Slightly late or slightly early?
January 24, 2011 2:45 PM   Subscribe

When you're meeting up with people, should you err on the side of "slightly early" or on the side of "slightly late"?

For years, my husband and I have engaged in the following little dance whenever we have a social engagement (meeting up with a friend somewhere) at a certain time (say, 1pm). Person A gets increasingly nervous as the time approaches, insisting on leaving soon. Person B constantly says "there's still tons of time!"

We realised the other day that this was because we have very different definitions of what constitutes rudeness. Both of us agree that arriving at precisely 1pm would be best, but given that we're human, what we end up doing in practice is erring toward either being slightly late or slightly early -- and we disagree on which side you should err.

Person A thinks it is very rude to arrive AFTER 1pm. To do so is to imply that you don't take the other person's time seriously and don't mind making them wait around.

Person B thinks that it's rude to arrive BEFORE 1pm. If you're going to their house, you risk them not being ready for you yet. If you're meeting somewhere else, you end up waiting around or putting out the people at the place you're meeting (e.g., waitstaff, etc).

This is not a big deal for our marriage or anything, but this whole situation made me realise that I don't really know what the general consensus is (if there is one). Both of us had been assuming that the rest of the world largely agreed with our view.

So... is there a consensus? Are there regional differences here? (for what it's worth, we currently live in Australia, but have lived in the UK, Canada, and all over America as well). What do you think is the least rude thing?
posted by forza to Human Relations (72 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite can always sit in the car...
posted by Busmick at 2:46 PM on January 24, 2011 [26 favorites]

Is it business or pleasure?

For business I'd arrive early, for pleasure late.

I consider up to +/- 5 minutes to be acceptable.

On preview, Busmick's advise is excellent.
posted by redyaky at 2:48 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always seen this as a personality driven sort of thing. I am an always early person, and I have several friends who are always late.
posted by Zophi at 2:48 PM on January 24, 2011

Early. It's always early.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, live in San Marcos, TX.
posted by King Bee at 2:49 PM on January 24, 2011

I am from the midwest of America, so this may be regional but...

I think you should be late to parties, early to meet up in public places, and exactly on time when meeting up at someone's house.
posted by jenlovesponies at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2011 [70 favorites]

If it's a party at someone's house then early is bad. If it's a dinner reservation, then being late is bad.
posted by cabingirl at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Here's what I think is the proper Midwestern/Chicago consensus (but I may just be projecting) for what is polite/proper:

Business = Early

Pleasure at a third party location = on-time (or early)

Pleasure at someone's house = slightly late
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2011 [32 favorites]

Obviously, it depends on the event in part. If it's a party that's going on all night, getting there anytime after the start is pretty much fine. If you're going on the friend's boat with some other couples, late could be very rude indeed. Early really isn't much better--at least in my house, frantic last minute preparations are often underway, and rarely appropriate for public consumption.

If arriving early is logistically possible, why don't you just get there early but not ring your friends' doorbell until the appointed time?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2011

Person B thinks that it's rude to arrive BEFORE 1pm. If you're going to their house, you risk them not being ready for you yet.

Meeting someone at their own house is kind of a special case here. Waiting in your own home for someone is not the same as waiting in public, someone else's home, etc. In this situation, it is rude to be super-early, but a few minutes early is still not a big deal.

If you're meeting somewhere else, you end up waiting around or putting out the people at the place you're meeting (e.g., waitstaff, etc).

I don't think this makes any sense at all. In general, it is polite to always err on the side of early, for the reason person A mentions.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I believe your example contains two very different types of events. I am definitely an early arriver when the meeting is on neutral territory. Keeping someone else waiting after the designated arrival time at a restaurant, club, theater, etc. seem incredibly rude to me. However, when going to someone's home, I go for slightly late. I was given an arrival time, and would not impose myself before that designated time.
posted by hworth at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Early. It's always early.

