So Arabs have a reputation for chronic lateness. Mind you, the reputation is very well deserved. If you are having a party and list the start time as 4pm, expect people at 5. If they come at 4:30 (which some will), you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Some will also come at 5:30 or 6. This can be rather helpful when you’re running late in getting everything ready for a party. However, it can also be frustrating when you’re sitting in a meeting or other venue waiting to start. We Americans, on the other hand, have an unhealthy fixation with time. We tend to see lateness as a personal affront and rudeness that is nearly unforgivable. But I’ve noticed something very interesting regarding school and kids.
While many adults would never be late for a meeting, many (most?) of the foreigners that have kids in school with mine bring their kids to school late. School starts early, I certainly get that. But it seems that their feeling is that school starts when the teacher begins to teach. In fact, here in Jordan, school starts each morning with a line-up by class, singing of the national anthem and some other songs and such. It’s sort of a greeting the day approach. I like it. It means the kids are there, all together, playing until time and then they have a few minutes to get into the mindset for school. Honestly I kind of equate it to our nighttime routine with the kids. After dinner, bath, and books, we sing two prayers, both alphabet songs, and then do prayers. It gets them ready and focused on sleep. This is particularly beneficial if your child has difficulty with transitions.
But somehow the foreigners have decided that the morning ritual, in which all of the other students participate, is unimportant. They bring the kids to school exactly at the beginning of the school day (or even a couple of minutes late). Somehow that 20 minutes of prep time is not valuable to them. But here’s something else I’ve noticed… it’s not just about 20 minutes of time waster. I get that it would be nice to get up later (trust me, I really do get it). We leave quite early in the mornings to get there on time (which for me means no less than 5 minutes before the first bell rings and the lines are formed). But, if my kids are not there to line up and sing the songs and greet the day, that’s just one more way they’re different. It kind rankles to me that parents complain that their kids don’t really fit in and then do things that make them stand out. After all, the other kids have parents (or buses) that bring them on time for school. They garner school spirit by learning the song, along with others in the morning. Repetition of the songs builds knowledge. And they better understand the culture.
For all of those reasons, I’m befuddled that people who would consider it the height of rudeness for someone to show up 20 minutes late for an appointment find it acceptable to bring their kids 20 minutes after the first bell rings. The longer I’m here the more I forgive the few minutes late that most Arabs show up. After all, I can take my ipad or a book and simply entertain myself (and it’s not a cultural value to be on time). But, why is it that so many folks think that their kids not being on time is somehow different? It’s an interesting dichotomy, if you ask me.
Happy Late Arrivals!