A Weekend Fluff Piece on ‘Punctuality’
We have some dear friends who, when invited for dinner or some other social function, can never be “on time.”
By not being on time, I mean they might casually waltz in when the rest of the crowd is savoring the last vestiges of dessert.
Yet, we love them because they remind us of our relatives in South America for whom punctuality is nothing but a dream. And, yes, we love them, too.
Having lived both in South America and in Europe (among other in the Netherlands and Germany) I guess I have experienced both ends of the punctuality spectrum.
I experienced the “trauma” of punctuality firsthand as a teenager in the Netherlands. No matter rain, sleet, snow or ice, one just could not arrive late for classes at my high school – there really was no excuse.
If my memory serves me right, the same – perhaps less traumatic – rule applied to social settings.
During recent visits to the Netherlands, I found that people and businesses still place a high value on punctuality. Just browse through various articles on Dutch customs and etiquette and one will find punctuality to be at or near the top of social and business rules.
In August 2014, the Dutch railway company NS announced an increase in net profit and proudly announced, “Punctuality improved in the first half to 93.3% compared with 90.4% in the year earlier period.”
Even more proud of their punctuality are the Germans.
In Deutsche Welle (DW), Peter Zudeick writes:
Germans are famously punctual, and proud of it. You can set your clocks by us. Admittedly, Germans didn’t invent the clock, but we are trailblazers when it comes to making things as reliable as clockwork. If they weren’t, disaster would surely strike…
Zudeick says, “They say that “punctuality is the politeness of kings,” but one does not have to be a royalist to be punctual, he adds.
But, even in a punctual country such as Germany there can be exceptions to the rule, as claimed in the humorous video below on Germans and their obsession with Pünktlichkeit. (Courtesy Germanpulse.com)
Finally, Zudeick also “admits” that Germans did not invent the clock. As to who invented the clock and when and where, one can probably spend hours researching the subject and still not come up with a definitive answer.
Which brings us to the paragon and symbol of chronological punctuality and of the art and science of clock and watch making: Switzerland.
In “The Nation that hates to be late,” Eric Weiner writes
For the Swiss, punctuality is not merely a nicety, a bonbon in the buffet of life. It is a source of deep contentment. The Swiss, it seems, subscribe to the German philosopher Schopenhauer’s definition of happiness as “an absence of misery”. They derive genuine joy from the fact that life unfolds on time and in a highly efficient manner.
But, Weiner writes, if the expectation of punctuality is not met, “disappointment ensues,” as in those rare instances when the symbol of Swiss punctuality, the trains, do not run exactly on time.
“Recently, the country was thrown into a tizzy with the disturbing news that only 87.5% of the trains run by the federal railroad arrived within three minutes of their scheduled time, shy of their 89% target,” Weiner writes.
And that brings me to the final example of extreme punctuality and Switzerland’s strongest competition in this area, Japan, where that society’s “meticulous and painstaking attention to punctuality” is embodied in its transport system, which is so punctual one can set one’s watch by.
However, Japan’s reputation for punctuality is about to be marred — some say — by an incident on one of its trains which a rail company official described as “truly inexcusable” and which also “prompted a flurry of high-level apologies and [where] staff are now being trained to prevent it from happening again.”
The incident occurred earlier this month at Notogawa Station when a bullet train left the platform 25 seconds ahead of schedule.
Apparently, six months ago, a similar incident occurred when a morning train on the Tokyo region’s Tsukuba Express line left a whole 20 seconds early. Similar apologies were issued then by Japan Railways.
In a punctuality-obsessed Japan one can perhaps understand the seriousness of such an incident, since “… even a small lapse in punctuality can be disruptive, in part because…some people in Japan synchronize their phones or watches to the time shown in train stations, so they’ll be sure to make their train.”
I totally understand. Now, if only our dinner guests could arrive not more than 1,800 seconds late…