Born and raised on Planet Earth.
posted by thejoshu at 2:51 PM on January 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

Agree with Busmick: if you're going to someone's house, err on the side of early and wait in the car (or a block from the house if you're walking) until it's time. If it's out, and you're meeting me, and you're 5 minutes late, I will be put out (though I won't say anything because I know that's supposedly an acceptable amount of lateness). If you're meeting me and you're early either I won't be there yet so I won't know or I'll be there too and we can start earlier. You don't need to worry about putting waitstaff, etc. out. But assuming late is more polite is... frankly jerky, those people who are always 5 or more minutes late are the people who I dread meeting for things.
posted by brainmouse at 2:51 PM on January 24, 2011

I err on the side of early because I feel it's pretty rude to be late. You can always hang out in the car or go for a little walk or whatever. That said, if someone texts me or calls me and tells me that they're running late before the meeting time, I'm usually cool with it.

Of course, the answer isn't really as simple as personal preference. You have to take into consideration what the activity is, the people you are meeting, the culture, etc. For example, when I lived in Los Angeles, if you arrive a little early, you will actually be REALLY early because there's a general culture that things really start 45 minutes to an hour after the planned time.
posted by Kimberly at 2:52 PM on January 24, 2011

Early is better. If you are planning on being early and you run into a delay on the way, you'll only be a little late. If you are planning on arriving "appropriately" late but run into a delay, you are now rudely late.
posted by philosophygeek at 2:52 PM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, this: If you're meeting somewhere else, you end up waiting around... is why I hate people who are perpetually late: You don't want to wait around, it's much better to always make the person you're meeting wait around? Is this really an argument in favor of lateness? Cuz it's really an argument in favor of being selfish.
posted by brainmouse at 2:54 PM on January 24, 2011 [16 favorites]

If you're going to someone's house, wait in the car if you're early, but the situation can be easily figured out if you just look at the words:

"meeting up with a friend somewhere at [1pm]"

You cannot possibly meet someone at 1:00pm if you do not arrive until 1:05pm. The earliest you can possibly meet someone is when you arrive where they are (or are going to be), so when the appointed time arrives, you should already be at the appointed place -- it's that simple.

To arrive late is to not hold up your end of the bargain. Doesn't make you a bad person or "less driven" or anything like that, but you certainly have not done what you said you'd do.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:54 PM on January 24, 2011

From the perspective of the visitor, I really can't see what's wrong with AT 1pm. I find that it works pretty well.

From the perspective of the cook, I find ten minutes late not strictly necessary but most comforting. Gives me time to unwind and get my first glass of sherry or whatnot, and the à la minute stuff anyway goes in the pan after all people are there (Problems with 20-minute fish-in-foil, agreed. In that case I would have some snacks or antipasti ready so people don't faint before the fish is out.)

Never too early, of course. You could catch them at you-don't-wanna-know.
posted by Namlit at 2:55 PM on January 24, 2011

I'm glad most people above agree that early is a better time to aim for, even if you have to sit around until it's on-time. I don't feel like a freakish event stalker now =).

You can always make early fashionably late, but you can't go back in time. Or something like that.

Also, you can check for snipers or The Man before you walk in!
posted by graftole at 2:55 PM on January 24, 2011

My entire family is culturally chronically late to everything. It makes me crazy.

In general, I try to plan, plot, and structure my arrival time in order to minimize the inconvenience to others.

I like to be at least 5 minutes early if I'm meeting for work-related stuff, for Person A's reasons.

If I'm going to someone's house for small-group hanging-out, I prefer to be precisely on time. So I will show up early, but drive around the block/lurk around the corner like a crazy person/kill a bit of time so that I can arrive on the doorstep at precisely the correct moment.

Similarly, I like to be on-time-verging-on-early where dinner reservations are concerned.

