‘I promise I’ll be there at 5pm’ he said. It was 6pm, and he had still not arrived. If you are from a culture where meeting on time is the normal, nothing is more annoying than people showing up hours later than what was decided. Yet, in many cultures, ‘mañana’ – or ‘tomorrow’ as they say in Spanish – is soon enough. Those of us from cultures where being on time is perceived polite and a sign of respect, don’t take it well when people think that ‘later’ is good enough. The one being late on the other hand would think – ‘what’s the big deal – after all I am here.
“The habit of being prompt once formed extends to everything — meeting friends, paying debts, going to church, reaching and leaving place of business, keeping promises, retiring at night and rising in the morning, going to the lecture and town-meeting, and, indeed, to every relation and act, however trivial it may seem to observers” (William Makepeace Thayer, Tact and Grit, 1882). However, being punctual is not a universal value – it varies from culture to culture. In many countries busy lifestyles is fully managed by schedules foreseeing and expecting meetings to happen on time.
Many places, delays cost and can indeed destroy business as well as personal relationships. Not being punctual is simply interpreted as an act of ignorance and disrespect. If you are late for a job interview for instance, you can most likely forget a job offer. So then why is being late acceptable to many cultures? In many countries like Latin America, the Pacific Islands or the southern parts of Europe life moves at a different pace. Meeting times are seen as indicative not exact timing. Being punctual has nothing to do with respect. It sounds like respect comes from who you are not from how you act, like ‘always late but worth the wait’.
For those of us used to a more strict interpretation of time, being punctual is the same as keeping a promise. If you do not show up in time, you break a promise. Some say being punctual means dependable – in other words a reliable and trustworthy person; someone one can count. From this perspective being punctual is a positive quality and becomes a matter of honour. Being punctual displays discipline – yet in other cultures it would show unnecessary stress. I sometime wish, time was on my side, but unfortunately, it is not. See you tomorrow at 8am sharp!