Cultural stereotypes as assets: Punctuality

[This post is part of the series I am starting right now on navigating stereotypes that are ascribed to me because of my nationality.]

One of the most interesting things about living abroad is that you start discovering things about your self you took for granted. But which in a new setting turn out to be a huge asset. In my case this would be punctuality, structure, believing that rules are not such a bad idea, and many more. There are many adjectives that are thought to be intrinsicly German personality traits (which is debatable), but once abroad I learned to embrace some of them and develop them into positive assets.

Punctuality. I am helplessly punctual, which in Spain can lead to funny situations. I am invited at 21h. I know that you are supposed to be late. But HOW late? So I ask around how much late is expected. And my friends roll their eyes on such inquiries, because they know if they tell me “roughly half an hour”, I will arrive on 21:30. Even with a public transport system that does not rely on schedules.

While in private life, I get lots of jokey comments, in work life this trait is more than welcomed. Whether to start the working day, or in meetings: you are much more productive if you know the time you can dispose of.

But punctuality is more than that: it also entails that I have no problems sticking to deadlines. I have quite a good notion on how long I need to accomplish things, which helps when assessing and confirming deadlines. And if something happens I will always inform the people involved about the delay. I want my colleagues, partners, managers to know how things are going, because that makes the whole process much more predictable and smooth. And I learned this in Spain, by seeing how much it bugged me not to know whether my inquiry had been received, whether somebody was working on it, whether it would be ready on time. So I figured I would start a culture of information myself by always answering any inquiries with

  • whether I would take over the task (or whom to talk to if it was somebody elses responsibility
  • what needs to be done to solve the problem (just so the other person knows we do not do magic in my department, but real down to earth work that takes some time)
  • the approximate time frame.
  • And after the job is done, the person will get a quick update.

Side effect: if I run late on something, the situation gets much less stressful, because nobody has to invent how things are going (e.g. when questions from clients or management come up). So don’t be shy to give information on what you are working.

People still say this is soooo typically German, but I have also received some feedback on how this makes work easier for everybody else and some are taking over the idea (which might have to do with me repeatedly asking for feedback on things I asked for).

For all those expats out there: are their any cultural traits you were not aware of before going abroad, yet which helped you to stand out?

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