“You are late! This is unacceptable.” According to my schedule we still had one minute to go, but we didn't sync our watches like navy seals going on a mission the night before, so instead I was scolded like a school child.
We had no idea how serious the Swiss take punctuality but we were about to find out.
In Switzerland Time Keeps on Ticking
We had just flown in from Spain where four-hour lunches are the norm and time is more of a loose reference than an exact science. When somebody says that they'll be there in ten minutes, you can count on them showing up some time in the next hour or so.
Don't get me wrong, Dave and I are punctual people. We try our best to show up on time wherever we go and we have little patience for people who are late on a regular basis, but we certainly don't stare at our watch and reprimand someone for being a minute or two off the mark.
Back to Switzerland
We had an amazing time during our Pre-Summit adventure at the Adventure Travel World Summit. We met great people and enjoyed some cool adventures. But there was always this underlying current of punctuality to the extreme that effected us each day.
It seemed to happen just as we were enjoying something beautiful. Lost in the moment, we were instantly snapped out of our trance by a guide yelling,”Lunch is waiting” or “Move along we're behind schedule”
We were in the middle of a Segway tour in the town of Interlaken when our group stopped to take photographs at a scenic lookout. While taking a photo of a fellow traveller, our guide yelled at us. “We must go! We've already been here seven minutes!”
I admit I chuckled to my self a little bit at the situation but I was quite agitated that I couldn't completely enjoy the scene.
Here we were surrounded by amazing landscape but a man dressed in a flourescent vest, riding a two-wheeled contraption while wearing a silly looking helmet yelled at us to stick to the schedule. Was I supposed to take this guy seriously? Probably, but he didn't make it easy.
Is time a serious thing in Switzerland? I think so….
It is the only nation I know where people talk in half minute increments. When asking our guide how long of a walk it was to the pub for after dinner drinks, the conversation went like this.
Example of Time in Switzerland
Dave: How Long of a walk is it to the pub?
Guide: “Twelve and a half minutes”
Dave: Have you been to this pub before?”
Dave: “Then how can you know that it is twelve and a half minutes away?”
Guide: “It just is.”
Dave: “Well that as good enough explanation for me.”
Our Licking from Swiss Time Ticking
Today we felt the true consequence of being tardy. It was our last day in Lucerne and we wanted take advantage of a spa we were told about outside of the city. Our rental car was scheduled to be picked up at 2:00 pm but since it was a one hour commute to the airport we decided to go later, after our day of sightseeing. The rental company closes late so we had plenty of time before the end of the day.
However, once we were finished in the spa, we had an anxious feeling. The Swiss care deeply about being on time, they may be upset with us for being late. We thought that maybe we should give them a call just to make sure everything is A-OK.
When we gave them our name, they told us that they cancelled the reservation! If you don't pick your car up at the exact time it says on the reservation, you don't get to pick it up at all. I always thought it was the other way around; If you arrive too early, you're car won't be ready and you will have to wait for it.
But since the car was pre-paid we weren't allowed to pick up the car anytime after 2:00? I may be wrong about this, but I just thought that when it came to car rentals at the airport, you had until the end of the working day to pick up your car. What if your flight was delayed?
All was not lost.
She was very nice on the phone and assured us that no money had changed hands and that we could re-book the car. However, they cannot guarantee that any cars will be available on a Saturday. But wait, didn't you have our car booked already for the next 5 days?
In the end it all worked out and we now have our car and are enjoying the freedom of driving through the beautiful Swiss countryside. It's been amazing to not have to rely on an exact schedule to explore the country.
Watching the Swiss has been an interesting experience. Nothing is late – ever. The trains depart at such times as 8:12 and 7:48 and people say things to you like “I'll meet you in 11 minutes” or “we have 3 minutes until we have to leave. We've only been here two weeks and we are even starting to talk in three minute increments. When somebody asks me the time, I reply with such answers at 4:17 or 8:21. I can only imagine the looks I will get when I return to Canada and tell friends that I'll meet them at the coffee shop at 7:48.
While time is a large part of the Swiss way of life, I prefer to live with a bit of a looser schedule. I think that life is just a little more fun when you don't spend your day worrying about time. What do you say?