Our time has come— New Zealand


There are countries that are simply too big to have one time zone, while others have always been a bit eccentric in their time-keeping. But for some, such as New Zealand, enterprising minds are trying to turn time to their economic advantage.

BNP Paribas Security Services NZ, New Zealand Incorporated, New Zealand Institute

Every weekday morning, for a fleeting but glorious couple of hours, New Zealand comes as close as it ever will to leading the global economy, by being the first market of the new day to open. It’s a modest distinction, one that reaps the country little more than occasional first billing on CNN’s financial round-ups. The business activities of this placid South Pacific nation of four million, just west of the international dateline, barely register elsewhere: America is logging off for the day, Europe is heading to bed and the neighbouring markets…

Tea time: India

On the tea plantations of Assam in India’s northeast, they work to their own time, “bagantime”, which is one hour ahead of Indian Standard Time. Micro-time zones such as this exist because India’s official adherence to a single time zone can be disruptive to those in the east, 2,000km from the capital. “Why wait for Delhi offices to open at 10am?” says BG Verghese from the Centre for Policy Research. “When Delhi is open till 18.00 out in the east you have to switch the lights on early and you can’t enjoy the evening.” Residents in the northeast are pushing for their own time zone, but the government says India does not need multiple time zones as this would confuse illiterate farmers. It seems the tea pickers of Assam will be working to bagantime for some time to come.

East V west: USA

Before 1883, Americans followed “local time”, which was governed by city-hall clocks or church bells. So Atlanta’s 12.13 was St Louis’s 11.50 and Houston’s 11.27. This led to scheduling mayhem in the country’s rail sector, and it was the train operators who established the standard time zones. Now civic groups beg news organisations not to declare election winners based on East Coast results for fear of discouraging westerners from voting – while East Coast media hate having to wait for news from the west – but other sectors adjust their pace to East Coast clocks. “If you’re a San Francisco stockbroker, your enjoyment of the weather is tempered by the fact that you need to be at your desk at 6.00,” says economist Matthew White, who has written about time-zone history.

In the zones: Greenland

Despite being one of the world’s least densely populated countries, with fewer than 60,000 citizens across its more than 2 million sq km, Greenland runs on four time zones. But with three of the four time-zone populations coming in at under 700 (Pituffik in the west), 500 (Ittoqqortoormiit in the northeast) and 20 people (Danmarkshavn in the far northeast), such slavish commitment to the lines of the time zone map seems unwise. “It’s no problem for Greenlanders though,” says Søren Thalund of The Greenlandic House, a Greenland cultural organisation in Copenhagen. “They almost all run on one time zone, and Pituffik [airbase] and Danmarkshavn [weather station] are mostly inhabited by Americans and Danes anyway.”

Time out: Nepal

Being exactly five hours and 45 minutes off GMT seems pernickety, but it’s practically conformist for Nepal, which once insisted on being 10 minutes out of sync with the rest of the world. The Himalayan state prides itself on having never been conquered by a foreign power (military or horological), and the inward-looking politics that dominated until the “opening up” of the 1950s meant Kathmandu time was calculated by the line of longitude running through Gauri Shankar – one of the country’s holiest mountains. “Nepal’s leaders have been anxious to preserve its identity, and such a tiny time difference in a part of the world where people are so relaxed about time-keeping presents no great practical difficulty,” says SOAS Nepal expert Professor Michael Hutt.


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