But if I'm going to a big event, or a party at someone's house, I tend to purposely arrive a bit late -- I figure that they need all the set-up time they can muster (at least, I know I do) and I don't want to impose myself upon others.
posted by kataclysm at 2:56 PM on January 24, 2011

I'm on time for one-on-one events (or if I'm meeting up with a couple) but I'm slightly late for group events. Part of this is the rudeness of showing up early or on time to a party or event but I have to admit that part of it is personal anxiety about showing up. I hate walking into empty places and would much rather sidle in amongst a group of people. Probably the bigger the group, the later I arrive. But maybe I'm being rude.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:58 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I prefer to be early. Like Kataclysm, I come from a "chronically late" culture that drives me up the walls. If I'm early I can always check email or do something while waiting for other people to show up.
posted by Anima Mundi at 2:59 PM on January 24, 2011

I've always been an early type and Mrs. Advicepig hasn't, but both try to be tolerant. Mostly, we shoot for early. As for the meeting at someone's house situation, if we're carpooling, we tend to give a range for time of arrival, like "we'll be by around 5:45" or somesuch and show up a little later. If it's an event at someone's house, a little late is expected in our circle of friends.
posted by advicepig at 2:59 PM on January 24, 2011

Los Angeles Native here. McMikeNamara is right on.

I don't like early house guests ever.

5-10 minutes of lateness without notification is fine - 10-15 minutes of lateness with notification is also fine. Anything beyond that is pushing it. Pushing plans same day is also ok, as long as it's not an hour or two before we are set to meet.
posted by amycup at 3:01 PM on January 24, 2011

I think it is polite to be early if you are meeting anywhere EXCEPT someone's house. It is rude to make someone wait for you, and implies their time is less valuable than your time.

However, if you are meeting someone at their house, they may not be ready for you, so it's better to be on time or up to 5 minutes late. You can always wait outside if you're early. Of course, if you know them well it might be fine to show up early.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:03 PM on January 24, 2011

Early. Gives you time to check out all the escape routes.
posted by vidur at 3:04 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Always early or on time, because being late for a meeting in a public space is rather rude (past about 5 minutes). If you're meeting someone at their house, however, I say being moderately late is acceptable and even preferred. As the queen of hosting last-minute dinner parties, I greatly appreciate guests who are 10-15 minutes late (but no later, because then you start to wonder if you got the day wrong or something). As it is our first dinner guests usually catch myself or Mr. Go Banana in the shower (well, not literally you understand). We serve lovely dinners and fine cocktails though.
posted by Go Banana at 3:05 PM on January 24, 2011

Early, pretty much always. Especially if it's business, or a social call outside of someone else's place. If you get somewhere early, you can people watch, check your e-mail on your phone, or do something else. I always get flustered running to somewhere even close to being late, so that may be me.

If it's at someone else's place, I tend to be a few minutes late, but it also depends on the event. I've been to plenty of potlucks where someone with a main dish decides to show up 30 minutes late. Really fucks up the whole evening.
posted by SNWidget at 3:08 PM on January 24, 2011

Depends on your situation:

Just you meeting a friend or two at a coffee shop or restaurant? On-time or early. Never late.

Going to a friend's house when they are hosting a big dinner? On-time or (a little) late. Never early (shout-out to whoever mentioned cooking. it is awkward when people show up too early and they are standing around, needing to be entertained, while you trying to juggle a bunch of food items over a hot, hot flame)

Arriving at a big party? I assume there is a reason they have the phrase "fashionably late." Showing up on-time is awful. You want to make an entrance and a scene. Though that is for your benefit, really.

posted by vivid postcard at 3:08 PM on January 24, 2011

theres always exactly on time, which I think is especially suitable for business. I think subtly it impresses people with your time management skills:P
posted by figTree at 3:12 PM on January 24, 2011

Business = early
Pleasure = never early; maybe right on time.
posted by brownrd at 3:18 PM on January 24, 2011

Mostly echoing others...

