‘On the way’ and other lies of our time-stressed age

We have no right to make anyone wait as we can’t give them back the time lost, even if we apologise. Razan Alzayani / The National
We have no right to make anyone wait as we can’t give them back the time lost, even if we apologise. Razan Alzayani / The National

‘Time is like a sword. If you do not cut it, it will cut you,” says an Arabic proverb, a somewhat brutal warning to those who take time lightly. For if you don’t make use of it before it passes, time will leave its mark and wound you.

I am sure you have heard the following statements or you have found yourself saying them if you have spent any amount of time in this part of the world. I know I am guilty of them and more.

“I am just seven minutes away,” is something one friend always says to me. Translation: 15 to 20 minutes away, at least.

“On the way,” texts another friend. Translation: just stepped out of the house and will be 30 to 45 minutes late.

“Just around the corner, looking for parking,” is one of my favourites. I actually once stepped out and searched for a friend who was looking for parking and she was nowhere in sight, and guess what? There were plenty of empty spots.

We all know time is precious. Yet, we all end up wasting so much of it “waiting” for someone to show up or “waiting” in traffic.

I stopped wearing a watch many years ago, after it was stolen in Rome. The culprit even waved it about as he ran away. I decided not to live my life constantly looking at my wrist, but then realised that everything is defined by time. So instead, I use the clock on my smartphone, and set alarms to remind me of important meetings.

Whether we like it or not, we are trapped by time, and if we are late, we lose out on something else that could have been done during that wasted time.

It has become a sort of a given that when you move to the Middle East, you will end up taking time for granted and you will also end up running as late as everyone else. Besides it being disrespectful to the person waiting., we all have something better to do than wait for someone who didn’t properly work out how long it would take to get somewhere.

I find myself always carrying a book and some food with me as I know someone, somewhere, will be running late. At least this way I can read something interesting while I wait.

If your work is defined by deadlines like mine, nothing stresses you out more than someone being late, because that will make you late for others and give you less time to file a story.

I once waited three hours for someone to show up for an interview and tell me, “not feeling like doing it now, can we meet tomorrow?” Or worse, you end up driving to another emirate and waiting before the person you are supposed to meet sends you a text to postpone it to another day, which is just so rude.

It has become something we laugh at sometimes when someone says call me back in ten minutes, and then they don’t pick up. And when and if they finally do, it is five hours later. But this is not limited to media work, as everyone is late for everything and so nothing starts on time here, except movies.

Sometimes being late is justified, especially as traffic can be impossibly heavy.

If you arrange to meet someone in a busy mall you can also be sure that parking will be an issue. But if you are waiting for someone to come over to your place, then you can definitely kiss goodbye to punctuality, as no one ever arrives on time to social gatherings. If people are late for work related meetings, why would you expect them to be on time for recreational purposes?

Whatever the excuses – and we all have them – we need to pay more attention to time and specifically to other people’s time. We have no right to make anyone wait as we can’t give them back the time lost, even if we apologise.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter:@arabianmau

Published: December 17, 2014 04:00 AM

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