Barbara Geier: Punctuality revisited
This month’s topic: punctuality. Because Germans are always on time. Right? Well, speaking for myself, yes, it’s true. It’s one of the clichés about Germans that I absolutely fulfil. I don’t know if that is because I inherited it from my über-punctual father – as opposed to my not-so-punctual mother – or if it’s because there is indeed a Teutonic tendency to stick to the clock.
I guess it’s a bit of both and unlike some other alleged German characteristics (love of beer, sausages, saunas, nakedness in general and strategic towel placing on sun loungers) that I like to distance myself from, I will always fly the flag for punctuality. It’s a question of manners, politeness and consideration. There, I said it – big words. And it makes life for everyone so much easier. If you can rely on people to show up at a certain place at a certain time, for example, it ensures that everyone involved can actually get on with their lives and not just spend – or rather lose – time waiting for someone who happens to have forgotten or thinks that being 30 minutes late is still ok because they decided to do something else with their time. No, it’s not – because I could have done something else with those 30 minutes, too, instead of using it to be on time. Yes, I find it rude and disrespectful to let other people wait because it somehow implies that you think your time is worth more than theirs.
If you now think you’re detecting a certain aggressivity in my tone, you’re right. Simply because I am usually on time (or in other words: I hate being late), I have spent a lot of time waiting for others and built up a certain intolerance towards the later comers. Now, obviously, there can always be very good reasons for being late, in particular in London where there’s the tube and traffic and I have learnt to accept that 15 minutes after the agreed time is not necessarily being late here. No problem with that. To my own surprise, I have even become a bit more relaxed myself. And given that being late is something that makes me feel genuinely uncomfortable and nervous, this is quite something for me.
However, I will never really be ok with the kind of attitude where someone texts you two minutes before the agreed time saying: “oh, by the way, I didn’t make it out of the house on time, will be 30 minutes late” (Hello??!!! I’m already here!!). Or if the person you’re supposed to meet saunters along, all relaxed, without showing any acknowledgement of being late or the concept of time as such. Coming back to the stereotype, I do believe that in general, yes, being punctual does count for something in Germany and maybe more than in other parts of the world. If only Deutsche Bahn would get on board with that. But the un-German state of German railway operations is a topic for another time… Need to dash now, can’t be late!
Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind www.germanyiswunderbar.com, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany, Switzerland & Austria.
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