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Punctuality is the characteristic of being able to complete a required task or fulfill an obligation before or at a previously-designated time. "Punctual" is often used synonymously with "on time."

According to each culture, there is often an understanding about what is considered an acceptable degree of punctuality. Usually, a small amount of lateness is acceptable; this is commonly about ten or fifteen minutes in Western cultures. In some cultures, such as Japanese society, or in the military there basically is no allowance.

Some cultures have an unspoken understanding that actual deadlines are different from stated deadlines; for example, it may be understood in a particular culture that people will turn up an hour later than advertised. In this case, since everyone understands that a 9 am meeting will actually start around 10 am, no one is inconvenienced when everyone turns up at 10 am.

In cultures which value punctuality, being late is tantamount to showing disrespect for another's time and may be considered insulting. In such cases, punctuality may be enforced by social penalties, for example by excluding low-status latecomers from meetings entirely. Such considerations can lead on to considering the value of punctuality in econometrics and to considering the effects of non-punctuality on others in queueing theory.

Punctuality, time value and queuing theoryEdit

In many situations the requirement for punctuality is asymmetric. For example, in a doctor's clinic or airport, customers are expected to turn up on time for their appointment or lose it, yet may be kept waiting for an unspecified time before they can see the doctor or board the plane. This can be regarded as an assessment of the relative value of the provider's time and that of the customer, the exact value of which can be determined by a combination of queuing theory and game theory.

If the relative value was different, it would be easy to reduce waiting times by providing extra planes or doctors, and under-utilizing them, at the cost of increasing the price of travel or medical treatment proportionately. This can be seen in the behavior of the wealthy, who can afford to hire private planes and have doctors who visit them, rather than vice versa, and in the extreme case of the ultra-rich, to have their own personal physicians and dedicated private planes and flight crews who wait on their needs exclusively.

This expression of punctuality as a relative valuation of personal time value may be the reason for the description, often attributed to Louis XVIII, of punctuality as "the politeness of kings."

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