Last week, I went to meet a certain Israeli politician. Her assistant telephoned a few minutes before the scheduled meet time. “Are you on your way?” she asked. “Yes, as scheduled,” I replied, matter-of-factly. She continued her interrogation: “Er, are you going to be on time?”
Why wouldn’t I? Were the roads blocked by her office? Is there a security closure. No. Then it dawned on me — this is just Israel, where punctuality seems to be more of the exception than the rule. So implausible to this assistant was the simple answer that I would arrive as arranged, that she continued her questioning — how was I getting there? What was my precise location? In the end, the only way to reassure her was to say: “Look, I’m British — I grew up being on time.”
When I walked in to the office, the assistant’s colleague greeted me. “You’re British, I heard you would be punctual,” she said, looking at me as if I’m an exotic specimen of human being.
After this strange realization about just how ingrained in Israeli culture lateness has become, I found myself applauding El Al yesterday when I read that it has, at last, started cracking down on the many passengers who think that their duty free shopping is more important than the small matter of scheduled take-off times. The airline has stopped holding flights for people who turn up at the gate late. It has indulged late passengers for too long.
Who knows, maybe as people start missing planes El Al will affect something of a national culture change.
By the way, the politician I went to meet walked in 20 minutes late.