Punctuality means different things in different cultures. A meeting at 11.00 in some societies could mean any time that day (later never earlier) and to be on time might look servile.
Here we accept that getting together at an agreed time is fairly rigid. “Catch you for a coffee at 2.00,” would mean between 2.00 and 2.05. Meetings, business and medical appointments should start on time and therefore arriving five minutes beforehand is essential and respectful. Accepting an invitation to eat together at someone’s house at 7.00 would mean between 7.05 (not 7.00) and 7.15. Too early and you catch the hosts in disarray. Baroness Nadine de Rothschild offers the “quart d’heure de politesse” (a quarter of an hour for politeness.) A cocktail party can only swing if everyone gets there within the first half hour. (Come on, they only last for a couple of hours so respect that you've been asked.)
We’ve all had problems with arriving on time – road works you knew nothing about, a booked taxi that failed to arrive. (But Uber and mobiles have surely fixed that?) But failing disaster, being on time is a gesture of respect and grace. Your time is not more valuable than anyone else’s and you’re not “entitled” to allow your inefficiency to involve others. "I'm late because I was making you a cake," won't wash with me. I'm excited and looking forward to seeing you.
So here’s a social and diplomacy dilemma I experienced recently.
A friend (I’ll call him Ludo) was invited to eat with us at 6.30 p.m., making six at table. (Yes dreadfully early but we’re all getting older and as Lizzie says, “We all need a drink by then”.)
Ludo texted to say he’d be there at 6.15. Now, Ludo is generous to a fault. A bachelor, he flings French Champagne (tautology) and flowers at an invitation with sincerity and abandon. I texted back to say (tactfully) that I was happy he could join us and that 6.30 would be fine.
We waited and waited, not knowing whether to open another bottle or call the hospital. He arrived finally at 7.28. Why? Dressed and ready to leave, a friend he hadn’t seen in a while rang his bell and Ludo invited him in and offered him a drink.
Guests shouldn't have to wait more than forty minutes to sit down. Should we have sat down and started? Where does the loyalty or obligation lie? Are there any concerns about the others waiting? When can we say no?
(What would Prince Harry have done? What would you have done?)