In India, the term is so common, it's been given its own name: IST. IST stands for Indian Standard Time. No, it's not the peculiar N + 1/2 hour difference that the entire country of India has with other countries. It's akin to what is called "Clinton Standard Time".
Bill Clinton was known as something of a schmoozer. He loved to talk and charm his guests. So much so that his meetings often ran late, which meant he was rushing to his next meeting, but the rush was superfluous because, well, he was late. And that meeting would run late, and so forth.
IST is this idea that Indians don't show up to anything on time. They can be late as short as 10 minutes to as late as, well, who knows, half an hour, an hour? If the person making you wait is, say, a relative, then you put up with it. Grandma was supposed to arrive at 2 PM, and it's nearly 6 PM and you're still waiting, wanting to get on and do the next thing? Nope, you're hanging out. The thought of taking off and leaving Grandma by herself would be deeply insulting, and so the culture never cures itself of this promptness problem because the person that's late knows they can get away with it. They prey on the kindness of others.
I've heard of Indians who promise they will show up to something and when it happens they "just don't feel like it" and so they don't show up at all. Do they call ahead to inform the folks that they don't feel like it? It doesn't seem necessary. They don't seem to feel that bad about it. Perhaps it's happened to them so much, and they've done it so much, that saying you won't show up, especially to a group event is, even in this modern day of communication, a trifle. What should someone bother?
Now, to be fair, there are enough Indians that are pretty prompt. They know how to get to places on time. But it seems like a foreign trait. Most people that run late feel they have "power". I'm not constrained by a schedule. I don't have to be out there right. This. Minute.
Part of the problem is the lack of ability to estimate time. You need to be somewhere by 7? Many think, oh, it'll only take 5 minutes. Once you convince yourself of that, then it no longer matters if you leave at 6:55 or 7:00, now does it? It's only 5 minutes, right? And much like the snooze alarm, you can always say, well, if 5 minutes late is OK, then 10 should be OK too, right? I think many would be shocked to learn that they need to be in their car at 6:45 moving, because at 6:45, 7:00 seems so far away.
And so sometimes the lies come. It's 7, and they are still at home, so you give them a call, and they don't want to displease you, so the white lie is "I'm on the road now, so I'll be there in a few minutes" and by the time they show up, you realize when you called, that they weren't even in their car. The entire trip time consists of the time between the time you called and the time they arrived.
And because it's so prevalent, a late Indian never (or rarely) apologizes for being late. Sometimes they are almost indignant or shrug it off, and try to convince you to move on, they're their now, let's get started.
What's worse than that is not the lack of ability to estimate time is the thought process that occurs. It seems, any time there is a deadline to arrive somewhere, that's when someone will decide to do something. Oh wait, we need to take care of this one thing before we go out.
I suspect this idea of getting a hundred things done had to do with the nature of slow transportation in India, that once you were out your door, you might not get back for hours, and if you hadn't taken care of something by then, it might be too late, so rather than take care of those things hours ago or the previous day, the deadline of having to leave the house suddenly reminds the person they need to take care of this or that, or they don't want to be interrupted in whatever they are doing.
The idea of completely dropping everything and getting out and to the vehicle and reaching you on time is foreign. Indeed, if everyone is in IST, why bother rushing? The other guy is going to take his or her time, and you have to wait, because the notion of abandoning the person you are waiting for would be cutting your nose off to spite your face, that is to punish someone and yourself as well.
This tardiness, as I mention, not a particularly Indian trait. I'm told it's common in Brazil, and I'm sure in many developing countries. To be held to a deadline is to feel shackled, and so people feel it's OK to slip a little late here or there, until it is an epidemic behavior in society.
So I tell this story because this happened to me. I play tennis with a guy who is routinely late. I think part of his tardiness is this embarrassment that he has to do all these things at home for his wife and kids. He never says that this is the cause of why he's late to play tennis, and then insists, after he's late, that everyone else accommodate him so he can play his 3 hours, even though everyone showed up 1.5 hours earlier. You must wait, he says. It's an incredible amount of selfishness that he merely shrugs off.
The morning group tennis was canceled because it was felt the courts were too wet. But he hadn't played the night before with me. Why not? His new job means he gets back around 8. His cheapness means he doesn't have a cell phone, so he can't call any sooner than 8. I told him I had made plans, and I wasn't going to play tennis, but he had hoped. By 10 PM, it was raining anyway, so it might not have been possible to play.
So at 10 AM, I called him, and asked if he would play at 10:30. Oh, no, that's too soon, how about 11? Fine, 11. So I went out to arrive by 11, and he calls while I'm on the road. "Maybe it's too wet to play?". Too wet to play? Too wet to play?! I told you the morning tennis had been called off because it was wet, and you insisted on playing, and only now, you think it's too wet? You better be out in a raincoat ready to play. If you break your leg and can't play for 6 months, you better be out there! Too wet to play, indeed!
Of course, I said nothing of the kind. I told him I'd check on the court conditions and get back to him. I reached there, and it was wet, but no wetter than the previous weekend, and he showed up then.
Now realize, this guy was ready to show up at 11. So I figured, he's dressed and ready to head out. I should have known.
Probably not dressed. Probably attending to hundreds of other things, and taking care of them, and not even ready to roll. So when I say it's OK, he has, I'm sure, not even made a move to leave. He's in the middle of other things, don't you know. I will wait, don't you know? It's all about him and his selfishness, and he won't even bother saying why he might be late, because it's a sign of weakness, or it's something no Indian ever thinks about. You don't apologize for your lateness because it's a trifle, a bother. You are too stressed out about people being late! Enjoy life!
So as it became close to being 30 minutes late, and I had made several calls, I left. Funny that he called 4 minutes later. Clearly, he couldn't have arrived at the court, and then gone back home. It meant he was still home and still hadn't left. So I refused to return his calls all day. I hope he was unable to play with anyone that day.
And you have to do things like this, because otherwise, the guy thinks he can do it again. And, of course, being human nature, he'll probably not learn, and continue to do it, and continue to beg to play. The man can't even convince his own son to play. His son doesn't want to be seen with his dad. So he bullies his friends because he can't bully his family. His family knows how to say no, and he's given up.
Are things likely to change? Most likely not. Lateness is a disease, and the cure too painful for most to swallow.
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