better well pressed than on time

**this is a re-print from a post on the resilient expat blog**

Three Saturdays ago was a hot, humid and gloriously sunny day.  I had visualized a quiet day enjoying a nice book, drinking a glass of cold sun tea and relaxing.

What I ended up doing was watching time fly by.  Or rather drift away – slowly out of my own control.

My one task that day was to swing by the seamstress shop to pick up my International Woman’s Day dress.  It was to be completed on the Thursday prior, but I hadn’t been able to leave work.  So sometime passed noon on Saturday, a friend and I headed out to the seamstress.

When we arrived at the shop, we realized that the delivery date of the dress wasn’t as we had anticipated.  Thursday at 3pm was actually more like sometime Saturday afternoon!

While seamstresses here are notorious for not meeting deadline (especially when it seems like 50% of the female population is trying to get a dress made for the same day!), their time management isn’t entirely the issue.

The issue is the full and complete understanding of flexible time and how it governs one’s activities.

When a North-American says they will meet someone at 7pm, they mean 7pm.  If the bus is scheduled to leave at 2pm and it’s 2:15, it starts to get irksome. If a meeting is scheduled to start at 9am, then one might even arrive earlier so the meeting will start at the top of the hour.

But that’s because fixed time is what we are used to and comfortable with.

Two weeks ago I had to attend to some urgent business and arrived at a workshop about 2½ hours into the first day’s session.  I felt terrible to arrive like this, especially since I was there to observe and learn.  I was given a packet of materials, a notebook and pen and provided with a seat by the door (as you would assume a late arrival would get!).

And then I waited.  And waited.  An hour later, the MC for the event took the microphone and addressed the audience: “we apologize for the delay but we had some technical difficulties.”

So yes, a 3½ hour late start would be defined as a delay if one is on flexible rather than fixed time, wouldn’t it?

But why not start even if there was a technical glitch?  Because its “better well to be pressed than on time” as the saying here goes.  In other words, it is best to show up looking nice, polished and well put together – figuratively and literally – than to adhere to fixed time.

Back to my visit to the seamstress. Sitting in her shop for over 5 hours, watching her finish my dress, as well as other ladies’ International Women’s Day outfits, my eyes opened to a new possibility.

If life is such that one has to wait to get their special garments made, pressed and adorned, then why the rush to show them off.  A fellow executive coach used to always ask me before going to an important meeting “who will you show up as?”  In this case, perhaps the thinking is more along the lines of “what will you show up as”… on time but dishevelled, or in due time, looking your best?

It is up to the resilient expat to be creative in dealing with differences – even when this has to do the time.  We all have the same amount of it.  We just don’t use it the same way.

So while I sweated heavily in between the rare cool breezes that reached the seamstresses shop – sensing the tic toc of the disappearing day – I simultaneously amused myself in listening to the chatter of the seamstress, her assistants and the myriad of clients coming in and out. It was clear:  I cannot win this fight not matter how much I try.

The dress would be ready when it was ready.

The bus will leave when it’s full.

And as for meetings and workshops running on time … well, as any resilient expat soon learns… best to be well pressed for that too!

~ by Caroline Spira on March 26, 2011.

One Response to “better well pressed than on time”

  1. You both look wonderful. Sri Lankan experience is identical..all over Asia it is similar. kisses

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