Am I asking myself? Not really. As a Ghanaian, I don't have a clue why we have the fabled GMT, Ghana Man Time. Is it genetic? Did we cultivate it over the years? How did a country ruled by the British, the people who gave us the BBC, come to be so neglectful of time-keeping? There are people I know who refuse to set their watches and clocks by anything other than the BBC time signal on the hour. And the British left the BBC behind, innit? So, why?
I was fortunate enough to be brought up in a household where both my parents were sticklers for time. I place my inclination to timeliness at their feet; I have nothing to do with it. But parents don't affect their children equally. Naturally, I married a woman to whom time is merely another four-letter word….like my name, now that I think about it.
To those of us who have learned to keep time, the activities of the great untimed (my description) are simply breathtaking. If we didn't have somewhere to be on time we could sit and watch you for hours. Do you not realise that being on time is simply good manners? And what is the basis of all good manners? Is it not to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you?
I am sometimes asked whether being on time isn't a stressful business, whether it isn't far more difficult than we make it seem. No, it's not. I ENJOY being on time. I ENJOY arriving a few minutes early for whatever event and settling down before it starts. And If I am way early (it happens) I carry a book to read. Seriously. These days I am sorry to say that social media is taking over the role of books. Once I have a charged phone with me being on time is even easier. I'm just not too pleased that WhatsApp takes precedence over whatever novel I am currently reading.
Of course with some social events it is fashionable to arrive slightly late, and no, I am not going to define slightly. Indeed in Ghana, it is sensible to arrive for events that are based on a meal fashionably late (no, I will not define fashionably either). I do not tend to arrive at parties or lunches or dinners precisely on time. But, and this is a personal opinion, anything outside about 45 minutes from the time given is rude. Although the temptation to arrive much later is great because we do not expect our host to be on time.
I believe ones time keeping skills should be elevated in the corporate world. Why? Because it is business, and in business time usually means money. But even here, in Ghana, we have scenarios every day which simply make you wonder. Sometimes people who know that you need their business or their money will intentionally make you wait. Is that good business practice? I say no! I guess some see it as a useful negotiating tactic. But, it may have long-term consequences and may affect your credibility.
If you are on time for a meeting, a meeting which means everything to you business-wise, how long should you wait before contacting the other party? Should you physically go search for him? A phone call maybe? And if there is no answer? And when you finally make contact should you mention how long you have been waiting? You should. But can you afford to?
Coupled with the Ghanaian lack of timeliness, I believe, is an inability to take a hint. A Ghanaian will walk into your office with either no appointment or late, and he will park himself in a chair without invitation, and say, "Hi!" like your life depends on him. The fact that you are standing at your table with your briefcase in front of you will be ignored. He's here! Give him full attention!! Meanwhile, he has lost you instantly.
Several years ago I remember giving someone an appointment for 8:30 am. As I drove out of my companies car park at around 9:05 am my mobile rang and it was an unknown number. It was the other party, shouting, "Please I can see you! I'm here!" I am sorry to say that I very coldly told him that he was late, that if I stopped I would be late for my next appointment, and goodbye.
I never did see him again. Was he upset with me? Probably. Did I need him, business-wise? No. Did he need my company? Probably. So why couldn't he be on time? And if he could call me when he saw me driving out of the car park, why didn't he call to tell me he would be late?
It's that cavalier attitude to time that drives me crazy. The advent of the mobile phone seems to have made things worse. Before mobiles we would have to call from a landline before we left for a meeting, hoping to catch the person we are meeting. Now, everyone has a mobile. So we probably say (in our heads) that we'll call on the way…and then we don't.
One of the most irritating things about living in Ghana is the way events start late. Mainly because people have not turned up. When I say, people, I mean the audience as well as the special guests. Sometimes 'big' men and women. You are fortunate to get an apology when they do turn up. When should an event start if 'people' are not present? ON TIME, that's when! I truly believe that if we made a habit of starting ALL events on time eventually even the 'big' people would understand that we don't care about them.
But that's not where it ends. What about speakers at events that don't know when to stop? They are so in love with their voices that they just keep going, no matter what time they were given. Okay, I know, sometimes they've been given the wrong briefing. It happens in Ghana. No excuse! You can slip them a note, you can stand at the back and make a 'cut' signal to your throat, or wave your hands like a windmill; oh no, they just keep going.
Do you know that a sense of timeliness is important even in the so-called little things? For example, if you are serving yourself at a buffet. It would help if you realised that there are other people waiting to serve themselves. So get a move on; I'm hungry! What about in shops? When you linger in front of a particular shelf, blocking all access to it…get a move on, I need to shop!
When you are in traffic and the light turns green, and you decide to buy a dog chain at that particular point in time….get a move on, I need to get to my girlfriend's house! When you are in a meeting and you take a mobile call and you proceed to initiate a long loud conversation about your next door neighbour's hot daughter….get a move on, and give me her number!
When you are at the front of the queue at Silverbird Cinema and you are now deciding what film to watch…get a move on, my film is starting in five minutes! When you are getting married at the Accra Ridge Church, and your bride arrives thirty minutes late…get a move on, we are taking two hymns out of the service! When you get to the airport after the check-in counter has closed…get a move on, the flight has left!
Speaking of flights I once had to join a group of other British Airways passengers flying to Accra stuck behind two Nigerian men who had decided to greet each other in the doorway of the gate where the flight was departing from. They took their own good time greeting each other extensively while we waited meekly in true Ghanaian form. All time be time.
The fact of the matter is that a punctual person is a considerate person. A punctual person is saying I value your time and I value you. Try saying that to some Ghanaians with a straight face. And to think that there are whole nations of people who are punctual and enjoy it. Japan and Switzerland are the most 'extreme' cases of punctuality I have experienced.
Of course, there are some negatives. Do you know that in Switzerland there is a phenomenon called 'bunching'? This is when everyone turns up on time for tea time at cafes and there is no space….because everyone is on time! Extreme punctuality creates expectations; if only we could expect that in Ghana!
You may, however, have heard of Brazilian time. If you turn up on time for a social event you may be considered quite rude. Your host may indeed ask you to help with setting up while she showers…
So what should we do about habitually late people? I'm asking….please. What I do know is that they will argue you into a time vortex explaining that they are not actually late. They will do all they can to convince you that it's you who is foolishly ahead of time and that their lateness is 'normal'. For a totally wacky look at time please watch the movie Clockwise with John Cleese.
Can we try to teach people to value, protect, and use time wisely? I wonder. Well, all I can say, on behalf of RamiTalks is: stop agonising over time you don't have or have lost and organise and plan the time you do have. PLEASE!
On the other hand, you could always join the Rotary Club you know. As a Rotarian, I can tell you that we have initiated our own attack on lateness. The District to which my club belongs launched a project on Punctuality and Time Management a couple of years ago and we have a committee overseeing it. In true Rotary fashion, we are tackling it with all diligence, like a footballer. It's a good place to start because Rotary doesn't mess with time. Now if only I could get my other half to join Rotary….just for time's sake.
I hope I die on time. It would mean the world to me.
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