Business: 5 minutes early
Restaurant: On time
House/Party: 15-30 minutes late

(I just hosted ~30 for brunch on Saturday and was SO relieved that not one person showed up on time. In fact, in my circle we depend on others to be late...)
posted by hapax_legomenon at 3:19 PM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here in New Mexico it's the norm to be late, to the point where few people would notice if you turned up five or ten minutes after you said you would, even for a one-on-one meeting. I've been over an hour late to a party at a busy restaurant, only to find everyone (including the birthday boy) just sitting down to their first drinks!
posted by vorfeed at 3:28 PM on January 24, 2011

No one ever missed an event getting there early.
posted by Max Power at 3:40 PM on January 24, 2011

For me it depends on where I'm going and what the occasion is. A party? Late, definitely. Because if you're early they might not be ready for you, and if you're slightly late it's OK - you're not putting the host out. A movie? Early, because not only does it not put anyone out, but it's always best to get to the movies earlier rather than later.

If it's something like going to dinner, where erring more than 5-10 minutes would be a big deal, I try to just get there on time. I suppose in that situation I'd rather be early. Because while it may complicate matters (having to wait at the bar, having your host not be ready for you), it's better than being late and possibly hurting your companions' feelings or complicating matters for them.
posted by Sara C. at 3:42 PM on January 24, 2011

I'm also in Australia and find that people here are generally late. It's not my preference but I've learned to live with it and don't hold it against people.
posted by unliteral at 3:43 PM on January 24, 2011

My grandfather* used to say: "Early is on time; on time is late." And he once chewed me out when I was in junior high and he had to pick me up from some after-school function. I SWEAR TO GOD I WAS AT THE PICKUP SPOT ON TIME. Goddamn school clocks.

So I prefer to be early, although I get that arriving at someone's house too early can be awkward. (But if you're close enough friends, it can be fun/helpful, too!) If it's a more open-ended event I'll probably arrive a little later, especially if I don't know the hosts that well.

* Born in 1911, originally from NYC, moved to southern CA as an adult. I was born/raised in so. CA.
posted by epersonae at 3:43 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I'm in the US east of the Mississippi, if it matters. Grew up in the south, have lived in the north my whole adult life. Also, my parents both tend on the late side in general, which probably has an impact - being late makes me nervous, in general.
posted by Sara C. at 3:43 PM on January 24, 2011

I subscribe to the Price Is Right Theory of Punctuality*: Aim to get there as close as possible to the scheduled time without going over.

(*not an actual thing, I just made it up)
posted by ella wren at 3:45 PM on January 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm the type of person with an anxious personality who always makes sure to arrive at any meeting well on the early side. This includes if I am going to meet somebody out somewhere, like at a coffee shop. But the one exception is if I am meeting somebody at their own home, in which case I'll sit in the car and wait until it's the exact scheduled time of the social invitation, or 1-3 minutes past it, before ringing the doorbell.

This is how I see it: if I arrive a few minutes early to a public place to meet somebody, there cannot be negative consequences. There's no chance of my early arrival disrupting anybody else at the public place, and by arriving early I'll be guaranteed not to waste my friend's time. However, if I arrive at my friend's home early, I might be imposing on her by not giving her enough time to get ready. And at somebody else's home, it's better to make them wait a few extra minutes for me (since they're just lounging about comfortably in their home, anyway) than to rudely ring the doorbell early and make them feel rushed or embarrassed for not being ready.
posted by datarose at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2011

Business? Always early, but only by 5 minutes.
Meeting at a restaurant or other public place? A little early. Value your friends' time, and don't make them wait.
At someone's house? A little bit late. They might be doing some last-minute cleaning, or otherwise doing things that assume you won't be there early.

I've invited people over for dinner, telling them to be here between X and Y, with dinner at Y. I become agitated at the folks who arrive late, because it means we're waiting on them for dinner, and it's getting cold.
posted by explosion at 3:48 PM on January 24, 2011

I disagree with those who say it's ok to be late coming to my house. 10 minutes is pushing it, and anything later you should have called.

But anywhere else, please be early rather than late.
posted by monkeymadness at 3:49 PM on January 24, 2011

i know someone who has actually stated that if your time is worth more than the person's time who you are meeting, then you arrive late. if their time is more important than yours, you arrive early. he classifies "important" in such shallow terms as "billable rate" and the like. he will purposefully arrive late to adhere to this fucked up system.

so - don't be like him. early or on time. if you're going to someone's house, up to 10 minutes late is acceptable, but no later. none of this applies if the invite says "until the party stops!" as the end time.
posted by nadawi at 3:52 PM on January 24, 2011

As a guest, I'm always early (probably too early) for many things. That's the only way to make sure I'm on-time.

