correlation does not mean causation.

b. even if the two were related, it could be 'tother way 'round - For example - being of a certain economic status implies certain other things like regular job etc. generalization warning coming up Lower economic status, you have a whole lot more potential variables -

  1. job changes - lower paying jobs often are temporary, shift work, rotating shifts, anything but steady 8 - 5 m-f (or whatever). So, you could schedule an appointment for 5 pm on next Thursday, and find out on Sunday that you have to work.

  2. other last minute stuff happens - well, when it happens to me (middle class here), I tell the person trying to screw up my schedule ‘hey, I have a pre existing appointment’, folks at the lower ends often are not able to make those same level of demands (YMMV)

  3. you’re forgeting the most important and probably relevant possability here (ahem) the folks who are blowing you off are doing so intentionally 'cause they really aren’t interested in your product and they know, from experience, the best way to get rid of such things is to schedule an appointment and not show up…

i’ll admit that i got lost in that OP. not quite sure what the point or question was.

let’s just say that this society is obsessed with the exactness of time. before modern industrial life (before time became money), the concept of minutes was really kind of foggy. time was much more approximate.

most minority cultures i’ve been in contact with prefer a more casual approach to time. the most famous is “CP” or Colored People Time–which means late. but i’ve also heard Indian Time and Chinese Time and traveling in the Third World has provided me with plenty of examples where time is much more fluid. all these examples mean that many people don’t really care about being absolutely punctual.

sometimes that drifts into the professional world to the detriment of the people involved. so, to keep this simple, yes. sometimes culture is involved.

You say in your OP that all lower-class people tend to be late and black people tend to be later than others. Is this true or just a perception?

Are you sure the lower-classes are late more than the middle and upper classes? Are you sure blacks are late more than whites? What are the ratios of a)late whites to the whole b)late blacks to the whole. How much later are the people who you percieve to be at a lower socio-economic class?

You are selling a service. You need to be on time. The people buying what it is you are selling don’t need to be on time. Are you sure you are not giving people you think are “better” more leeway?

Its not who turns up, its who buys !!

Save time and get more sales by focusing on the group that buy, whoever that is.

If you think a certain group are not going to turn up then why are you wasting your time !

Class.mmm, as a brit its nice to hear you ‘classless’ yanks going on about class.

In my, limited, experience, class is a far greater divider than cultural background / race etc. I don’t say this as a classist facist type thing just what is and what isn’t.

My pediatricians office is the most diverse group of doctors I’ve ever encountered in one small place. We have a Chinese American male, an African American female (my children’s designated doctor), a Phillipino female, a Korean female, and a Jewish Nurse Practitioner. (Now that I write it down, I can see we don’t have any so called “white” doctors at all in this office. Interesting, never thought of it till now.)

None of my appointments are ever on time! I always have to allot an hour and a half for a 30 minute visit. Aren’t doctors usually middle to upper middle class?

My sister who is white, college educated and middle class is always late. So is my oldest and dearest friend, a professional woman.

I on the other hand always strive to be punctual. I think it’s rude not to be.

I had a friend that I communicated with for years. Her husband worked for the government, commisaries. She left here went to Ft. Hamilton in NY, then on to Oakland, California. She complained to me several times about Californians. She claimed none of them were ever in a hurry to do anything.


classless yanks! LOL!

it’s a freeER society, not a free society.

of course there is more pressure to run on the treadmill to keep up, faster and faster. some of us go postal in the process. some dummy missed GWB.

Dal Timgar

This whole OP is my preception. That being said, it’s based on 10 years doing in home sales, and I believe the generalizations to be as accurate as any generalizations can be.

Yes. And it’s not just late, I will wait if someone isn’t there, hell, I realize shit happens. It’s making an appointment and then not showing.

Only in the poorer sections of town, and then only maybe…15% of the time more, not a huge difference, but noticible. Hell, this whole thing was pointed out to me by a good friend and co-worker who is black who said “They’re my people, but damn, sometimes they don’t know how to keep an appointment!”

Among middle and upper class clients, I haven’t noticed any real differences at all. The diferences with poorer clients I noted above.

Everyone gets the same leeway. I’ll be on time, and wait at least a half hour if no one is there. And I don’t think of any group as “better”. Personally, I generally enjoy my appointments with working class people a lot more than upper middle or above. They’re a lot more fun.

