Friday, 21 March 2014

Punctuality revisited: Cultural differences in German, London and Brazilian culture - part 1

Punctuality. Efficiency. Honesty. I guess those things were mostly mentioned when someone talked about positive aspects of German people's character. So here my three cents to a few related topics, all in comparison of my experience in each culture I am living in: Germany, London (UK) and Brazil.


German translation: Pünktlichkeit
I won't say that there are no exeptions but in general, Germans (including myself) take punctuality quite serious. It is seen as a polite act (of kindness) to respect each others time and (most probably) commitments (the other person might have after meeting you). So that's why in most cases, when you plan to meet someone at 11am, it will be 11am. Not 11:05 or 11:30. Or very often, the person you are meeting with might be arriving in a so called Puffer-timespan. Which means he or she arrives about 10minutes or so earlier just in case something might happen that could cause some delays. So don't be surprised if you are early and your friend already sits on a bench with a book in his hand, smiling when you arrive early as well =)

Londoners & punctuality:
I have to be honest, I cannot say too much about the rest of Britain as I have only done a few day trips to other cities so... Anyway, in most cases one could say that Londoners are pretty punctual. Maybe not in an arriving-too-early-manner like Germans, but you will not wait longer than 5minutes after the agreed time. (I can only refer to what I have experienced with teachers, friends and appointments). And in case they are late, they will make sure to let you know by message or calling you. I do know one exception, but I guess my friend dance girl just tends to run late anyway (so I do know that she will arrive late and always have a book or some work stuff with me). We always meet close to cafes so I always end up having a coffee or tea while waiting for her and she then joins me for the second cup ;)

Brazilian translation: pontualidade
I guess it is no news that Brazilians are famous for being late. People don't mean to be rude and lazy, it is just that everyone assumes that the other one will be late, so in general anything from 10 to 40 minutes of delay can be possible. Just take a book with you in case you wish to be punctual. In my experience, people tend to call only in case they have to cancel the meeting, not if they run late. But I am sure there are exceptions. So no worries if you run late, in most cases people will probably not even notice or mention it ;)

German translation: Das Empfinden von Zeit und Raum
This one might sound strange, but I will try my best to explain what I am at here. When you are out and about in a new place, maybe a tourist in an unknown city, you always end up asking locals for directions. Those are always measured in time and space, how long will it take to get there and how far is it. Germans will mostly try to tell you the exact time or check on their smartphones in case they don't know. Most preferably in exact minute and meter description. It will take you 5 minutes and 2 seconds and it's 155,55m distance. (Just kidding). Being known for their (slightly perfectionist) exactness, they would probably rather tell you that they actually don't know about how long it will take and how far it is, in case they really don't know or have no mobile (google map) help at hand. Just to be on the sure side so don't think they don't want to help. It is just that they don't want to lie to you. You might however also meet someone offering to take you straight to the place where you wish to go or telling you that they are on their way to go there and offer you to come with them.

Londoners' sense of time and space:
Most Londoners think in tube stops when they talk about time and space. Most probably when someone is late, the tube (or some delays in the tunnel) are the reason. (Or pretty convenient excuse). So most people tend to give a rather foggy description of time span, such as 'in case you catch the tube when you get on the platform and it is not too crowded, then in case no tunnels are blocked or no inspectors stop you, you might get there at maybe 10am'. But due to construction works, certain roads might be blocked, so the journey could be much longer than originally thought. To be on the safe side, they might check google map or the London transport page called Transport for London which has an excellent Journey Planner for their whole bus, tube, train etc network. A life saver really. And tube and bus stops show the exact time in minutes when your next bus or tube arrives..... ok, that might be another topic ;) Just always leave with least 30minutes time puffer and you will be fine.

Brazilian: Senso de tempo e espaço
Talking mostly about my husband, his sense of time and space is rather... flexible. He might say that he will just get some bread at the bakery around the corner 'REAL QUICK'. And arrives one hour later, telling me some interesting story about what happened this time. :D He probably just knows too many people around here, is very sociable and kind, and tends to chat around and looses his sense of time. A few months ago, I learned the hard way that his sense of time and space REALLY is very very different from mine when we went on a walk with our puppy Luke and the prince of sun just QUICKLY wanted to show me something 'closeby'. His favourite words are 'rapidinho' (very fast, very quick) or 'pertinho' (very close). So me thinking 10minutes, 1km. At the most. It rather turned out 70 minutes and a few kms more than imagined and resulted in a deep sunburn and a very thursty hubby, dog and me. haha.... Most Brazilians tend to have a very generous sense of time and space (mostly in their favour ;), so do count on a few minutes and km more, when someone tells you, that this and that is VERY close or very quick.

