Although many countries are saddled with stereotypes, in Switzerland’s case they’re dead on.
The alpine nation really is highly efficient. And meticulously punctual.
For chronically tardy, resolutely inefficient people, a visit to Switzerland yields a cocktail of emotions: awe, relief and a dash of irritation.
For the Swiss, punctuality is not merely a nicety, a bonbon in the buffet of life. It is a source of deep contentment. They derive genuine joy from the fact that life unfolds on time and in a highly efficient manner.
Whenever I visit Switzerland, I go through several stages of punctuality reaction. At first it delights me, especially if I’m coming from neighbouring Italy or France with their rather more flexible approach to timekeeping.
Then it annoys me. The extreme punctuality strikes me as a kind of stinginess , and I find myself agreeing with the English writer Evelyn Waugh who said that “punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”
That is unfair though, and finally I come to appreciate Swiss punctuality for what it is: a deep expression of respect for other people. A punctual person is a considerate one. By showing up on time – for everything – a Swiss person is saying, in effect, “I value your time and, by extension, I value you.”
It’s no coincidence that the Swiss are the world’s watchmakers.
How to explain this punctuality? A popular theory is that, historically, it stems from the unforgiving, mountainous terrain. Either you planted your crops on time and harvested them promptly or, well, you starved.
Punctuality, sadly, is a dying art in many parts of the world. Mobile phones are partly to blame. We feel less compelled to arrive on time if we can always text to say we’re running a few minutes late.
Susan Jane Gilman, an American author has lived in Geneva for the past 11 years.
Switzerland has changed her. Once a “chronically late person”, Gilman is now meticulously punctual.
The flip side, though, is that when she visits New York, her hometown, she is annoyed by the relative lack of punctuality: the bus that is 15 minutes behind schedule or doesn’t show up at all, the friends who saunter into a restaurant 30 minutes late.
Punctuality is not without its drawbacks. For one thing, it creates a kind of bunching effect. Coffee shops in Swiss cities tend to be crowded at 4pm every day because everybody takes their coffee break at exactly 4pm . In apartment buildings, residents must abide by a strict weekday schedule for use of the laundry room.
Extreme punctuality also creates an expectation, and if that expectation is not met, disappointment ensues. On those rare occasions that things do not function smoothly, the Swiss get flustered – and angry.