On Tuesday, I left my yoga class immediately it ended, ran down the stairs and rushed to a restaurant to meet someone who had been hounding me to get together. She needed some information urgently for a crisis situation and that day and that time was the only ‘window’ we had in common. I got to the restaurant with five minutes to spare. And there I sat. She never showed.
Or emailed. Or texted or MMMS’d or BBM’d or sent a goddamned carrier pigeon. After 10 minutes I ordered a coffee. After 20 I left. “Oh, yes” she said in response to my email query – “I whad to go get my children and was delayed and … well you know how it goes.”
No actually – I don’t.
I am an ‘on-time’ kind of person. I may slide in as the hand ticks the hour – but I am there. If I am not – I would have called you and e-mailled and left messages. And will keep trying to reach you. And I will apologise.
Yesterday I went to a meeting a long drive from town. My host wanted us to meet at his office – so that he wouldn’t be distracted. I arrived a few minutes early, loitered around in the empty reception area and eventually took to walking office to office to find the man. He was on a conference call: waved at me, mouthed “wont’ be a sec” and went back to the phone. I waited another 10 minutes, found his boss’ office and plonked myself down. “Hi”, I said: “Here’s why I am here.” We had a good chat.
The first guy never showed.
A great pal of mine has a chronic ‘lateness’ problem. In fact, as far as I can recall, he has never made it to meet me at the appointed hour. And this is usually after he has rescheduled a couple of times. Last week he arrived a half hour late for a meeting at his own house. He walked in without a word of explanation, found that his partner had poured me a drink and made a crack about having “started without him.” Great entrance, very droll – but as Edward Lucas once remarked: “I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them.”
The other participant was also overdue. In fact, they had travelled from town together. So were complicit in their tardiness. He proffered a cheek, kiss kiss and “we need to get going because it’s my turn to cook dinner and I don’t want to be late”. The irony seemingly lost on everyone but me.
I drove home with my jaw clenched: then gave myself a talking to: “Did it really matter? Or is it your ego getting hooked”. Maybe: my ex-boss used to mess me around all the time. I once waited 90 minutes for him outside his apartment. He was eating lunch. Eventually the car-door opened, famous practiced grin appeared:
“Not really .. We’ve missed our flight, I’m hungry and I want to slap you hard.”
But of course I didn’t say that out loud. He was my direct report and I had spent my time rearranging our travel and rescheduling all of our meetings for the next day. But I was furious. And so were many of the people we mucked around.
Was I over-reacting? An ex-colleague of mine thought so: “Chill”, he said: “it’s not personal. It’s just life”. I considered his words as I drove back to town on Thursday. And I don’t agree. It is personal. At it’s most simple the message is: “My time is more valuable than yours”. Dig deeper – and you’ll likely find contempt.
According to the long established British Guide to Appropriate English Manners (aka the Lady Magazine’s advice column); it’s not just me. Tardiness has become an epidemic in that most proper of countries too. How, I wondered, how does the unfailingly polite Brit handle the carelessness of his fellow countryman? The Lady was clear:
“With friends who are late meeting up in a public place, be ruthless. Why should you be stranded outside the Odeon with nothing to do? If they are more than 15 minutes late for the third time, don’t wait another minute. Go home. Go off and amuse yourself elsewhere. With some people, lateness is a symptom of deep-seated unreliability and selfishness. You might have to get rid of them altogether. But sometimes they reform. Always give them a chance if they promise to do better.”
And if they don’t?
“But what to do about the gross offenders, who waltz in up to an hour late? They are hell. As likely as not they cause the occasion to overrun at the other end. Then everyone’s horribly late to bed and wrecked for the rest of the week.”
Strong language for a Lady …. and the solution offered here is firm too:
“Mrs Robson Scott’s (late of Dorset Square) method with such latecomers was simply to refuse admission. ‘You’re too late,’ she would inform them on the doorstep. And wave them off.”
There’s a great Arabian quote: “The hasty and the tardy meet at the ferry.” Good for them. But I’m with Mrs Robson Scott – from now on, that’s my handkerchief you’ll see fluttering in the breeze.
(Ferry Image in the public domain. Dinosaurs copyright Regan).