How Punctual Are You?

English: Barnstar for punctuality Italiano: Ba...
Barnstar award for punctuality Image via Wikipedia

 Are you one of those people who turns up 5 minutes early and starts tapping your foot if others are 5 minutes late?  I read an interesting blog post about cultural attitudes towards time that has got me thinking.

I used to be a stickler for punctuality and the use of time.  So much so, that I’ve had to change my attitude.  As a language teacher, I had to learn to accept students arriving late.  As an artist, collaborating with other artists, I’ve been insulted when a collaborator turned up late and have ended working relationships due to persistent tardiness.

Fons Trompenaars
Fons TrompenaarsImage by Benjamin Ellis via Flickr

This definitely gives me what Dutch interculturalist Fons Trompenaars calls a sequential attitude towards time, yet when I’m creating or doing any kind of deep-thinking,  or look at my general attitude towards life I am definitely synchronous.   So how come I grew up with a mind set for punctuality and respect for time? Is it because I grew up in Canada?   Or is it due to my family of origin? But of course, family of origin is a large part of cultural identity!

My parents are English (British), and my mother is definitely sequential when it comes to time, and perhaps my father was synchronous because one could say my mother’s mantra was: “Come on Henry, get a move on!  We’ll be late!” followed by a moan about his consistent tardiness.

As a language teacher, working abroad with private students in Hungary, they understood if they were 5 minutes late they lost 5 minutes of class time.  Yet, when working with students from Turkey and the Middle East, they seemed to think the class could start whenever they turned up and end when the paid-for number of minutes were completed. 

In Spain I was working for companies and academies where the class started and ended at a designated time, yet the Spanish students were invariably late. African musicians I worked with there would arrive for a rehearsal when I was getting ready to leave, and wonder why I was leaving.

In England, nothing seems to ever start on time (except trains), and some musicians I’ve collaborated with here have also been consistently lax about time, whereas others are more fussy.

It has me wondering if one’s attitude towards time is more due to family of origin and personality type than national cultural identity.  Yet surely, broadly speaking, within cultures there’s a prevalent attitude.

Punctuality: In a little park was an artist exhibit. The artist was an Asian woman who lived for a time in Germany (among other places). Throughout the park was a series of displays like this illustrating German culture (left) with her Asian culture (right). This one illustrates the cultural difference of punctuality.Image by ilovebutter via Flickr
One would think schools and teachers generally have a sequential attitude towards time – though if Trompenaars is right, that probably varies from culture to culture.  There are probably cultures where turning up late for school gets a raised eyebrow, whereas in other cultures it means detention.  Schools may very well be the place to determine a culture’s attitude to time.

It would be interesting to look at attitudes towards time within certain professions/personality types. It stands to reason that linear thinkers would also have a sequential attitude towards time – irregardless of their cultural background, whereas creative/abstract thinkers would be synchronous. But hey, I’m a creative, and I’ve had to adjust my sequential attitude towards time.

This certainly has me thinking – not so much about intercultural communications as inter-personal within the workplace/collaborations etc. I do think it’s dangerous to blanket any one culture or any one profession as either synchronous or sequential.   It would be interesting to see a list of different cultures and which group Trompenaars puts each into.

At the end of the day, it’s probably best to check when booking an appointment with someone how they view punctuality and the use of time.  A simple: “How punctual are you?” when booking an appointment could save the relationship and also flag the attitude you need to carry into the meeting.

What do you think?  How much tardiness do you put up with?

9 thoughts on “How Punctual Are You?

Add yours

  1. I used to be the one always too early and annoyed by others. Now while I manage to finally be less stressed and annoyed I’m the one to let the friends wait who I’ve always been waiting for. I do have to mention I only let the friends (many Spanish, Italians and “Balkanese” with a “Manana-mentality) wait. I will never be late for a serious appointment by my own mistake. I’m also one of those persons who gets to work early and not 5 min late (don’t understand that!). I can prepare everything and wake up in peace before everyone starts rushing around me. Oh yeah and if it’s a normal day I can leaver earlier too.

    1. That’s interesting Dee, so it seems you adjust your timing to the attitudes of the people you’re meeting. I think I’ve done the same, though I still don’t tolerate tardiness in colleagues for meetings or rehearsals, I am a little more forgiving.

  2. I’m definitely a stickler for punctuality. I adhere to the adage “Time is money”. I don’t want anyone squandering my money frivolously, likewise my time. I have other things to do and never enough time.

    I’ve also found it advantageous to be an early arriver. Getting to a business function ahead of everyone else often provides me an upper hand where I have scouted out things and become in more of a position of power as late arrivals come in. This is probably why I’ve nearly always ended up in a management position in places where I have worked.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Hey Lee, I wonder if that makes N. Americans what Trompenaars calls sequential? I didn’t experience any conflict with punctuality or time until I went to Spain. So does that make Mediterraneans synchronous? And what are the British? I’m fascinated by this topic. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  3. I’m married to a military man, so you can imagine—15 minutes early is late– is his mantra. I, on the other hand, will be late to my own funeral. To which he always asks, “Weren’t you in the military?” I was. But obviously, I didn’t do well in that lesson. I’ve found it to be more of a cultural thing and personality the icing on top. In the States, it’s expected and demanded. In Brazil, the teacher was the one who didn’t show up until the class was 30 minutes into the session! In Portugal, again, we were the ones waiting on the teacher. In Italy….what a joke! ha! “Time? What’s time?”

    1. Maybe I should go to Italy 🙂 I am craving some chill out time by a warm, blue sea – in the sunshine. I guess when you’re going out your house must sound something like the one I grew up in. I can hear it now 🙂 though Matt’s probably got a different approach to getting your butt moving! 🙂 No double entendre intended but now that it’s there on the page, I’ll leave it!

      1. Ha! ha! ha! 🙂
        And Italy would be a lovely vacation. You could be as late as you wanted getting there and coming back!

        I don’t know how to answer that one Jenn. My wit fails me – or maybe it’s the early hour. Alison

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