Mark was recently travelling in Berlin where unsurprisingly, the trains ran on time – almost to the second. This got him thinking about punctuality and what it says about our personality or culture.
It may well be a cultural stereotype, but when travelling in Berlin, I expected the trains to run with pinpoint punctuality. They didn’t disappoint and it was also fun checking my watch to see if I could catch them slipping up by even a few seconds (they didn’t!).
Now, I’m one of those people for whom punctuality is most definitely a virtue. The bottom line for me is about respect. I respect you (and your time) by doing something or being somewhere at the agreed time and I expect the same in return. It’s about keeping promises. It’s about integrity. It’s about a mutually-agreed written (or unwritten) rule that time is valuable to both of us.
A friend was telling me about one of his social groups who has a very fluid approach to timekeeping. Their group rarely comes together at the time agreed, so much so that members of the group now regularly pick a meeting time up to an hour before the intended time, as they know most people will be late. This of course leaves the punctual members of the group confused and frustrated and having to make all sorts of complicated calculations around who may or not be there, at what time and what to do with themselves while they wait patiently for the others.
There are, of course, cultures where punctuality is a lot more fluid and fuzzy. In my head, these places always seem to be hot and sunny. If indeed climate is the main difference in approach to timekeeping, I’d be a touch more relaxed about being on time between May and September. Sadly for me it doesn’t work like that. Time is always precious, although I perhaps need to go a little easier on people with different sensibilities (or cultures)!
I don’t think I’ll ever not be punctual. It’s part of my hardwiring and I’ll continue to complain, tut loudly, roll my eyes, harass and persuade those around me to be just like me. I could even book a meeting to help them, but they’d probably be late…