There is a saying in German: Pünktlichkeit ist die Höflichkeit der Könige. It means “Punctuality is the Politeness of Kings,” and it was illustrated to me during the two years I lived in that lovely country. Germans tended to show up on time for, well, everything – and not, as some people would think, because they are a dull race of clock-watchers; rather, because they consider it the height of disrespect to keep others waiting.
In my own country, we adopt a far more laissez-faire attitude towards punctuality. Everyone is going to be late all the time, we reason, so who wants to get there first and be Nigel No-Mates until all the others turn up? (Of course, anyone can see the absurdity of taking this point to its logical conclusion: the first party-goer would show up three days late and have to play solitaire on his IPhone for a week before anyone else strolled in.)
However, the older I get, the more I appreciate the German attitude towards punctuality. It may be because the Teutonic respect for punctuality has rubbed off on me, but more likely it’s because I’m often the one left in the cafe, flipping through three-month-old magazines with coffee rings on them.
|He's late, he's late, for a very important date...|
Of course, I don’t subscribe to the draconian idea that one should never be late. Naturally, life gets in the way now and then. And sometimes we really do get stuck in traffic/can’t find our car keys/receive a phone call just before leaving.
Here, then, are my personal ALMs (Acceptable Lateness Meridians):
Meeting in a cafe/restaurant: I think ten minutes should be the limit of lateness, unless making contact beforehand. If I’m going to be later than ten minutes, then a phone call is needed. A good rule of thumb is to make the phone call as many minutes before the time of meeting, as the caller will be late; ie if you will be twenty minutes late, call twenty minutes before the agreed meeting time.
Dinner at a friend’s house: there is no excuse to ever arrive more than ten minutes after the "dinner start" time, because the friend (especially if he or she is a pedantic organiser like me) will have timed everything to come out of the oven on the dot when people are sitting down to be served.
House party: this is a situation where there is rather a lot of lee-way. In least in my town, if anyone shows up at the declared “start time” of the party, they are likely to be greeted by a horrified hostess who has just stepped out of the shower. Thirty minutes late is a nice rule of thumb; but no more than ninety minutes – the poor hostess will be panicking that her party is a flop.
Picking up a friend from her house to go elsewhere: again there is some wriggle room. I assume that in her own home my friend will be able to amuse herself for a while – she can read a book or magazine, flick on the telly, call someone. However, it’s worth considering that she won’t start doing anything substantial, like baking a cake, because she expects you to show up and whisk her away at any moment. I would think fifteen or twenty minutes is okay; thirty minutes if she’s a very understanding friend. Anything later really merits an apologetic phone call.
Your thoughts, Gentle Reader? Are you the waiter, or the waited-upon? Have you ever been driven to distraction by a friend’s tardiness? What are your Acceptable Lateness Meridians?
PS As you may have guessed, the title of this post was taken from a Lewis Carroll quote: "Which form of proverb do you prefer: Better late than never, or Better never than late?"