Thursday, February 21, 2013

Learning to be On-Time

Since moving to Switzerland, I have had to completely rewire my brain when it comes to time and punctuality. I was am one of those people who never gets anywhere on time. :( Ten minutes late is my usual, but I've been known to be half an hour late (or even more!), depending on the occasion and situation. Obviously, it's not a good thing to be "a late person" anywhere, but in Switzerland it is literally unacceptable. (Can I just say that I am the last person on Earth who should be living here?! ;) After two and a half years, I am beginning to gain a whole new understanding of time. I am still late more than I'd like to be, but I'm seeing time in a whole new light. It's rather amazing. 



Time is sacred here. In the trams, the driver has a little screen that shows if they're exactly on time, if they have a surplus of seconds, or if they running on a deficit of seconds. Seconds! Can you imagine? If a tram driver "waits" for you when you're pregnant and waddling as fast as you can to get on the tram, it's not because they're being nice to you; it is because they have a surplus of seconds. That's all. If they pull away and leave your waddling pregnant self behind, it's nothing personal, they just don't have any time to spare. 

Does that not blow your mind?! 

It seems cruel not to wait a few seconds for a pregnant woman, doesn't it? But now that I've lived here long enough, I actually get it. A few seconds here and there will compound over the course of the day and at some point, it will become enough to throw off the whole schedule. In Zurich, if the tram is ONE minute late, people are annoyed, checking their watches and looking around for some sort of explanation. If it is two minutes late, an announcement comes on over the loud speakers explaining why. It is incredible. On the other hand, in Portland, Tri-Met recommend you arrive at the bus stop a full five minutes ahead of schedule, just in case the bus is early. In my experience, it was often just as late. That's at least 10 minutes of your day wasted! And a schedule that isn't worth the paper it's printed on. 

Seeing how well things work when timeliness is a priority has been really helpful for me. And along with that, understanding time as an absolute has been huge. A minute is a minute. It takes me two minutes to get to our tram stop. If it's 9:55 and the tram leaves at 9:56 and I'm still standing in our entryway and have yet to put on my coat and lock the door, I know I won't make it to the tram, not even if I run as fast as I can. For whatever reason, that blows my mind. I guess it's because in my mind, a minute is small, a minute is almost insignificant, and a minute is hard to measure. I don't feel time, and unless my eyes are trained on a ticking clock, I'm not aware of time going by at all. So you see what I mean about having to rewire my brain? Those big train station clocks with their ever-moving, bright red second hands are helping me, but it's hard. It also helps to wear a watch, and I think I have reached the point where I hate the feeling of that adrenaline rush that comes with trying to race against time enough to want to do something about it. And so, my education in punctuality continues. ;) Have you overcome being chronically late? What worked for you? Or are you still chronically late? Does it bother you?

(Photo of clock in Zurich Main Station via here)

2 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh this post really made me laugh! I have really been talking (or, uhm, complaining) about train times a lot lately with my new job/commute, and everyone keeps telling me that we "are not in Switzerland and things just aren't going to be that on time here".
    I swear- once you get used to the Swiss way, the American way just becomes even more annoying than before (as I'm sure you know with your visits back home).
    Once my bus in Lugano showed up TEN MINUTES LATE (basically, a national emergency to the swiss!) and the driver was totally shamefaced, did not charge anyone a fare, and apologized to each one of us as we got on.
    Here, the other week my train into work was 60 minutes late and the crew was snippy with us! UGH

    Whenever I am supposed to meet friends for a drink/yoga/anything I am always the first one to show up. But that is because I have rushed all the way there since I do delay leaving until the last possible second (for me).

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    Replies
    1. Yes, yes, yes! I hear everything you're saying here. When I'm more or less on time here (2 or 3 minutes late) I'm still always the last person to arrive!!! HA! Then when I'm in the US and five minutes late, I'm the first one. GAH! So crazy.


      But...60 minutes late?! Doesn't that just qualify as didn't come or skipped or something?! xo

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