As a host, I'm also always ready to receive guests early. That means that I am sitting in my home anxiously awaiting your arrival. datarose mentions above that I'm likely just lounging about comfortably in [my] home, anyway but I am most likely not lounging, and instead checking the window/cellphone/email to make sure my guests haven't cancelled on me. (But that's probably just some slight social anxiety.)

Either way, as host or guest, I'm not running late, so if you're meeting up with me, why should you be buying me extra time that I didn't need?
posted by watch out for turtles at 3:57 PM on January 24, 2011

It depends on your friends.

I'm British, but I live in Rio de Janeiro. I should show my friends here this thread: it would astound them, or confirm everything they ever suspected about gringos. For social events, 2-3 hours late is considered a bit off here (unless it's a party, in which case, fine), but an hour or less is OK. I turn up "on time", by which I mean within half an hour, and I'm normally one of the first. Dunno how things work in business; my post-grad classes regularly started 30-60 minutes after their official time.

As people have pointed out, this might be seen as selfish - turning up late is not valuing the other person's time. But it's also more forgiving, and an atmosphere where you don't measure "value" by superficial things like punctuality.
posted by squishles at 4:04 PM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't show up at someone's house early (but I'd try to get there on time, erring on the side of early, and wait in my car or whatever). But I find my perpetually late friends incredibly rude. My whole life I've been surrounded by people who believe their time is much more valuable than my own. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Yeah, I could have stayed in bed or watched TV or read my book for an extra 15 minutes, too, if I didn't actually respect my friends' time. (GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 4:05 PM on January 24, 2011

Public transit is extremely reliable outside of rush hour where I live, so I often end up being right on time for meeting friends. Friends who take public transit also tend to have a small margin of error by at most 10 minutes.

Driving often means traffic, so when it's known that someone's driving it can mean they might be up to half an hour late.

During rush hour, public transit's unpredictable and I can be late to work by 15 minutes and no one notices, except when I have a meeting scheduled first thing and will leave more time to get to work.
posted by waterandrock at 4:06 PM on January 24, 2011

(Parties are a different matter. Events that go from 6-12, for instance, I consider having a 6-hour window. Show up for the amount of time you plan to spend there. But if I'm having brunch at noon, please, show up at noon or you'll miss it. And I only have an hour or two to meet with you at the bar after work, so it's going to be a problem if you're an hour late, and I don't always want to drink alone for that long.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 4:07 PM on January 24, 2011

Meeting a guy or group in a bar, late.

Meeting friends who are always late, on time towards late.

Someone's house, late.

Neutral venue, early towards on time.

Meeting my Irish relatives (in rural Ireland), late or very late, I'll probably still be one of the first ones there.

My English family are almost always late meeting me at stations or airports. Yes, even if they know the flight time and it takes me an hour to clear immigration and customs.
posted by plonkee at 4:07 PM on January 24, 2011

I tend to err on the side of early, particularly for hard deadlines like dinner reservations or concerts. I personally dislike being late for things, as through experience I've found tardiness seems to unnecessarily complicate things. I don't have hard-and-fast rules for being on time, nor do I hold a distinction between formal and informal gatherings, and I sure as heck wouldn't begrudge someone's excusable lateness. But for me, I try to make it a point in life to be on-time or early, as much as possible.

So yes, this means I'll show up at your house for a potluck maybe 15 minutes early, and will not be waiting in the car. However, when I do arrive earlier than the appointed time, I'll busy myself with helping you out in the kitchen or prepping the dining room, maybe assist with the grill in the backyard. So far it's always been a win-win for everybody; you get done that much faster, and I get prime parking and a bit of one-on-one time.
posted by CancerMan at 4:18 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I disagree with those who say it's ok to be late coming to my house.

