“Fashionably late” probably doesn’t mean what most of us think when we hear it. It means being late because everyone else is in the habit of being late, and it’s expected. It’s customary. We can see just how awkward punctuality is, when punctuality is not in fashion, in the painting, Too Early, by artist James Tissot (1873).
But punctuality is in fashion. Being late? “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Granted, it’s confusing when you’re fifteen, trying to be cool, and your friends have convinced you that nobody who’s anybody shows up for a party right on time. Never mind that the birthday girl has managed, in the first hour, to convince herself that everyone hates her – that they probably pranked her when they said they’d come to her party – it’s far too early to show up at her door. After all, if it were you, you’d still be drying your hair and putting the finishing touches on your make-up, or finishing up a video game with friends on Steam. Awkward.
It’s less confusing when we’re adults, when we go to work and meetings and parent-teacher conferences. We’ve mostly stopped pretending we live in a modern-day Jane Austen novel, and we realize that our allotted lifespans are not infinite. However much we desire it were so, deep in our secret hearts, the world does not revolve around us; the clock hands move on, with us or without us.
To be late is one thing; under certain social circumstances (and with friends whose policies you understand well), arriving a few minutes after the appointed hour may even be a good thing. To keep others waiting on us isn’t fashionable at all. It’s merely inconsiderate – thoughtless, at best; inexcusably rude, at its worst. If in doubt, communicate. “Did you mean 8:00 AM sharp, or would you prefer I wander in around 8:10?”
People who are habitually late may as well not make excuses; the excuses seem to irritate others more than the tardiness. Leave earlier and plan for unexpected delays. Check the weather and traffic reports. Allow some time between meetings for “bio breaks.” Make no excuses, ever. If Godzilla shows up and eats the freeway, we’ll hear about it on the news.
Maybe we’re late because we don’t really want to be there. In that case, why did we agree to go? Next time, say, “No.” If the answer is that we really had no choice – as in, “I have to have my third round of chemo at 9 AM,” then what does putting it off accomplish? It doesn’t get us out of showing up and doing the thing thing we wished to avoid – it just gives us more time to dwell on it and takes longer to get it over with. That seems unnecessarily painful, doesn’t it?
The only thing to do when we’re running late is to call, preferably more than fifteen minutes in advance, and beg forgiveness. “I’m so sorry, please, go on without me.” Or, “I don’t want to keep you waiting, could we please re-schedule?” I don’t advise asking twice; the third time, the answer ought to be “No.”
But take that to heart, if you are one of those strident sticklers for punctuality: Say, “No.” As one friend pointed out, the reason so few people are late for a flight is the high cost of not making it onto the plane. Planes full of passengers don’t wait. Nor should we, when there are better things we could be doing with our time.
I wrote this in response to a recent spate of old blog posts and articles demanding punctuality and stopping just short of calling latecomers unwashed heathens. Not that most of us can’t relate to the rant, but imagine if I said, “Next time I catch you making a typo in email, I’m going to send that sucker straight to spam!” Or, “One more grammatical error, and we’re through! I’m done wasting brain cells deciphering your prose!” Although I agree with the call for more attentiveness to punctuality, there are few things more unattractive and annoying than a churlish martyr lecturing others on how to behave. Be forgiving and compassionate, lest karma throw a blown tire and a broken timing belt your way, or worse.
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