How do you feel when you hear of “African Time” or “Nigerian Time”?
Since I joined that Nigerian Association that I mentioned earlier, one problem I see so far is a lack of respect of time. When we were setting up the first meeting and we agreed upon 6pm, I asked if it was African Time or actual time. Everyone insisted it was not African Time yet only three of us arrived on time, four if you count the president, who was hosting us. One person arrived five or ten minutes after us, two were half an hour late while two were an hour and 20 minutes late. A mention about the importance of arriving on time was met with nonchalance. The meeting started 30 minutes late.
Worse than the latecomers to me was the time that was taken by the president to summarize what the late arrivals missed…during the meeting! Those of us who arrived on time were now penalized by having to hear a 20 minute review of what we had already sat through. I don’t object to the president briefing them but in this case it should have been done after the meeting. If they were having trouble keeping up with the topic then they could have asked questions (though to be honest the topic wasn’t really one that required knowledge of what happened beforehand).
But this issue of time is one that haunts many of us. African Time and the casual treatment of time may work in Nigeria and other countries (though we really have to ask if it does), but here, when you arrange a meeting with a Canadian, they expect you to arrive on time. A sheepish “Shebi you know African Time” as you waltz in 15 minutes late for a job interview will almost surely cost you the job. If you ever invite Canadians to a wedding, I can assure you they will arrive at least 10-15 minutes early, so if you’re still setting things up at this time, prepare to be embarrassed. If a time has been set for an event, that is the time you will find a Canadian sitting or standing, ready to participate. You will not often see a Canadian driving in to an event at the time he or she is supposed to be standing on stage.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that ALL Nigerians (or Africans more generally) are perpetually late, or that all Canadians are on time or early. However, many Nigerians tend to be late for community functions and there is lack of respect for starting times. I attended a Nigerian wedding last year where guests walked in during the ceremony, almost one hour after it began! Thankfully it was an outdoor wedding because if I was that late and it was a church wedding I would just sit outside until it was over; I can’t imagine risking calling attention away from the ceremony by entering the church, and maybe the latecomers in this situation would not have either.
I’m naturally inclined to be late. I procrastinate and regularly underestimate the time needed to accomplish various tasks. I have a weekly date with my friends and there is a running joke about how late I will be. My weak argument is we don’t really have a set time for this recurring event so am I really late when I waltz in a good 1-2 hours behind the others? But anyway, when I know that my being late will let down the others in my team, I arrive on time. When something is important enough to me, I arrive on time, and I think that’s human nature. In the example of this Nigerian association, these first meetings as a Board should be put into the high-priority category for all of us and deserve the respect of arriving on time.
I was discussing this topic with one of the early birds at our second meeting and he said the problem is that people don’t want to waste their own time, so they come late so they aren’t waiting for an event that is running late to start. So it ends up being a bit of a vicious cycle: people arrive late because they don’t think the event will start on time, and the event doesn’t start on time because nobody is there on time. If both sides of the equation just agreed upon a start time and stuck to it, we’d be fine!
We need to start events on time. If an event is supposed to start at 7pm, that’s when it should start, give or take five or maximum 10 minutes. Those who arrive late will join it where it is. Let’s not run the risk of telling those who arrive on time by our actions that they are not important enough for the event to proceed by not starting on time.
All that I’ve said does not apply to people who indicate ahead of time that they will be late, or who decide to drop by unexpectedly, last minute. And when we talk about being late, five or 10 minutes isn’t bad in my opinion but once you get closer to 20 minutes, it starts to look serious. I’m talking about people who commit to attending an event and then show up sooo late. In the past, the idea of putting 6pm on an invitation for an event that starts at 7pm has been suggested, but wouldn’t it be easier if people started taking the time indicated on invitations seriously, and how will they do that unless people start events on time?
Are you always late or always on time? What tricks can be used to better manage time?