Some people go so far as to say that time does not really exist; it is all in the mind, they claim. Others note that according to astrophysicists, time really does exist; it is inseparable from space, coexisting in what these scientists call the "time-space continuum." No matter which view you may hold, time is of relative importance in different cultures. However, when traveling, doing business, or studying in a German- or English-speaking country, it is a good idea to consider time to be of the utmost importance.
Many people have noted that the Germans and English are both methodical and well-organized. Naturally, not everyone among them is, but these peoples do seem to share a penchant for orderliness and punctuality. Clocks and time have played a great part in defining the character of the Anglo-Saxons. The geographic use of time began during the British Empire with the world divided by latitude and longitude, with zero degrees longitude running through the observatory at Greenwich, in London. According to the British of that day, the world began its time-keeping from London —— and it still does. Time is of paramount importance to these Europeans and their overseas descendants. If you are visiting or staying in these countries, here are a few pieces of advice to help you make the transition to a time-centered civilization.
As you probably already know, being punctual —— to the minute —— is held in high esteem among them. Time is the most valuable commodity one can have, according to the doctrine of the time worshippers. We are not given very much of it whilst on this planet, and we should do our best to utilize it efficiently each and every day, they say. Wasting others' time by forcing them to wait is a sign of disorganized living, a sort of admission to being low-class. It is also seen as an insult to those kept waiting, as if to say, "Your time is not that important." To them, this attitude borders on sin itself! In business, being late even only a few times may make the difference between your getting a promotion and being kept "in your place." For social dates, it is a sign of slovenliness at best, rejection of those waiting at worst. In school, never burst open the door of the lecture hall to announce, "I'm sorry I'm late, sir" as is the custom in many countries. The double crime of being tardy and interrupting the proceedings which began on time occurs, with a likely prejudiced and unfavorable grade awaiting the hapless student.
Of course, being late can sometimes not be avoided, as in unexpected traffic jams, home emergencies, or having been given the wrong information of date or place. When these all-too-human mishaps do occur, it is important to explain the reason for being late. It is also a good idea, of course, to apologize for the useless waiting and to assure the other or others that it will never happen again. In this age of cell phones, every effort should be made to call ahead if tardiness of more than ten minutes is unavoidable, especially for business or professional appointments or important dates. The last phrase anyone wants to hear is a frosty "You could have called." That is the prelude to a ruined evening.
Not everything begins exactly on time, even in Anglo-Saxon culture. Many casual parties are "open" concerning time; the party begins when you get there. The same is generally true of backyard barbecues and picnics. Dinner parties, on the other hand, are obviously planned around a meal time; one should make every effort to arrive on (not before) time. A friendly "Drop by this evening" invites common sense to interpret: too early during the evening may embarrass the host who is eating dinner, while too late may disturb those who prefer going to bed early. A call first to make sure is never out of line.
Remember that time is relative in importance to people within a culture just as it is between cultures. Nothing is more important than human relations. If you commit the "crime" of being late with Anglo-Germanic friends, simply apologize. Few people intentionally keep others waiting, after all. Remember, too, that, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." In English- and German-speaking lands, this means "Time waits for no man!"