Tag Archives: late

On Filipino-American-Swedish Marriage

I certainly would not have predicted it before meeting Jammie but 13 years after leaving the Philippines I married a Filipina-American in Los Angeles on April 3, 2011.  We were polar opposites on the one hand – an American of Filipino descent, born and raised in Los Angeles and a vaguely Swedish Third Culture Kid born in Stockholm and raised in too many different places.  Seen differently we had very similar backgrounds – we both loved and understood Filipino culture (Jammie as a matter of heritage and I from living there for six years) and we both loved Los Angeles and its chaotic creativity, with near-foolish abandon.

We’ve been married for five months today so I thought I’d post on a few defining features of our Filipino-American-Swedish union so far:

Loud vs. Shy Culture – Anyone that knows me well would condescendingly smirk at this understatement:  I am loud.  I love talking to and engaging people.  I therefore enjoy Filipino gatherings because they tend to be high energy and boisterous.  My family on the other hand, is a lot more Swedish in that they tend to be a little more quiet – especially when you take a step beyond my nuclear family.  I remember my aunt’s reaction to raucous laughter at our rehearsal dinner in LA’s Chinatown.  She thought something was wrong.  It was just a buddy of mine being himself.

How to Really Party – Traditional Swedish birthday parties involve your nuclear family and some carefully-chosen close friends and often take place within the safety of your locked home.  The birthday parties I went to in the Filipino fishing village I lived in involved the whole village and a lavishly roasted pig, displayed dramatically on the spit against a backdrop of lesser dishes and assorted balloons.  For my 30th Jammie and I compromised and only invited my work friends, an entire think tank, and the volunteers and Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce.  Our one bedroom apartment was crammed beyond recognition and people spilled out onto the lawn.  We had a piñata.

Don’t Eat Off my Plate! – Jammie is an ardent proponent of eating off of other people’s plates.  This took a while for me to get used to.  I was all about eating my own food and finishing it.  It barely occurred to me that I would need to share it or at least offer it up for multi-person sampling.  In fact, that seemed a little gross.  Jammie cured me of any such inhibitions.  I will now eat off your plate.

Visiting Family – Family is extremely important to both of us.  But visiting and communicating takes on different forms.  For starters, we live in Northern California so driving or flying to LA to see the Filipino side is easy.  If we lived in LA I am sure we would be over at Jammie’s parents’ place a lot or they would come to ours.  Scandinavian culture is a significantly more hands-off.  Even if my parents didn’t live in England but right here in California, the visits would be more spread out.  Not because the family bond is weaker but because Swedish parents believe it wise to “let the kids work things out for themselves” unless their help or opinion is directly solicited.  I am happy with either approach and am not sure yet how I will treat my future kids.  Probably some kind of hybrid approach as usual.

What Qualifies as Fashionably Late? – This is a biggie.  Jammie and I both are a blend of event-centered and time-centered cultures. The question is not so much one of when to arrive to work.  American culture can explain that one for you with a pink slip in record time.  Social engagements are the real question.  Last weekend we got to our favorite car show so late that the sun had set and we could barely see the cars.  That’s what you call unfashionably late.  So we do need to be more punctual with our social engagements but we want to keep the focus on the event, the people and the relationships, not militaristic time card punching.

As I said, we are just five months in but I’ll keep you updated on our very intercultural marriage.  In the meantime, leave a comment with how you navigate diversity in your relationships.



Bjorn Karlman

Punctual, Lifeless Bores: The problem with time-centered cultures

punctual Jack is a dull boy
punctual Jack is a dull boy

I grew up entirely confused about the concept of time and punctuality.  I was raised by Swedish parents in the Cavite province of the Philippines.  On the one hand, I had an exceedingly punctual Northern-European father who was not a fan of bathroom breaks on trips and always wanted to arrive early to anything scheduled.  On the other, Filipino custom dictated that it was almost rude and certainly awkward if you arrived to social engagements when they were officially scheduled to begin.  It was explained to me that if an event starts a certain hour, you are still on time if you come at any point during the course of the hour.  Arrive at 6:48 PM for an event that started at 6:00 PM?  Well done. The Germans arrived at 6:00 PM and got to sit in uncomfortable silence while their local hosts finished food prep and scratched their heads in bewilderment at the newbies that obviously had not been issued the memo.

As I grew older, I became more and more interested in the difference between time-centered cultures (cultures that value punctuality above all else) and event-centered cultures where the timing of an event is less important than the quality of the experience.  Obviously no culture fits either mold perfectly but there are certainly noticeable trends.

A May 5, 2008 article in Thailand’s The Nation starts higher level when comparing cultures: “There is an explicit difference between the task-oriented business culture and the people-oriented one, which affects the way business is conducted. The former prioritises clarity in communication and equates directness with sincerity. The latter regards harmony within the group and interpersonal relations as the top priority.

Time and scheduling are also viewed differently. In the rigid-time culture, punctuality is critical. That is, business schedules and meeting agendas are always fixed as people are time-conscious and schedule-obsessed. In the flexible-time culture, strict punctuality and rigid scheduling get less emphasis.”

As much as I like my trains to leave on time and as much as I appreciate punctual, North American ends to business meetings, I’ve got to say that when it comes to what I ultimately value most in life, I am more drawn to event-centered or, as, The Nation puts it, “people-oriented” culture.  Punctuality is poor consolation if you live in a society where you are not encouraged to savor time spent with others.

Obviously, it is possible to take time out to “have a life” in time-centered cultures and one should not automatically expect meetings to start late in cultures that are more typically people-centered.  In fact, business strategist Godfrey Parkin claims that, “In a business meeting context, the sensitivity to punctuality is always less cultural than contextual. And within that context you cannot make sweeping statements about national cultural attitudes to time because corporate culture plays a major role in guiding those attitudes.”  He gives examples of being the last person to turn up for meetings he himself was running at companies in Brazil and Mexico while giving up on the punctuality of half the group at events in the US and UK.

Despite the exceptions and the nuances though, I AM going to commit the unpardonable cross-cultural sin and generalize:  Time-centered cultures slowly sap the life out of you.  On a person-to-person level, there will always be examples of people that are punctual and yet are fun to have at a party.  But when time keeping and punctuality become the guiding forces of a culture, I say you cease to really enjoy life. The siesta-taking, party-going, San-Miguel-beer-loving Filipinos in the fishing village I spent a few months working in several years ago, were far more engaging and happy than a lot of the time-obsessed bores I have come across in the world’s affluent urban centers.  I would say that as far as happiness is concerned, cultures cannot be seen as equal.  For your own, personal well-being, it pays to be aware of what your culture prioritizes and then compensate appropriately so you achieve some balance.  With that, I’ll wrap this post so I can make it to my book circle on time…


Bjorn Karlman