I saw this sign the other day, advertising that the Coffee Company, a chain coffeeshop akin to Starbucks, is open late for desperate caffeine addicts. How late, you ask? 21:00 hours? Yep, stop counting the 24-hour clock on your fingers - that is 9:00 p.m. This really got me thinking about how different societies have different notions of time.
In Seattle, there is no way that 9:00 p.m. would be considered to be open late. Supermarkets are open until midnight - and those are the ones that close "early" as compared to the 24-hour stores. Most Kinko's/Fed Ex stores are open 24-hours, Wendy's and Taco Bell advertise that they are "open late," which for the most part is 2:00 a.m.
When I was working, before law school and when I lived an average-commuter's distance from work, I woke up at 5:30 a.m., got ready, left home at 6:30 - 6:45 a.m., dropped Marlo off at before-school daycare, drove the commute from Burien to Kirkland. If I was lucky, I would arrive by 8:00 a.m., but usually would arrive by 8:15 a.m., which really ticked off my boss, Scott.
Then, I'd do the same thing on the way home. Leave work at 5:00 p.m., drive to pick up Marlo. If traffic was really bad and I wasn't going to be to the after-school daycare by 6:00 p.m., when the big per-minute fees start ticking, I would have to call one of my sisters or parents and beg them to pick her up for me. Either way, I'd get Marlo between 6:00-6:30 p.m., go home, make dinner, watch some TV, and collapse into bed so I could repeat the process the next day.
I'm exhausted just recounting this.
Amsterdam's hours are very different. When I walk to school just after 8:00 a.m. (timed to arrive with sufficient leeway to leisurely get coffee before class), most of the shop owners are in their pre-opening phase - cleaning the sidewalk, washing the windows. There are a few coffeeshops (again, in the American sense of the word) and bakeries open, but not many. Even cafes that have signs in the windows advertising "English Breakfast" to the tourists aren't open yet. The school library or the computer lab at the Law Faculty does not open until 9:00 a.m. (This contrasts with 7:30 a.m. for the UW law school library, and nearly 24-hour access to the rest of the law school's premises.) It is between 8:00 - 8:45 a.m. when I am taking my walk to school, and I see business men and women zipping by on their bicycles. I wonder what time they start and end their workdays.
It seems like, here in Amsterdam, there is sort of a forced peace. The pace of the society, while hard-working and very productive, is slower. One simply cannot keep going round the clock because there is no structure for it.