The Scene: Our apartment 4 or so years ago…
“Who in the world is ringing the bell?” I whispered, eyeing the door suspiciously.
“Our guests,” said V.
“Wait…who? Our guests? Are you sure?!”
“Yes I am sure.”
“What in the world are they doing here so early?”
V, standing fully dressed sipping a beer, gazed curiously upon my bra and panty ensemble as I gestured wildly using the tube of mascara in my hand to drive home my profound point of confusion and concern.
“We told guests to come at 7 p.m its 6:57,” he said.
“You are kidding right? Who in God’s name shows up to a party on-time? But let’s be clear, not on time, but early! I mean come on, I thought I had a good 20 minutes before the first guests would arrive. I must admit this is just completely insane to me.”
“Insane? Honey what nonsense are you talking? We are Germans (notice the on-going theme here?). We are always on time.”
Die Pünktlichkeit - Punctuality (for the slower German learners out there)
…its a tough, tough word in my book. Not because I find it difficult to wrap my tongue around from a pronunciation perspective but one in which I find impossible to wrap my brain around from a conceptual perspective. I am by all accounts, notoriously late.
In reading my ‘About Me’ section, you will know that I, by virtue of my own making, have ceremoniously taken on the role of cross-Atlantic Stereotype Buster. I now however, stand in the ever so awkward position of not busting but actually having to in fact confirm that this stereotype is basically true - Germans are habitually on time. My German, whose commitment to the clock is a passion I find fascinating, if not slightly strange, often looks to school me on the finer points of punctuality. From his perspective, and apparently King Louis’s as well, punctuality is a sign of respect to those on the receiving end of one’s ability to keep time. I on the other hand, have (weirdly) chosen to embrace my tardiness and consistently try in the lamest of ways to defend what I know is really indefensible - my acute case of the fashionably late syndrome.
I lived in New York City for thirteen years and found it a place that only seemed to amplify my already sketchy inability to be most places on time. The trains are late, the taxi’s are never there when you need them, restaurant reservations have a sliding scale of plus a half hour and please, whatever you do, don’t believe the start time of any theatre or concert ticket - its just a loose suggestion. I as a consequence, came to believe that in order to be at peace with living according to the New York City time clock, one must understand that things do not run on time and so in your acceptance, neither do you. How in the world V missed that memo after spending 7 years in the city I will never know… clearly his German internal hard drive never succumbed to a New York City time code reboot.
In personally prescribing to the ‘within 15 minutes of the agreed upon time’ as a totally appropriate time of arrival, I have come to learn that in Germany, late is late - no sliding scale to be found here folks. So in turn, V and a good swath of the German population (even the most glaring of cultural traits have their non-subscribers… I sadly have yet to meet many of the habitually late kind) appear committed to the fact that we all get on board with die Pünktlichkeit.
And then a few weekends ago…
“Can’t you just help me?” I asked.
“Help you? You mean by calling our friends to tell them we - I mean YOU- are late? That is just continuing to enable this late behaviour of yours.”
Thankfully after a round of back and forth snarky commentary, V begrudging made the call but it came with my need to throw a hairy eyeball his way when I heard him reference the drying of my afro as the culprit to this catastrophic faux pas on my part.
As we bickered our way out the door, into the car and onto the highway, he continued to try and extract some sense of meaning and/or understanding out of my multiple-year run (and a quite successful one I might add) of habitual tardiness…
“I don’t get it. You have known for weeks what time we needed to leave. I even reminded you two hours before we had to go and yet we are still a half-hour late. I just don’t understand – what exactly is this system you are working with?”