This is culturally determined, but in both the US and Britain my experience has been that, unless you know the person well enough to be sure that you can break the generally accepted rule, you should never be early when invited to someone's house. As you cannot be certain that your host's clock is not slightly slow, this implies being slightly late.

This is codified in the british invitations that are expressed as "eight for eight-thirty" and the like: the nominal time of the invitation is eight (and of course you should not arrive before then), dinner will actually be served at eight-thirty (arriving after that time would cause problems), so you should arrive between those times -- probably 8:10 to 8:20, giving yourself time for a pre-dinner sherry. In the absence of such an specific invitation you should still not arrive early, though arriving twenty minutes after the appointed time is pushing it, but as most invitations do presume time for removal of coats, and a drink or whatever, before the evening's main event, anybody who complains that you have ruined dinner by arriving five minutes after the appointed hour is the one who is violating social norms.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 4:36 PM on January 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm from the midwest. There is no late. There is early, on-time, and apologizing profusely. Those are the only options. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:38 PM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

In my view and experience, up to five minutes late for anything leisure-related -- including a dinner reservation -- is "on time." If something needs to happen at EXACTLY an appointed hour, it's best to set the meeting time for some time before that, to accommodate traffic, trouble with parking, last-minute discoveries of runs in stockings, sudden need to feed an infant pre-departure, &c.

For business, you should be in place no later than 3 minutes prior to the announced time. That gives you a chance to fire up your laptop, find your notes, whatever and still have the meeting start on time.

I'm a classical singer, and when we say "rehearsal starts at seven," what is meant is that downbeat is at SEVEN, sharp. IOW, at seven, you need to be in your place, with your music open, instruments tuned, voices warmed up, reeds trimmed, whatever you need to make music at seven o'clock and one second.
posted by KathrynT at 4:53 PM on January 24, 2011

I'm a classical singer, and when we say "rehearsal starts at seven," what is meant is that downbeat is at SEVEN, sharp. IOW, at seven, you need to be in your place, with your music open, instruments tuned, voices warmed up, reeds trimmed, whatever you need to make music at seven o'clock and one second.

KathrynT makes a good point, and this is probably why I'm so paranoid about being on time. I'm a classical musician/grad student, and I play bassoon. Playing bassoon means I have a whole bunch of stuff I need to set up before I even think about playing (reeds, tools, assembling the bassoon, getting out my stand, getting my music out, choosing which reed to play), which means that I'm generally at rehearsal 30 minutes before the downbeat.

I probably just extrapolate that into other aspects of my life.
posted by SNWidget at 5:27 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Always early. There are lots of ways to kill time, no way to make it appear again.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:43 PM on January 24, 2011

For business, always early. Meeting at a restaurant/cafe/etc, on time. (I consider on time to be within 5-10 minutes of the appropriate time, because stuff happens.) For a movie/play/etc, not after the assigned time. For someone's house, if it's one on one, on time, if it is a party, not early. If it is a dinner party, within half an hour of the starting time, so you miss not more than hors d'oeuvres.

It depends a bit on the person. I try to be on time for people who are on time, and I try to be late for people who are late (in part so I am less irritated by waiting, even though I have a book).

This is in Canada.
posted by jeather at 5:50 PM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. This is very interesting! I am learning:

- Pretty much everyone agrees that if it's for business, you should be early. (fwiw, both of us agree with this).

- Most people also agree that if it's for a big party at a friend's house, you should show up anywhere from 10-15 minutes to much later, depending on how close of a friend, how big the party, and how late it goes. (Both of us agree with this too)

As for other situations, it looks like there is significant variation, BUT the (rough) consensus is:

- If it is meeting somewhere that is not the friend's house, more people err on the side of being early and/or find it VERY rude for somebody to be even a little late.

- If you are meeting at the friend's house, this is where the largest variation is, but more people agree that you should either arrive early and wait in the car so you get there exactly on time, or err on the side of slightly late.

Sample size isn't large enough for regional variations to make themselves clear.

