The origins of the word ‘deadline’ are pretty much forgotten these days. Now we tend to use it as a point in time, agreed and adhered to so that the world can operate in a more orderly manner. Trains, planes and radio station traffic departments set them regularly – and sometimes we even believe them.
In actual fact, deadlines were originally boundary lines laid out on the floor in Union prisons during the American civil war – cross the ‘line’ and they’d shoot you ‘dead’. Fair enough.
I’m not saying we should bring back fatal consequences for people missing a bus, for example – but I do want to defend the right of people to set and enforce reasonable deadlines for services rendered or received. It’s civilised – like queuing properly. If you don’t have deadlines it’s a slippery slope to anarchy and chaos – or Italy.
To illustrate their attitude to deadlines; the two words you never want to hear an Italian say are, ‘It’s coming’.
It could be about a pizza you ordered, a bus to the airport, or - as I recently witnessed in Sicily – the delivery of a hire car to a German man who didn’t understand the fluidity of the Italian space-time continuum.
He’d ordered the car to be delivered to his hotel by 10-00am, and was asking the hotel receptionist why, at 10-45, it hadn’t arrived.
She phoned the car hire company to get an update, and after several minutes of high speed chatter she hung up and announced cooly ‘It’s coming.’
Your typical meek Englishman would probably back down at this point – stepping back from the reception desk to study his shoes or look at a map etc.
But not the German.
‘When???’ He barked.
‘Soon…’ she sneered, ‘Unless you don’t want it any more…?’ she added with more than a hint of threat.
‘It seems to me that you didn’t want this car so soon if you only complain to me now. What’s it to be? You decide. Sir.’
This completely finished off our Teutonic tourist. He had no car, no answers, and no comprehension of what had just taken place. The logic the nice Italian lady had employed was so far away from what he was accustomed to, he simply couldn’t deal with it.
The moral of this tale is; Deadlines work – even in Italy - but only if everyone knows what they are, and what the consequences are if you miss them.
And the car? It had been there all along. The bloke who delivered it was sitting outside having a fag, and didn’t see the need to let the German gent know he’d arrived...
Being British, I decided it was best not to get involved…