Visit Fiji and inevitably you’ll learn about “Fiji Time” – the national belief that life should be lived moment by moment, without stress or hurry.
When you get to Fiji, inevitably you’ll encounter Fiji Time. Usually this is a situation where people aren’t behaving or things aren’t happening in the way you want, as quickly as you expected, or even at all.
Perhaps your meal is slow to come, or the server forgets entirely that you wanted something. Maybe you’ll try to hire someone for work around the house and they never return your phone call, much less show up. Or you’ll email someone as promised, and you won’t hear back from them for several weeks. Or you’ll sit on a full bus with other passengers for half an hour while the driver has a snack on the depot bench. All these things happened to us in Fiji, and we attribute them to Fiji Time.
Simply explained, Fiji Time is the belief that there is no need to rush, things will happen when they do – or not, that life should be lived moment by moment. There is no need to stress, there is always tomorrow, life is filled with beauty, love and happiness.
There are two ways to react to Fiji Time. The effect it has on you will reveal your current frame of mind.
If you’re frustrated by lateness, unreturned phone calls or emails, or that you have to wait for service in a store or a restaurant, you’ve probably not yet let go of your busy life elsewhere. If instead, you feel a sense of relaxation and equanimity in the face of these situations, you’ve likely set yourself on the path to Fiji Time adaptation.
Fiji Time can either feel like those you rely upon are lazy or uncaring, or it can feel refreshing and insulated from the crazy rest of the world out there. One thing is for certain: you’re the one who will have to change by adjusting your expectations, or not. Fiji Time has been a way of life for Fijians forever. A few encounters with you aren’t going to change that, no matter how important you think you are or should be.
Some think the reputation Fiji Time has is a serious determent to Fiji’s economic growth and foreign investment, particularly at the micro level. It can be frustrating for those from other cultures to adapt to Fiji traditions while at the same time observing the lower standards of living and wanting to raise overall prosperity to more acceptable, modern (read: Western) levels.
In “Fiji Time, it’s no laughing matter” the Australia-based Change Factory consultancy attempts to explain:
The article goes on to suggest, rather condescendingly I thought, that improving outcomes requires working within these cultural norms. Project leaders and supervisors should think of establishing themselves as a “benevolent dictators,” using “consensus and moral attachment” to work, creating a “work family” in which commitments and expectations are managed by using indirect communication and egalitarian methods.
Resorts and other international businesses in Fiji routinely struggle with lack of consistency when working with Fijians. The large Indian minority on the islands has positioned itself to take up the slack, seizing entrepreneurial opportunities and building sustainable business models. The Fijian government has entered the fray with the Eleven Pillars People’s Charter, seeking to reduce corruption and ethnic discrimination against indigenous Fijians.
On a personal level, Fiji Time goes a little deeper than a relaxed (or frustrating, depending upon whom you ask) attitude. In Fijian culture, everybody is important, from the smallest family member to the eldest grandparent, from the man with the big house to the person who lives in what we’d call a shack.
Fijians will greet you with a “Bula” and a smile whether they know you or not. They’ll stop work if you pass by to exchange pleasantries and have a leisurely little chat on Fiji Time. You don’t just say “Hello” in Fiji, or worse yet, nothing at all. You say, “Bula, how are you?” and then you listen to the answer, making eye contact.
We talked about this before ( “Fiji and the Pursuit of Happiness”):
Needless to say, this infectious practice quickly has you feeling like you’re the most important person in the world, and you begin to treat others in this way as well. As such, you begin to think about where someone might be from, what their family is like, where their village is, who are they related to that you know. Other things are relegated to the recesses of your mind, and if a deadline has passed with little incident, life goes on.
Many of the sights we’ve seen and experiences we’ve had have been happening in Fiji for hundreds, if not thousands of years. If you spend the evening with your family on the reef collecting sea urchins, washing them with sea water and eating them raw from the bucket just as your ancestors have done before you and your children will do after you, it may not seem important in the bigger scheme of things that an email gets sent. The lawn can be cut or the car repaired tomorrow.
For those who are weary of busy-ness, whose personal energy is depleted by the lifestyle treadmill, or who may be seeking a simplified life with a different focus, Fiji Time will have a seductive pull.
Fiji Time isn’t really time at all. Fiji itself is timeless, and that is the difference.