German lessons: Pünktlichkeit (punctuality) and reliability

Posted on 18.10.2011


Following along with the last post about German stereotypes, I have to talk about one that I really, really appreciate on most days.

Today in class, we were going over adjectives and adverbs as they relate to the office. We were at the ‘elicit’ point, where I asked what some good adjectives were that a person would put on a résumé to make themselves appear attractive to a potential employer. One of my students threw out ‘reliable’, and a few of the students were confused about the word.

Isn’t everyone pretty reliable? Someone asked.

Well, maybe in Germany, but in the USA, not so.

Then I had to explain the difference between how an American talks and how a German talks. We went over the definition of the word ‘blunt’ at this point, but I also had to explain that often, we Americans will say we’ll do something, and then not show up to do it. Or forget about it. Or never follow through. I gave the example of friends ‘saying’ they’d help you move, and then not showing up or calling you for a week, which happens (and has happened to me personally) enough to use as an example.

This was interesting and different for my students, who don’t have a lot of contact with Americans (aside from me once a week).

This made me think about something that I love about the Germans that I know. It’s not just ONE person, it’s everyone I know here… they don’t say something unless they mean it or intend to do it (like me!!). Further, punctuality is something that they do without thinking. It’s kind of ingrained here.

Obviously, there are some people who run on their own schedules, but overall, the amount of people who are late or don’t do what they’ve said they were going to is minimal. It’s a minority, as far as I’m concerned.

In Germany, if you arrive somewhere at 9am for a 9am appointment, you’re considered late. Most people here arrive anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes beforehand. If you plan to meet someone at 5pm for coffee and you’re not there at 5pm, then you’re late and it is a serious affront to that person and your relationship. And as I’ve learned, when you’re late in meeting someone, they don’t distract themselves with their iPhone or a book. They don’t order a drink. They literally SIT and WAIT, and watch the door. And wonder what happened to you. It is highly unattractive when someone is constantly late! How novel, eh?

The other thing that is awesome and that I thoroughly appreciate is the saying and doing. If we make an appointment for a month from now, here’s what happens in the USA:

We make an appointment for Nov 16. We both put it on our calendars. Two weeks beforehand, I send an email to make sure we’re still meeting. I do the same thing a week beforehand, and generally I’ll also email or call to confirm the day before that we are, in fact, still meeting. This is and was common practice for me in the US, because so many people would flake out on our meetings. And then on Nov 16, the person I’m meeting is STILL late somehow. It’s usually because of parking!

In Germany, we make an appointment for Nov 16. We both put it on our calendars. We don’t speak for a month, but on Nov 16, we are both there and we meet exactly as planned. HOW AMAZING, RIGHT?

I love that I don’t need to follow up, and I really love that people don’t make plans with you unless they really and truly intend to be there. It makes me feel like I had a genuine reason to be pissed at the US protocol while I was there. Like I’m not totally abnormal or AR.

Again what learned!


Posted in: German Lessons