Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Rules of Lateness

When I was young, a co-worker and I went to a breakfast meeting in Minneapolis. The meeting was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. and we were right there. At ten after, Bruce stood up to leave. I was surprised, but accompanied him out the door. He stated that if someone is more than ten minutes late, it's wrong and with other work to do we can't sit here frittering away the day.

Actually I don't remember the exact words, though I believe I do recall the restaurant. What made an impression was the principle involved. People should be punctual. Ten minutes was the rule. You should never be more than ten minutes late.

Rules like this may not apply to all cultures, for sure. It was certainly not my experience in Mexico or Puerto Rico. But the American business culture does place a high premium on punctuality, and Esquire magazine has offered up a tidy summary of the matter in a little etiquette piece called "The Rules of Lateness."

After a brief intro, they dish it out straight.

10 minutes
Call, apologize, and say you're running five minutes behind. This puts the inconvenienced parties at ease and keeps their eyes off the clock.

EdNote: This brief instruction sets the table. The person waiting is being inconvenienced. We all know how elastic time it. One minute can feel like two years when you're uncertain how long it will really be. Waiting for your doctor, waiting for your waitress to come back to take your order, waiting for an important phone call.... we've all experienced these things and know how agonizing they can get once we begin to feel antsy.

20 minutes
Call, apologize, and provide an excuse. ("I left without my wallet.") If the group's becoming impatient, at least they're coddled.

30 minutes
Call, apologize, and encourage them to start without you. Food can be a palliative.

40 minutes
Call, apologize, and blame traffic. They'll think it's a lie, but it's one they've used before.

50 minutes
Call, apologize, and cite a pet or child issue.

1 hour

Call, apologize profusely, and consider picking up a gift. Then again, maybe you should just get there. You're late enough already.

Back in the 80's we didn't have cell phones, and I suppose it's possible that fellow we were s'posed to meet could have gotten caught in traffic. Nowadays, however, we armed to the teeth with devices to make contact with one another at any time, nearly anywhere. That's why it might be helpful to know the rules.

Meantime, life goes on. Have a super Saturday.

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