The nation that hates to be late

The Zytglogge clock tower in the town centre of Bern, a capital city in Switzerland.
PHOTO: Bern Tourism

The Swiss derive genuine joy from the fact that life unfolds on time and in a highly efficient manner.

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. Clean, too.

For chronically tardy, resolutely inefficient (not to mention slovenly) people like myself, 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.

The Swiss, it seems, subscribe to the German philosopher Schopenhauer's definition of happiness as "an absence of misery". 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.

By contrast, life in Switzerland is sturdy and dependable, like a Saint Bernard dog.

If someone says they will meet me at 2 pm, they arrive at 2 pm not 2:05 (or 1:55, for that matter). I like this. For a while.

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, invariably, 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.

Which came first - the precise timekeepers or the precise people?

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