In many respects, South Korea is a very ordered society. The influence of Confucian principles runs through every aspect of day-to-day living. Well, in theory, at least. Central to this is Kibun, the concept of saving face. As a result, confrontation is to be avoided at all costs and one way to avoid any unpleasantness is to be on time, all the time. And to be lax in this regard is to mark oneself out as a cad and a bounder.
Despite being famous for their high-rolling gamblers the Japanese just don’t gamble with time, where tardiness generally results in groveling and sincere expressions of deep regret. However, the modern world being what it is, young Japanese people may well be more comfortable with the remorseless global lowering of societal standards than older generations, and might not expect you to beat yourself up too badly should you be late.
In the case of Germany, being on-time is a risky enough tactic as your hosts will probably already be there waiting, wondering how on earth you could be so foolish as to allow the possibility of some unforeseen circumstance delay you by so much as a second.
It has been said that in Brazil, there is a widespread tolerance for delays. For example, it is considered impolite to arrive on time for a social occasion. That is probably due to the fact that it is unlikely the hosts would even be ready to receive their guests! Having said that, if you are a visitor to the country and have an important business meeting, it’s probably best not to do as they do because, not being Brazilian, you haven’t earned the right to be on anything other than ‘English time’.
Some countries don’t give timeliness a priority in their societies and Saudi Arabia appears to be one of them. It could be that the lack of importance attached to timeliness is as a result of their long history of desert living where punctuality doesn’t figure highly on the list of everyday priorities. It could be that it’s too damn hot to do anything at pace. Whatever the reason happens to be, don’t expect punctuality on the part of your hosts, don’t get upset by this and please, don’t start looking at your watch during a professional or social gathering. It is considered quite discourteous.
Ghanaians are a very relaxed and accommodating people who reckon that if everyone is late then no one is late. After all, what can’t be done today can get done tomorrow. If you find that kind of attitude difficult to deal with, prepare to be annoyed. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride.
The Indian novelist R.K Narayan once wrote that “In a country like ours, the preoccupation is with eternity, and little measures of time are hardly ever noticed”. Indeed, the Hindi word for yesterday and tomorrow is ‘kal’ so it’s fair to say that the concept of time differs slightly in India than it does in other parts of the world. To add to this, issues with traffic and infrastructure can also act as an impediment to timeliness. Still, it is appreciated if a guest is punctual. Just don’t expect that your host will always do the same.
When in Greece it is worth remembering that Greeks ‘pass’ the time as opposed to ‘use’ it. In other words, time is something to be enjoyed rather than fretted over. As such, it is not unusual to arrive 30 minutes later for a dinner party. However, this laxity does not extend to business meetings where visitors are expected to be on time. As you might have guessed, the same rule doesn’t always apply to your Greek hosts.
When doing business in Russia, it is important to be on time. To be otherwise is considered disrespectful. Ironically, Russians won’t hold themselves to the same standards of timeliness that they expect from you so, again, patience can be key.
It is often said that Malaysia has a very loose attitude toward punctuality in both the personal and professional sphere. Talk to any expat who has spent time there and they might grumble in agreement. However, this is to overlook the oft-times chaotic traffic and malfunctioning public transport that many Malaysians have to deal with on a daily basis. So while there might be a liberal attitude toward time keeping, there might also be practical reasons underlying this.