ST Scroll Back: Putin was once four hours late for meeting with German leader Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin seen in a 2018 file photo. He was hours late for a meeting with her in 2014.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin seen in a 2018 file photo. He was hours late for a meeting with her in 2014. PHOTO: AFP

Turning up late may be a good or bad thing. It depends on whether it’s a type of power play, or a personality problem, or just a relaxed way of living.

Outwait + Late = “Outlate”. 

This isn’t a real word, of course. It should be, since that’s what United States President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin probably tried to do to each other.

Mr Putin has a reputation for arriving late to meetings. He once made German Chancellor Angela Merkel - the leader of a country which is as well-known for prizing punctuality as Japan - wait for more than four hours.

He did not make an exception for Mr Trump. Their Finland meeting on Monday (July 16) began nearly an hour later than scheduled as Mr Putin was running late.

Mr Trump, who drew criticism for making Britain’s Queen Elizabeth wait for him during his visit just a couple of days earlier, then delayed his own arrival at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.

Guess who was the last to reach the Finnish line. 

Mr Trump. So he “wins”?

Read on to find out which countries watch the clock like a hawk, and which do not, and what is it about time that makes them tick (tock).

A photograph taken on July 17, 2018 in Moscow showing the front pages of Russia’s main newspapers. They feature pictures of the meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. PHOTO: AFP


Punctuality is unnatural.

Take it from a time expert who comes from a country full of people concerned about being on time.

Punctuality is a 19th-century invention: It was not until the age of industrialisation that the mass production of mechanical clocks allowed specific times to be generally pinpointed, explained Professor Karlheinz Geissler, one of the most frequently-cited German experts in the cultural history of time perception. 

This then gave the observance of the time of day increasing social relevance.

A Goethe-Institut online article said that living one’s life by the clock became a virtue, and punctuality became one of the most important characteristics of “new, modern” men and women. Well, at least, in Germany. 

Workers replacing glass panes on the clock face of the Queen Elizabeth tower, commonly known as Big Ben, in London, Britain. PHOTO: REUTERS

“Punctual behaviour goes against the natural human sense of time. Human beings are not born punctually, do not die punctually, but have to be made punctual.” - Emeritus professor of business and economics education Karlheinz Geissler.


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Britain's Queen Elizabeth in an open carriage, after he was given a ceremonial welcome in London in 2003. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Putin’s tendency to arrive late for meetings first hit the headlines in 2003 when he kept Britain’s Queen Elizabeth waiting for almost a quarter of an hour.

So Mr Trump isn’t the first to do so, and he didn’t make her wait as long either - “only” more than 10 minutes. He was in Britain this month for a visit.

Half-shaded by a tent, Queen Elizabeth stood in the blazing sunshine waiting for Mr Trump and his wife Melania to arrive. And waited

Queen Elizabeth waiting to receive US President Donald Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump in Windsor Castle in Windsor in July 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

Here’s a long list of how long Mr Putin made dignitaries wait for him to arrive at meetings:

4 hours 15 minutes
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014

4 hours
Then President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych in 2012

3 hours
Then Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009

3 hours
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in 2013

3 hours
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe in 2016

2 hours
Then President of Mongolia Tsakhia Elbegdorj in 2014

1 hour 30 minutes
Then President of Israel Shimon Peres in 2013

1 hour 
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in 2014

50 minutes
Pope Francis of Vatican City in 2015

40 minutes
Then President of Finland Tarja Halonen in 2004

40 minutes
King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf in 2011

40 minutes
Then US President Barack Obama in 2012

30 minutes
Then President of South Korea Park Geun Hye in 2013

20 minutes
Then King of Spain Juan Carlos I 

14 minutes
Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom in 2003


In Japan, railway companies say sorry if trains are seconds behind or ahead of schedule. PHOTO: REUTERS

The three hours he waited for Mr Putin must have felt like three hundred to Prime Minister Abe.

For his country, Japan, is famously punctual. 

In May 2018, a Japanese railway company apologised after one of its trains departed 25 seconds early, a mistake which it told commuters was “truly inexcusable”.


There were a few people on the platform who had been hoping to catch the train, and one of them told a station attendant about the train’s early departure.

In November 2017, a train from Tokyo to the eastern city of Tsukuba departed 20 seconds early, prompting the operator of the Tsukuba Express to issue an official apology, even though there had been no complaints from commuters.


Management consultant Diana DeLonzor, who wrote the book, Never Be Late Again, found that there are seven types of late people, reported Time. Most fall into the top three categories. Which are you?

Thrives on urgency and often claims to work best under pressure.

Feels better checking things off a massive to-do list and underestimates the amount of time their tasks will take.

Absent-Minded Professor 
Easily distracted, loses track of time, and forgets appointments.

Never fully admits to lateness (many late people are at least one part Rationaliser).

Generally lacks self-control.

Tries to control feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem by being late.

Arrives late to assert power. (Rebels are usually men.)

Ms DeLonzor, in a study she led at San Francisco State University, found that about 17 per cent of participants were chronically late. Among them, there were clear patterns, reported

  • Procrastinate more
  • Demonstrated trouble with self-control (prone to habits such as overeating, gambling and impulse shopping)
  • Showed an affinity for thrill-seeking
  • Displayed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-like symptoms - restlessness, trouble focusing, and attention issues.

“People who are chronically late are often wrestling with anxiety, distraction, ambivalence, or other internal psychological states.” - Dr Pauline Wallin, a psychologist in Pennsylvania.


Take your time. Take a break. PHOTO: AFP

However, in Argentina and all over Latin America, being late is not rude, it’s just a different way of doing things.

Wall Street Journal explained: “In a ‘manana (tomorrow)’ culture that loves procrastinating, expats have to learn the half-joke that the word means ‘anytime between tomorrow and never’.

“To get together socially, an Argentine might say ‘digamos (let’s say)’, ‘typo (about)’ or ‘mas o menos (more or less)’ to set a time to meet.”

So see you later, mas o menos... manana…