Thursday, May 24, 2012

Apple Pie and the Art of Being Polychronic

I have actually had the idea for this post stewing in my brain since Monday, but internship hours + part time job hours = very dead, if not loopy, me. That morning I was at my hospital internship where I had to watch the dishwasher station to "observe for possible improvements to work flow." Apparently watching other people wash dishes makes my brain go for a creative spin, as I started thinking about monochronic vs. polychronic time, especially in relation to cultural contexts of Latinos.

These terms come from a book I'm currently reading by Susan Elgin, Mastering The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, and, combined with my avid interest in discussions of gender and cultural expectations, really gave me something else to think about. The idea of monochronic time, especially when it comes to workplace practices, is completing one task at at a time until everything is done. Most men will conduct themselves this way, and therefore work according to deadlines or set goals. Women, however, function on polychronic time, completing multiple tasks at once. That is because in a traditional housewife position (feminists, let me argue here), a woman would have to watch the baby while folding the clothes, washing the dishes, cooking dinner, and so forth. It has been noted that switching to a work setting of deadlines and goals can be difficult for someone who has functioned largely on this polychronic mode for most of their lives. How can someone be expected to give a timeframe for completing a task, when completion is directly proportional to the number of interruptions? Conversely, it can be difficult to adjust from a monochronic mode, and have to deal with the influx of tasks that all need to be completed in the same amount of time. The family comedies about "Mr. Dad" exist for a reason, even if it can largely be proven untrue nowadays. Also, the current climate of what makes a good comedy and the perpetuated stereotypes of cultures and genders is another blog entirely.

In Latino communities, these differences are even more incredibly apparent, at least from where I'm standing. Men go out to work, while the women have to take care of children, house, and sometimes a job of their own as well. I feel like my own house is often in chaos, because while I'm at home, the chores are all done, and done correctly. Whereas if I'm too busy (such as now), my father and brothers are in charge of the house, so I come home to find dirty dishes, piles of laundry, and all the youngsters of the house running amok. Finding a way to communicate how things OUGHT TO BE DONE is proving difficult, and very tiresome on top of everything else I try to be responsible for. Case in point: people buy groceries, shove them in the fridge, and then forget they are there. At least until the stench of rotting food clues someone in. Every other Hispanic woman I've talked to has the same kinds of problems with their men, whether it be fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, or cousins. It is clearly a communication issue, so hopefully Susan Elgin can clue me in to how to get what I want across, at least until I somehow manage to get rich enough to move into my own home.

In the meantime, there have been other ways I can push my family to understand how work in different time modes. For instance, working in a kitchen has combinations of monochronic and polychronic tasking. For instance, when making my Super Fabulous Apple Pie, I have to make the pie crust and allow it to chill, peel and chop the apples and let them macerate, and cook the flavored syrup for the topping before rolling out the dough and assembling the dessert. Each of these steps must be completed separately, but for dessert to be ready on time, they all have to happen relatively close together to allow enough cool off time to remove the pie from its pan intact. Then of course, homemade apple pie is nothing without homemade whipped cream.

So I suppose my conclusion is, that if anyone wants to be better at multitasking, it would be good practice to work in the kitchen. Make dinner, make dessert, anything! When the people around you reward you with praise, you can guilt them into doing the dishes. After all, you didn't just make something delicious, you mastered how to change time modes!