Last week, Jason Manford bought a round of drinks for his 835-strong audience as an apology for keeping them waiting. The comedian was stuck in traffic for two hours and eventually made it to the stage 40 minutes late. I imagine the audience were very appreciative of his generosity as he took to the stage, and ultimately did not mind the late hour.
Is it the casual, modern way to be relaxed about punctuality? I certainly believe it’s impolite to be more than half an hour late for no good reason. Text messages saying, “So sorry, I’m running a little late. Be with you soon.” hardly makes up for it.
I’m not talking about Mr Manford here. He had a genuine reason for being late and made up for it. I’m talking about habitual offenders who constantly make their friends wait. I myself favour being on time, and feel positively embarrassed if I have kept someone waiting.
On this matter, I defer to the more expert hand of Thomas Blaikie, etiquette writer for The Lady magazine. He advocates being ruthless with friends who keep us waiting in public places. “If they are more than 15 minutes late for the third time, don’t wait another minute… Go off and amuse yourself elsewhere. With some people, lateness is a symptom of deep-seated unreliability and selfishness…But sometimes they reform. Always give them a chance if they promise to do better.”
However, Mr Blaikie advises arriving a little late for parties and dinners at other people’s houses. I do agree that it seems rather curious about guests who arrive on the dot. It gives the impression that they have been lurking just beyond your house, waiting for the exact moment to ring the bell. Often, hosts are grateful for the extra ten minutes after the stated time in which the guests don’t arrive. But do not be more than 15 minutes late without giving prior notice.
As a host, I sometimes have a quiet word with the notorious latecomers beforehand. I would give them an earlier start time than the rest of my guests. That way, I know the event will not overrun as a consequence of needless waiting. If they still arrive late, try starting without them. This happened to me in my early teens, and I’ve remembered the lesson ever since. I know it’s extreme, but it obliges us to respect other people’s time.
There may be an unspoken understanding in society that “if you are important, people will wait.” To some extent, this is practiced. However, do keep in mind that waiting for one person is discourteous to everyone else who made the effort to arrive on time.