“She comes in her own time” an interculturally trained friend said when Francesca came late. Last time, she didn´t come at all, because she had mixed up two dates.
As a German, I should be upset. I still am when I have to wait in a business context. In my private life, by now, I´m regularly 15 minutes late. Which means, I arrive 3 minutes before Francesca. And to find myself on the wrong date at the wrong place is nothing new to me.
Once I even lost a day. My spouse and I were on a camping holiday in the Everglades. We spent Christmas there, and New Years Eve. On the 4th of January, we had to catch our flight back to Germany. Reluctantly, we packed, drove to the airport and handed in the rented car. Then we wanted to check in:
“You can´t fly today”, the man behind the counter said.
” Why not. Is the airline on strike? ”
“Your flight is on the 4th of January. Today is the 3rd” he replied.
Flabbergasted, we tried to figure out what had happened. We had left our remote campground on what we considered to be New Years Eve to have dinner in the local pub. There even were fireworks though we wondered why there weren´t many. Spending the real New Years Eve on the campground where fireworks weren´t allowed, our misunderstanding wasn´t corrected.
“Fünf Minuten vor der Zeit ist des Kaisers Höflichkeit- the Emperor is polite by coming five minutes earlier”, my grandfather always said. He had seen the Emperor as he served in the Leibgarde of the last German Emperor Wilhelm II. We children were trained to be on time, always, no exceptions. Only later I realized the arrogance of this saying: Am I the Emperor? And five minutes earlier aren´t good style in doing business, either. Five minutes before the set date, people in the offices realize that somebody is coming and start to get ready: they look for the files, check their material and go to the bathroom. To be five minutes early is considered a nuisance. To be 5 minutes late, too. Those are the minutes lost, when I don´t start a different work because I don´t know how long I can stay with it, when I can´t call somebody, and I become slightly annoyed. Bad luck for my visitor, who has to work hard to make up for his blunder.
Though I blundered myself badly when I had my first business appointment. I had just started to work as an editor in training at an agricultural magazine, when my boss and I were invited to a press dinner in some faraway castle. We set out on time, but then we got lost out in a wood. Nobody in sight we could ask for directions. In this pre-GPS, pre-mobile phone age, this was it. We just had to keep driving and to hope that by chance we would find the castle. Finally we did, late, and stormed into a hall. We hardly looked at the people, but rushed to the man sitting at the head of the table, thus trying to save some seconds.
“Sorry we are late” my boss said, “but we are happy to join you”. The man looked surprised. After a few seconds, he asked us to sit down and help ourselves. We sat and a waiter brought us a dessert. Now we were surprised: Yes, we were late, but not too late to have missed a complete four course dinner. As we were so ashamed to be late, we didn´t investigate further, but started a small talk with our neighbours.
After the mandatory five minutes of talking about the weather, the nice landscape and the difficulties to find the castle, my boss asked:”What to you think of the new XYZ tractor?” The lady thus adressed looked puzzled: “Sorry, I don´t know anything about a XYZ tractor” “Didn´t they present the information yet? This is a strange press conference” my boss said, annoyed. “This is my uncles bithday party”, the lady replied, equally annoyed.
A friend of mine even missed her own divorce. She arrived on time at the trainstation, but then she took the wrong train.
But this will be another story.