Saudi academic Khalid Al-Seghayer takes a whack at Saudi lifestyles in his column for Saudi Gazette. He starts out with punctuality and how the concept does not seem to have taken firm hold on society. I know that foreign diplomats from many countries used to joke about “IBM time”: Insha’Allah, Bukra, Maalesh — God willing, Tomorrow, It didn’t matter anyway”. This wasn’t seen as particularly Saudi, but pretty much pan-Arab. Clocks just worked differently and none too efficiently.
More than a joke, though, being on time does matter in many circumstances. It’s fine to be ‘fashionable late’ for social engagements, 15-30 minutes after the appointed time, though the acceptability of that waxes and wanes. It’s not fine to show up for work or for business meetings even a few minutes late.
Al-Seghayer also takes note of the low levels of productivity once people have shown up. He points to a lack of priorities, motivation, and focus as among the problems. While it’s certainly important to keep up social (and political) associations, perhaps the office is not the right place to be doing so.
The problems of punctuality and productivity in Saudi Arabia
Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer
Punctuality is not a traditional virtue of Saudis, which adversely affects their level of productivity. The constant and all-pervasive presence of the poor punctuality and reduced productivity of Saudis is mainly due to poor time management skills and the lack of importance given to time in general and to achievements on an individual level, in particular. Other factors include an inadequate educational system along with some counterproductive traditional practices.
Punctuality is not of great importance in Saudi Arabia, as Saudis often show a relaxed attitude to time. This can be seen in many situations, from the punctuality of a driver to the start of an official event, both of which clearly show that Saudi culture neither encourages tight schedules nor gives timeliness a high priority.
One can cite a number of social practices that show this relaxed attitude to punctuality. Deadlines are not absolute, and there is no great sense of urgency surrounding due dates. Frequent and unscheduled visits to friends and relatives are not considered a waste of time but rather time well spent. It is considered discourteous to be caught looking at one’s watch during any sort of social gathering.