Have you ever noticed how being on time is such a widely-varying-in-importance topic for people? I hate to be late so much, you have no idea. It completely freaks me out, and I consider it to be a basic mark of respect to get somewhere on time.
I can accept some lateness from others, though, as I know things can happen. In a semi-formal setting, such as going over to someone’s house for a gathering, I think it’s perfectly OK to show up a little late, probably even polite. But even this, kind of forcing myself to arrive 10 or 15 minutes late, is a stretch for me, and there were a few times I arrived first to a party to find the the host looking at me with a puzzled look on her face, her hair still wet. Not only did I look completely stupid but I just didn’t understand: why did she invite us at that time then? I’m all for giving the host 15 minutes to perform one last check on the food and light up candles, but how did this happen that she wasn't ready at the hour she specified? What kind of an unwritten social rule had I not get the memo about, which stipulated that the invitation time is actually meaningless and you should show up an hour and a half later? Of course the other problem of the
anally socially-awkward punctual is that she is absolutely fed up, tired and ready to go by the time the party heats up. Me and parties. I’ve definitely never been good at it.
But I still think lateness is never, ever, acceptable in a formal setting like when someone whose time is valuable is depending on you, a meeting, or a job interview (if you’re showing up more than 4 minutes late, you can be assured that I will never hire you). The thing is it’s always the same people that are late, as if the concept of time wasn’t as binding for them as it is for other people. We have friends whom we must always invite an hour earlier than the other guests; this way we know they’ll still be late but we can be *fairly* certain no one will starve. Once, they actually blamed it on the fact that it was the morning after a time change. Mhhh, this excuse would have possibly worked in the spring, when it is suddenly one hour later than you thought, but not in the fall, when you actually gain an hour and this means that you are even one hour later than you thought you were? I don’t hold it against them, it’s a quirk like we all have, but it’s still sometimes annoying. How does their world works; it is just not caring? Perpetual disorganization? A level of busyness that I could never imagine? Time that elapses differently at their house? I’m always wondering.
It’s so cultural, too. The other day, my
Come to think of it, I’m very German this way. The Germans, who are probably at the other end of the spectrum, can’t deal well with a lack of punctuality and preciseness. I don’t remember if I learned this from cross-cultural training while there or in this book, but I thought the description of Germans doing business with Americans was hilarious. Like two departments from their own side of the pond would be talking on the phone, and the Americans would matter-of-factly state: “So we’ve decided to postpone our long-term delivery target by a month or two (something which seems fairly standard to me here).” But the Germans would go berserk, going: “What do you mean a month or two? How could you say that? Where did you come up with this number? How can you change the plan like that? How are we going to be able to work 18 months from now with a different target, and especially when you’re giving us a range like that?” I truly think each has something to learn from the other.
Needless to say, I was happy as a clam when invited somewhere there.