It took me years to accomplish. It was not easy. It went against all I learned, all my environment impressed on me as a virtue and I was very impressionable, but I finally succeeded – I can arrive late without breaking into a sweat.
It depends of course if it is for work or private. At work on the dot means … on the dot. I don´t arrive too early, nor too late. If I am late, I call to let my colleague know there is a problem and the excuse better be good (No, being shrivelled after staying in the bath too long, does not count. Oh yes, somebody did try that one and he was not German.)
On the other hand if you have anything to do with music, it is a given that you arrive 15 minutes before rehearsal start for the “klassische Viertelstunde”. Get your chatting done, pull out your instruments, get changed, whatever and the rehearsal can start on the dot. Even if I then proved to be a totally useless ensemble player, I was always on time.
But privately? I used to arrive too early. I just wanted to be on time, but I always worried about something going wrong. What if my train was late, what if I did not get the connection? Better have a margin. This had certain disadvantages, like the day I had to catch a ride with an acquaintance to go to a party of a friend. We had agreed to meet in front of a hotel, where he could easily pass by. I didn´t know what his car looked like, but obviously he would find me, not vice versa. I had dressed for the occasion, heels and all and I was very naive. When a car slowed down and the door opened I assumed this had to be my ride, but I was surprised to see a total stranger beckoning to me to get into his car! What cheek! I decided to wait the remaining time somewhere away from the hotel and only pop up again nearer the appointed time. I was still in shock when my acquaintance turned up on time.
I have not given the habit up entirely of course. If I am meeting new people I make sure to be punctual and if I know somebody is waiting with a meal I won´t let it get cold. But if I know my friend is NOT waiting in front of a hotel and forced to pace up and down trying to stay warm, I don´t make it on the dot anymore. I have a margin for coming late now.
Sometimes it is I that does arrive before my friends, but nowadays this is not like wasted time. I don´t muse on their shortcomings, don´t take it personally, but realize they too have busy lives, children to take to school, calls to make, a call from work that cannot wait – so I wait with a pen in hand or a book to read or simply close my eyes and rest them for a moment. I know my friends do the same when I am “late”. The world still turns even if I am not there to watch it.
I am an imperfect person, but I thought being punctual was one of the few virtues I had mastered, like not missing appointments. Until the day that I missed going to the last Christmas Dinner with the Company I was leaving. I didn´t realize until a few days later. It was embarassing to admit, but on the other hand I didn´t feel guilty at all.
I made mistakes, all my own. But it was nothing personal and I had spent my time differently, because that was what was happening in my life then. Nobody was entitled to my time. I wasn´t being paid for that and I did not agonize, but moved on.
I thought too I was good at adapting in other countries, until I went to England with my school class. They had drummed into our heads to queue whenever getting on the bus and we had nodded and agreed of course we would. Only when we got to our first english bus we rushed in to get seats, as we were used to doing in Germany and only realized our faux-pas when the English passengers looked at us very grimly. We remembered the next time.
I have come to a compromise with myself. I am not so hard on myself when I fail my aspirations to virtue. The pleasant side effect has been that I can live more easily with the failings of others. And recently I realized that I am not the only one living by this philosophy. Last Tuesday I was getting ready to meet my writing group at a friends house for lunch, while my friends were waiting for me to turn up at the Library at our usual time. Instead of calling me after ten minutes they waited two hours to call me. And when they finally did call me, we where laughing on the phone all the time, because I was getting ready for an appointment that is happening in two weeks.
Nothing was lost, an experience was gained, our friendship survives and I am going to get it right next time.