Let's maybe take two examples for efficiency: work place and supermarket

German translation - I had to list quite a few words in addition to the obvious as we Germans do describe it in quite a lot of words depending on the area: Effizienz, Faehigkeit, Tuechtigkeit, Leistung (the list goes on)

Work place: People tend to concentrate pretty much constantly on what they have to do, most people have their to-do lists and time sheets and organisation sheets and packing lists and... haha, am I talking about myself here? Let`s just say that Germans are very efficient, time efficient, work load efficient. They prefer to really concentrate on getting their tasks done before or for the deadline, to then leave work and enjoy family life or free time (if possible not do more work at home), most Germans really like to seperate their work and private life as much as possible.

Supermarket: There might be some supermarkets that have more relaxed cashiers, but most (especially discounters such as Lidl or Aldi) have reached almost dangerous speeds in getting your shopping from scanning into your bag. And you really are expected to join the put-stuff-in-the-bag-as-quickly-as-possible-RUSH. Do prepare yourself and have your money at hand as soon as possible to avoid annoyed looks from the cashier assistant or even the people waiting in the queue behind you. (They should relax a bit more ;), I guess people are getting pushed way too much in those shops and the older they get, they probably are in danger of getting a heart attack sooner or later - but I do have to admit that it is excellent when you are in a rush and have to leave this supermarket REAL QUICK and then have to face a huge queue. In general, in such supermarkets, you really get out quick even if you join a 30 people queue...

Here a taster, and no, there is no quick-play-trick, just observe the people behind the lady moving in a rather `normal` way:

Londoners and efficiency:
Work place:
I guess London life in general tends to be quite fast and stressful. Many people have lunch at their desk and work through their lunch break. Long hours are no news at all. So when we talk about efficiency, you could say that people are probably very efficient - although there are rumours that for some reason, Londoners spend a lot of time in facebook and other social networks during their work time so that might be a factor to have a less efficient work philosophy. Many Londoners also go for after-work drinks with work colleagues, the so called happy hour when (alcoholic) drinks are much cheaper than in later hours. In London, people generally mix their work and play time much more than to what I was used to see in Germany.

First time I went to London I felt like I was with the snails. In general (if you don t happen to visit the London (German) Lidl shop), cashiers are pretty relaxed. So take your time and patience and have a nice chat with the lady, if you are lucky, you will have a nice lady there that even recognizes you after a few shopping trips (imagine that in a huge city like London!).

Brazilian: eficiência
Brazilians are hard working people, most Brazilians even have two or three jobs, almost everyone I know works either on Saturday or Sunday (or both) and most people do not actually enjoy `normal weekends` or `bank holidays` in the same way and tend to work through those. However, people really enjoy their cafezinhos and chats and thus tend to delay their work, sometimes for 10minutes, but one hour is not unsual either. And they love their heavy lunches and dinners, since my husband and I live together, we almost always eat cooked dinner twice or up to 4 times a day! So, let`s just say that all this food snails down your ability to move and think quick, haha... Not to forget the crazy heat you get all year round, we often take at least 2, sometimes even 4 showers a day to keep our head somehow cool and take away some of the tiredness and general feeling of being exhausted much quicker due to the hot and humid temperatures. So that one might also cause a few more delays to actually get your whole system into work mode. (It is also not too much fun to wait in the queues in the burning heat or walk in it even for some quick shopping so....). Talking about organization, as far as I experienced lists are also not really popular, people do make lists and take notes but tend to forget to use them or loose them in some place, have a million lists or three note/scrap-books and end up improvising when they tire to search for them. So in comparison, I would say that Brazilians tend to be less efficient during the day, but recover the workload through working much longer hours and week days than Europeans in general.

I would compare it to the British supermarkets - rather snails. Yesterday I was almost lucky and bought 3L of laundry liquid for 3,90R$ instead of 24,90R$. Not sure if it is only this shop (Cambui) in which they seem to have a labelling issue, but it happens almost every time. 4 times with one sort of (incredibly delicious) coconut musli.... We were honest though and informed the cashier about the mistake so in the end, we paid the real price and waited for almost 20minutes when the cashier and admin lady where discussing how to change the label online and how to review our complete shopping.... oh well :D....

So, that was my fifty cents on a few points, I hope you enjoyed the little excursion into Brazilian, German and London culture - stay tuned and many more cultural curiosities will follow =)


  1. This was a very interesting and enjoyable article to read!! Looking forward to reading many of those in the future! Love, Berlin Girl

  2. Thanks hun! The Spiegel article/its content you sent over seems to be challenging my view haha ;) the thing is that you can only report on what you are living with so =) Of course I might be dealing only with exceptions and let's just ignore Brazilian tv news talking about usual happenings... :D