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When you arrive late and everyone cheers

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GREY MUTTER: Punctuality seems to have been tossed out of the window these days. In fact, it’s as if, in good old South Africa, we have this belief that the ‘more important’ one is, the later you are allowed to arrive, writes Lance Fredericks.

Picture: Christiane from Pixabay

PUNCTUALITY has always been a thing with me. If I am not at least 10-15 minutes early, I consider myself late for an appointment. Often I find myself arriving right on time, and wondering at the confused looks on faces as I apologise for being “late”.

Of course, sometimes on the way somewhere, life throws different delays at you and you cannot help being late. But as far as I am concerned, that should be the exception rather than the rule.

Yet let’s be fair, as I said, delays do happen. I mean who hasn’t driven behind someone crawling along at snail’s pace using their cellphone, blissfully unaware of the fact that there are cars behind them. That can keep one from getting to a venue in good time.

However, besides those kinds of unavoidable delays, I have noticed that these days being late is not even an issue any more; we’ve even adapted our event invitations to accommodate tardiness, stating that an event is “7pm for 7.30pm”.

Now, apparently, when an invitation says that, it means you’ll hopefully arrive between 7pm and 7.29pm, because the main event, whatever that event may be, will start promptly at 7.30pm.

So the 7pm time is given as a buffer, in the hope that attendees will see, focus on and respond to the earlier time and arrive – for the latest – by, let’s say 7.20pm. But that’s wishful thinking!

You must have noticed that it’s not uncommon for folk invited to be at a function or an event that was advertised for “7pm for 7.30pm,” to arrive by 7.45pm or even 8pm as a matter of habit.

I have even noticed some functions, set to start promptly at a certain time, being held up because some “important” person was not there yet. It’s as if, in good old South Africa, we have this belief that the “more important” one is, the later you should arrive.

Personally, and some may disagree, I just think it’s disrespectful, to state it candidly. And this “late state” of affairs seems to be reaching chronic proportions.

Recently I learned about one incident where a boss called his employee into the office. The boss was fuming as he growled, “This is the third time you’ve been late for work this week. Do you know what that means?”

The employee, apparently oblivious to what the problem was, offered her suggestion: “Errr … It means that it’s only Wednesday?”

I am guessing that it must have been frustrating for that boss. But employers should perhaps just embrace tardiness as another form of culture in South Africa, seeing as the problem just doesn’t seem to be going away. Maybe businesses can use it as a means to boost office morale amongst those who do make it to the office on time.

How? Well, there’s a story of a young man who was chronically “chorongrapically” (I just made up that word) challenged.

One day he rushed into the office, late as usual, but this time, instead of the awkward silence and the angry stares, his arrival was met with cheers and celebrations, especially from the young lady standing near the photocopier.

Later that day, after making several inquiries, he learned that the office staff had started a betting pool, and that young lady had had come closest to predicting the exact time he would burst through the doors … as a result, she’d won the pool and made some much-needed cash.

Admit it, that sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Even more entertaining is the disposition of an acquaintance of mine who does not allow the “chorongrapically challenged” to frustrate her. What this gentle dame does, if someone she agreed to meet is late and has not made the effort to send a text or call, is deliberately make a point of leaving and doing something.

She told me quite candidly one day that the frustration would gnaw at her so badly if people were late, that she had to – just for her sanity’s sake – get out to do something to take her mind away from the frustration.

I think that she’s a very wise lady.

Oh, and for those who see no problem with tardiness, consider the following anecdote …

A priest was being honoured at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish. A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and to give a little speech at the dinner.

However, the politician was delayed, so the minister decided to say a few words while they waited.

“The first impression I got of this community when I heard my first confession in this church horrified me,” he said.

“The very first person who entered my confessional – and I will never, ever say who it is – told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He had also stolen money from his parents, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss’s wife and used illegal drugs … I was appalled.

“But over the past 25 years I learned that no one else in the community was like that person, and that I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people,” he added.

Just then, the politician arrived full of apologies for being late, and hurriedly began to make the presentation saying, “I’ll never forget the first day our parish priest arrived.

“In fact, I am proud to say that I had the honour of being the first person to go to him for confession …”

Moral of the story: Never, Never, Never Be Late!

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