Vanessa Workman is a sand-and-sea girl through and through. Moving to the north of Malaysia from a job in Singapore, she found her home and now writes about her experiences as an expat on a tropical island.
Punctuality is a pet peeve of mine, for my own Type A reasons, and I’m always checking my ever-present watch like a nervous tick. But despite the fact that habitual tardiness annoys me, I have slowly slipped into the ‘fashionably late’ island time syndrome.
“Show up when you want to.” “We’ll start when everyone else arrives” is something I hear over and over again. I’ve equated it to yet another unimportant occasion that kills time. I’ve also grown to equate it to lack of enthusiasm if I show up at all. Or even worse, to lack of enthusiasm if anyone shows up.
Moving to a new country brings on the usual challenges of meeting new people. If said community is fortunately abundant with local activities and events, you’ll have ample opportunity to find kindred spirits or at the very least like-minded friends.
However, if your new community is activity limited or happens to be completely surrounded by an ocean, social opportunities can also be limited. Arriving with an arsenal of hobbies or interests is a plus for your own sanity, and also adds potential compatibility with others. But locating these possible new friends means getting out there a bit. Even if the sporadic, “Show up when you want to” occasion screams of potential death-by-boredom.
But when a personal invitation comes your way, with a specific time attached? Well, that’s a whole new ball game.
I was recently invited by an expat acquaintance to check out a new restaurant as well as catch up on some island gossip—both activities which definitely sounded attractive. I’ve also had this woman at the top of my potential hope-to-be-closer-friends bucket list for a while now, so this lunch date had the makings of a social Trifecta!
But my future BFF tends to prefer mini group outings rather than ‘one on one’, which I prefer. She immediately invited another person, but I was willing to compromise my own preference for the sake of social opportunity. A good old fashion gossip session can also get juicier with a few more loose lips.
Unfortunately I took even more time than usual getting dressed for the occasion and arrived about 20 minutes late.
Immediately sensing that my poor time management could possibly be an issue, the party of two were already deep in conversation as they bent head to head over a smartphone.
My potential best friend happens to be one of those women that most likely broke down and reassembled toasters and radios as a child. Or, if she had a doll, rearranged its body parts, Frankenstein style. She’s one of those scientifically and mechanically inclined brainy women that I both envy and admire.
At any rate, the late arriving me suddenly felt the ‘third wheel’ syndrome.
The ‘mechanic’ with her jaw set was concentrating on the task at hand, which was to crack the challenge of fixing the smartphone’s recent, mysterious behaviour. The smartphone’s owner was giving a detailed blow-by-blow account of all the life threatening symptoms, as I sat wondering what to do with myself.
That was, of course, after I apologised for being late; as well as introducing myself to my other dining companion. “Oh, we’ve actually met before,” she flatly stated. And then continued with the smartphone’s symptoms. Woops, strike two.
I’m certainly not a smartphone expert, so attempting to add to the conversation was useless. I could feel my boring words flying out of my mouth like an eager pup waiting for a treat. That treat being the affirmation that I had not lost all social graces despite being one of those “sorry I’m late” people.
It’s amazing how 20 minutes can change the course of a casual engagement. But my disappointment was my own and my own ‘fashionably’ late fault.
But no one wants to be that person whom people occasionally see and later report to their friends, “Oh, I saw so and so the other day, she (or he) has really… aged, put on weight, must be going through hard times, etc.” Everyone wants to look his or her best, right?
No one wants to hear the “Sorry I’m late” excuse either, unless of course it’s attached to some really juicy gossip. Late is late, even on island time.