My maid is always late and this upsets me.

Dear Punctual,

I think Singaporeans and Filipinos do have one trait in common: they do not count punctuality among their virtues. Of course, those in business have more regard for punctuality but in non-business activities time is often elastic. In Singapore we have this concept of "rubber time". For example, you might sometime find someone coming at 7:30 for a 7 o'clock appointment or, more to the point, someone asking for five minutes which then stretches to twenty.

But if you think this is bad, just wait till you are invited to a Chinese wedding dinner. The invitation says, "... 7 p.m. sharp " and you think that perhaps dinner would be served at 7:30, but count yourself lucky if it is served at eight. But this is nothing. Even the president of a nation does keep people waiting, like this one.

So it is not unusual to observe among the guests a handful of Caucasians who glance at their watches and look at each other as if asking, "I'm famished, when do we eat?" Meanwhile the locals seem to be enjoying themselves and maybe at the expense of their unprepared expat friends. Don't they feel hungry too?

These local guests, they know that when the invitation says 7 p.m. sharp, dinner will not be served before eight. So they grab something first, a sandwich or something.

A maid from a country where the rate of unemployment is high, often does not place a premium on time, the only commodity of which they have a surplus. At home she never had to look at the clock to begin to cook dinner. So when she comes to Singapore she will need to learn. Your maid is never late when bringing your child to meet the school bus or when she goes to meet the school bus. She knows when to be punctual.

I am reminded of a friend who when organising a small get-together will tell his habitually late friends to meet at 7:30 and the early birds to come at 8:00. The early birds usually arrive 15 minutes early and the habitual late-comers 15 mintues late. So they all meet at 7:45 and no one is kept waiting, hopefully.

So if you wish to have dinner served at 7 p.m. ask your maid to serve it at 6:45. If it does not work, try setting the clock fifteen minutes early.

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