Lateness! Ugandans have no shame

By Vision Reporter

Added 6th October 2002 03:00 AM

IS there such a thing as being too time-oriented? You know, always there on time, everything always planned to the minute... I thought that was the reason that time existed in the first place

By Tina Turyagyenda

IS there such a thing as being too time-oriented? You know, always there on time, everything always planned to the minute... I thought that was the reason that time existed in the first place. So that we do things when they are supposed to be done.
Not in Uganda, no. With almost everybody you know arriving late for almost everything, it is so ‘unUgandan’ to be on, or even, in time. Late is normal and nothing to apologise about.
You are sure to find cars racing dangerously on Entebbe Road to the airport, as if whoever it is, had forgotten he had a flight. You are half way a movie and someone walks into the cinema, asking to be excused so they can find their favourite seat, disrupting your concentration. You’d think no one would take a risk with issues like job interviews. You’d be surprised how many people turn up late for that.
Of course we are early sometimes, especially if we know that being late means getting locked out. You are, for example, guaranteed to find that everyone who gets into Silk Royale through complimentary invitation, is there on time. That’s the kind of thing we treat with do or die urgency. You don’t want to pay but you want to dance.
But when there is no paying, then there shall be no graciousness. So when someone kindly invites you to her dinner party, you take your time about it. You never stop to think that she doesn’t want to serve her dinner cold or interrupt the courses because you made a grand entrance. So, it has actually become a cycle now. Your hostess doesn’t expect you to be early, so she’ll take her time with the preparations.
Dare then to arrive at 8:10pm because your invitation reads 8:00pm (making you 10 minutes late, by the way). The odds are that the hostess won’t be able to shake your hand because hers are dirty –– she was still busy finishing up in the kitchen. She will yell as she runs into another direction: “Hi! you’re early!”
Early? The mind boggles. Her charming smile that doesn’t fool you. It’s sarcastic and angry, her voice loaded with undertones: “This low life bore couldn’t find something to do in the meantime? There’s one mistake on my guest list –– idler!”
You’re sorry, of course, that you found her looking so unkempt. You hate the fact that when the party is swinging wild and everyone tells her how nice she looks; your memory will flash back to her soup-stained apron and her completely free-of-make-up face. Perfect model for those ‘before and after’ stories. That’s why she hates you, isn’t it? Not that you were standing in the way as the caterers rushed around and bumped into you, knocking over a beautiful flower arrangement...
Oh, well. It’s possible she hates you for that as well. That, after all, was a centrepiece. The one that all the silly women at the party were supposed to “ooh” and “aah” at and ask for the florist’s contact. Now they’ll be one important item less for the bimbos to discuss. (Does that happen to you as well? Wonder why some people think that it is absolutely necessary for them to open their mouths if they are going to animatedly discuss the beauty of flowers in the name of socialising?)
Anyway, so the flowers are gone and the vase is history. You’re sorry about the mess and the loss. But, bottom line is, it’s not your fault. You were in time. You gave her 10 minutes extra time to take off the flip-flops and slip on the glass sandals. And, news flash: She was the one who had the time printed out on the invitations, not you!
Maybe we should start putting out the time at which every guest is expected to arrive, the way things are done at national ceremonies. Remember the time President Museveni arrived before former Chief Justice Wako Wambuzi? Even if the CJ had a perfectly understandable reason –– his car had broken down, it must have been embarrassing for him. Don’t you find it pathetic also, that we have come to a point in our lives when we start to dress up for the do at the time we’re expected to arrive? The reasons, especially when it’s a party, are amazing. Sometimes it’s because of that cycle syndrome, which we started in the first place so we should be undoing.
But then there are those reasons like not wanting to look too eager. Please, when I am the hostess, arrive early, if you can. Look eager by all means. Make me feel like you couldn’t wait to get to one of my famed-for-their-success parties. Successful meaning, that you’ll find everything in perfect order not have to be in the way and get knocked around.
It’s just amazing that people who get really itchy waiting, will keep others waiting with no qualms about it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a young woman trying to keep the gentleman guessing –– there has to be a limit to how long that person will wait. After that, it’s loud and clear rudeness. Same thing for a private party. I mean, where is the courtesy, when the host tried to delay dinner and you still arrived as dessert was being served?
Am I preaching? I’ve tried long and hard to find something good about being late. Every once in a while you’ll have a fine, genuine excuse. But most of the time, it’s this “culture” thing –– just another Ugandan. What? Do the clocks in our mind tick slower? Then look up at just about every roundabout in the city. Tick-tock. Those clocks are probably the most serviced machines in this city, so you can never go wrong. And don’t pull a fast one about how being late is viewed as a sign of respect in many cultures. First of all, who knows more than we do how the world must move on, culture or not? Secondly - such rubbish.

Lateness! Ugandans have no shame

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