It happens in public and in private, any time, anywhere. Younger people tend to engage in the practice more than older, but it happens across the age spectrum, and it happens about once a week.
Someone will ask me for the time.
When I was a child this was not an uncommon practice because good watches were fairly expensive, and there was no shame in having to ask a stranger for the time, and a social courtesy to graciously give the time when asked. There is a reason public clocks were once more common than they are today; the same reason the phrase “Runs like a cheap watch” is no longer current.
Since the mass production of inexpensive digital watches in the 1980’s, affordable timekeeping has been available to nearly everyone. These days it is common to see inexpensive watches in convenience stores that are more accurate and reliable than some very expensive watches of 30 and 40 years ago. My everyday watches for the past 25 years have been $30 models that have been rugged, durable, and accurate. I think I’ve bought four of them in that time, and have only had to replace them when they became battered to the point of unattractiveness. On all of them I’ve had to replace the straps before the battery.
If I were asked the time only occasionally I wouldn’t notice, but, as I said, I’m asked often enough to notice. So I have to ask myself: Why?
For the reasons cited, it’s unlikely that affordability is the issue. I suppose that it’s possible that some of the askers may have recently lost their watch, but unlikely that all or even most of them have. Given the usual age of the inquirers, I’m starting to think that not owning a watch is a choice. This hypothesis is given support from the two occasions where a person got off their phone and then asked me for the time. As far as I know, every cell phone on the planet has a clock.
Is this some sort of passive-aggressive power game? “I’m making a statement against society by not owning a watch, but I expect others to supply with me with the time on request.” If you want to make a statement, that’s fine, but you should be prepared to live with the consequences of that decision. Other people aren’t obligated to supply information or anything else that another person willfully forgoes.
Perhaps asking for the time is a new conversational gambit, except that no conversation ensues, and I’ve never had a woman ask me for the time. As an opening line this is worse than “Do you come here often?”
“Hey, can you tell me the time?”
“Time for you to get lost, creep.”
When I was a child having a watch was a status symbol, so when I got my first watch at 10, it was a proud moment. Of course, as a 10-year old engaged in outdoor activities the watch didn’t last long, much to the dismay of my parents. I bought a watch for the first time at 12, and have owned one continuously since. Like it or not, keeping track of time is a necessity in this society.
So if you want to know what time it is, I’ll tell you.
It’s time to buy a watch.