Clocks, Time and Punctuality

The Swiss have a long and solid tradition with clocks and watch making. The oldest clock in Switzerland is the Clock Tower (called Zytglogge, which translates into “time bells”) in the capitol of Berne. We lived maybe a walking distance of 15 minutes away from it for many years. It’s got some figurines that come out every hour, turn around and then they hit a bell with a hammer. Not rocket science, but pretty cool. It’s also an astronomical calendar, which frankly, I don’t understand. I took a tour once and saw all the inner workings of the tower, fascinating and to think that was built in 1530!! Pretty amazing. Maybe it equates to rocket science back then.

I believe all this clock business started in the Jura. A lot of the farmers there used the winter months when they were inside to make clocks and turned it into a rather nice business. The production has since evolved and the Swiss are no longer the only prime players in the watch industry. Still, they make a beautiful watch. If you are ever in La Chaux-de-Fonds (in Jura) a visit to the world’s largest international clock museum is a must. When I visited it a couple of years ago I took a city tour as well. It is a sleepy town now but it must have been bustling in its heyday. It’s easy to imagine a flourishing watch business on almost every corner.

Clocks and Punctuality

In the town there are clocks everywhere you look. I no longer wear a watch because there is always a clock somewhere. With all those clocks, of course you would expect punctuality and that is truly the case. If you are invited to dinner at 7.30 then you should arrive at that time. 2 to 3 minutes early is totally acceptable. If you are expecting to be 15 minutes late, then call.

Once we were invited to dinner at 7.00. We got lost on the way and ended up getting there 30 minutes late. We didn’t have a telephone with us, so we couldn’t call. So, we just kept driving around until we found the place. When we finally arrived our hosts were not happy. They said we would have to skip the appetizer because dinner was ready. As we walked past the table with appetizers I saw they had nibbled on them. But what was left still looked very edible indeed. I had to practice some self-control to walk by without taking anything. Dinner was planned for 7.30 and it was 7.30 so it was ready. We sat down and ate. It was a great meal, but I bet those appetizers were good, too. Luckily we aren’t often late.

A different time we were invited to other friend’s at 4 o’clock who lives about 1.5 hours away, depending on traffic it could be 2 hours. It’s always tricky getting there on time. That time we rang their doorbell just as the church bells were ringing four. We were pleased with our punctuality, naturally they weren’t surprised, after all, they did say 4 o’clock.

Just in Time

Not only the people are punctual, public transportation too. If your train is scheduled to leave at 12.32 then you had better be there on time. Because 99.9% of the time that is when it will leave. I like to get to the station early. Ben likes to be on time. “On Time” means get on the train, the doors close behind us and the train takes off. Of course, a couple of times we got there just on the other side of “on time”.

I have gotten used to most of the Swiss way of doing things. However as far as train travel goes, I would still rather be early than just in time. It only takes 3 minutes to get to the train station from our home but I still always leave at least 15 minutes early. Why? I have no idea. I don’t think a train has ever left the station early but you never know.

Travelling Abroad

Ah, but that is Switzerland, other countries are a bit different. The trains in Italy are not quite as punctual as the Swiss, although that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. I guess you get used to it and develop a different, more relaxed attitude. “If not now, then in an hour or so, what’s the rush?”.

Once when we were on vacation in Italy, we were running a little late and wanted to catch the train to Pisa from Florence. As usual, we got to the train station just in time. We ran to the track and scurried onto the train, happy that we had made it. Luckily there was plenty of room in the car so we sat down and made ourselves comfortable.

Five minutes later we were still in the station. We thought, jeez, we didn’t have to hurry like that, we could have even stopped for pizza. We stuck our heads out the window as you often do to see the station clock and to people watch. At that moment we saw the front part of our train pulling slowly out of the station. Without us. Our car wasn’t moving and wasn’t even attached to the rest of the train! We realized why we were the only ones in the car and the lights weren’t turned on. We did eventually get to Pisa, although it did take a bit longer.

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