None of my appointments are ever on time! I always have to allot an hour and a half for a 30 minute visit. Aren’t doctors usually middle to upper middle class? [/qoute]

As the son of a pediatrician, I can tell you this is due to three primary things. #1 sick people who need to be seen must be slotted around existing appointments, and by the end of the day, backups are inevitable. My dad always didn’t schedule the last 20 minutes of each hour for sick visits, but inevitably, things backed up. #2 All appointments do not take the same time, and a good doc will spend the time needed with each patient to make sure they are comfortable with the results of the visit. #3 Patients are often late, and that gums up the whole works. Also, if, say, your 3:00 patient isn’t there, and the 3:15 is, you may let the 3:15 go ahead. When the 3:00 patient arives at 3:05, they have to wait, and they may get ticked about it, even though they were late in the first place.

I recognise that this happens at times, but the majority of my clients are ones who wanted to see me first. I just respond and make the appointment.

To be honest, me too, a bit. :embarased smiley:

Guess I should also say that I never get pissed at the pediatrician for being late. I simply expect it. The only time I get a little testy is if one of my kids is in a really bad way. Otherwise I know how busy they are, although I do think sometimes they tend to “overschedule” a little. They do take pretty good care of my kids, I trust them anyway and now days that’s saying a lot.

No it’s my sister that really ticks me off, Ms. Time Waits for Me, You Should Too.


A few years ago there was a short-lived series called 704 Hauser Street. It was set in the Bunker household from All in the Family, and was going to be the same sort of show dealing with politics, race, religion, and all the other hot-button topics that are the bread and butter around here. It didn’t last long, unfortunately. In one of the episodes the son, who was black, got really pissed off when his wife (fiancee?), who was white, made a passing remark about “black time.” Apparently it was a phrase that he, his family, and his friends joked about all the time, but he didn’t want her to use it because she was white. Be that as it may, I had never heard the phrase before, nor since, at least not until hapaXL mentioned “Colored People’s Time,” which is close enough for government work I guess. Is this something in common usage, or is it a regional (New York) thing?

I once read a book by Edward T. Hall that spoke about the cultural differences in perception of time. Sorry, don’t remember the title.

I remember specifically that there was a discussion about a particular Indian tribe that had awful problems with school attendance. Hall believes the problem was a result of this tribe’s language, which has a tricky way of dealing with past and future tenses (come to think of it, I’m not sure if the language has any tenses at all besides the present). Anyway, the attendance problem was eventually mostly solved through various measures, such as not allowing the school bus to wait for late children (of course, you had to make the children want to go to school first).

Now, here’s the punchline: these folks, among many others, are now my clients. They, um, still have a few lingering problems with deadlines and such. Everyone in my line of work is familiar with the “Friday Suprise,” where a client suddenly drops a weeks’ worth of important things to do into our laps on a Friday morning. It’s even worse for us because most of my clients are two or more time zones away. From experience, I think this sort of problem with time perception is fairly common in Indian Country, and I’m not entirely unconvinced that language has something to do with it–along with a lot of other cultural factors.

So what do you think, weirddave? Does language somehow play a role in dilatory behavior? Do the clients who stand you up somehow speak differently from the clients who don’t? Wait! I’m not talking ebonics here. I mean do your clients who stand you up say things like, “right, I will see you at eleven o’clock on Friday, then,” or do they say things that are less definitive? I’m curious to see if you have noticed anything like that.


I will also comment that my experience dealing with Native American people is that they are a little, well, squishy, when it comes to time and deadlines. It cannot be over-emphasized when dealing with many of them (in particular, those who work and live on the reservations) that while they may justly think that white people irrationally worship the clock, legal deadlines in particular are absolute, and if a filing in particular is due on some certain day, that means that it MUST be filed that day. Not the next day, and not the next week.

I think it is just a basic cultural difference. Many Native Americans just don’t seem to put a high premium on being on time. Presumably, there are other, more important ways to judge a person’s value, and to act like your time is oh-so-valuable is itself a form of arrogance. There is nothing inherently worse about such beliefs than there is in the belief that promptness = politeness. It’s just a disagreement about what’s important.

Really? Are you privy to some information that everyone else in the United States is not?

Sorry Jodi I have to disagree. Perhaps dealing with Native Americans is a situation were you know a cultural difference is present, but we’re talking about mainstream society here aren’t we? Just as in my sister’s case I think it is completely appropriate to insist that she is rude and arrogant herself for expecting that everyone should constantly excuse her behavior. Believe me this woman does not discriminate about who she makes wait for her, employer, family, friends, business associates. When she was in college my sister regularily got away with turning her papers in late. Why, because she’s bubbly and charming and all of her male professors liked her. Granted she’s a very high energy person, good with people (especially men), and a hard worker but everyone must expect to forgive the fact that at 35 she still has not learned to manage her time.

I think this is true for a lot of people. Whether or not it is a “class” distinction I cannot say. I haven’t worked directly with the public in years. But I have observed this kind of behavior from co-workers.