All of the relatives in my parents’ generation were born in South Africa. Some might say that they were ‘Africans’ although many Africans might not agree. One of these always arrived at our house at least an hour before we had invited him, and another usually did not arrive until one hour after we had invited him. My parents, on the other hand, were sticklers for punctuality.
For several years, I worked in a dental practice, which might have well been described as the “United Nation of bad teeth.” My patients had originated from all over the world. They came from, for example: Brazil, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, the West Indies, Spain, Portugal, tropical and southern Africa, the former Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ireland, and a few from the UK. Few of them appreciated the importance of punctuality.
We operated an appointment system in the practice. Patients booked specific times on particular days for their chance to visit me or one of my colleagues. Most of them either turned up at the wrong time or not at all. Consequently, my days were broken up into periods of frenetic activity separated by periods of inactivity, plenty of time to read a book.
One afternoon, a Tunisian gentleman turned up for his appointment at the right time on the correct day. I was so surprised that I said to him:
“How nice. You’ve come on time. Most of my other patients are not as courteous as you. They come whenever they feel like it, if at all.”
The patient listened, removed his coat, sat in my dental chair, and then said:
“Yes, that what we call in French ‘rendez-vous africaine’”
Somehow, after hearing that, my patients’ erratic attendance and timing began to make sense with me, and no longer bothered me. It also chimed with the erratic timings of some of my South African relatives.