If you have anything to add or think I've mischaracterised the situation, by all means keep commenting! I don't want to shut things down yet, because I am finding all of the comments interesting - particularly if they point out considerations I hadn't thought of. (e.g., I had never heard of the 'eight for eight thirty' thing, that is pretty cool).
posted by forza at 6:01 PM on January 24, 2011

Agree about early for business but we are habitually late, which means people who show up at our house for just hanging out on time are probably going to get there before we're ready for them. Besides movies or dinner reservations, I really really don't mind if you're late. Same with dinner parties or board games or whatever. I'd say up to half an hour late for dinner parties because I have never ever heard of a dinner party starting with dinner on the dot - usually there are drinks and snacks and chitchat for the first hour (I love you, cocktail hour!) and otherwise everything else is casual and not to get too worked up about.
posted by mckenney at 6:13 PM on January 24, 2011

On-time at a neutral location, or early. Early for anything time-sensitive such as reservations or a movie. In either of these cases, being late might cause worry for the people you are meeting, and causing worry is rude. If it is a big gathering at a restaurant, of course, you have more latitude.

LATE for a get-together at anyone's house, but not too late: say 5-15 minutes. Give the hosts a little bit of leeway for getting themselves together. If you are going to be later than 15 minutes, a phone call would be good.

This has all been said above; I'm just casting another vote (and fwiw I'm one who always waits until the very last minute to leave, and always assumes the train will be there right when I need it). Location: NYC.
posted by torticat at 6:50 PM on January 24, 2011

I am personally really annoyed by people arriving late to my house. But then, I am ready for them to arrive early, so it seems like I wait longer than most people.
When I am the one traveling I would much rather be a tad early than a tad late, but I allow a five minute window either was as being "on time".
I don't know about regional variations, but I know that my parents disagreed about this all the time. My dad (from Chicago) would rather die than be less than 10 minutes early to any thing. My mom (from Eastern Tennessee) was very skilled at arriving EXACTLY on time.
posted by purpletangerine at 7:15 PM on January 24, 2011

Your summary seems to hit most of the points for me. I have a wonderful SO who is usually on the sightly-late side of things. When we're meeting somewhere we try to arrange when he should be leaving the house to get there on time [otherwise he tends to cut it super close and one sidetrack and he's late] When we're together we usually try to aim for a little early. This weekend, for example, we were doing the little dance in the house and I wanted us out the door a little early. We left a teeny bit early, but then he forgot his gloves so instead of being gloveless we had time for him to go get them. Then there was no traffic so we arrived at this person's house early. So we had time to smooch in the car. Really I think "Hey if we arrive early there's time for smooching in the car!" can make most otherwise-late people motivated.

My mother on the other hand, has that anxiety-early thing and it's a problem. She'll say she's coming over at 2 and be there at 1:15 at which point I am likely in the shower. She doesn't mind this so Ive learned to just have her call me when she's leaving the house and then I can usually gauge if she'll be early or wicked early and plan accordingly.
posted by jessamyn at 7:17 PM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with Quinbus on everything, esp that this is culturally determined.

If you don't know what the tacit understanding is for the people you're meeting, whether you're a guest or a host, it might be good to clarify matters. Saying "7 for 7:30" or "7:30 prompt" is one way to do that in some circles.

Like Quinbus probably, I would offer mild apologies if I was slightly early. Along the lines of: "Sorry I'm a little early, but don't trouble yourself on my account, I'll just sit for a while and let you get on with whatever you need to do."

That's for the average run of social events among friends. If something is very formal, maybe not really a social event at all, or needs to run with military precision, the rules would be different.
posted by philipy at 7:18 PM on January 24, 2011

Business meetings require punctuality, but I've noticed that these days people don't care much at all about showing up anwhere on time, just as long as they can send an SMS (when they're already 10 min or more overdue) saying "sry held up b there in 15".
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:37 PM on January 24, 2011

Business meetings do not necessarily require punctuality. Where I work, there is typically 5 minutes grace at the start of the meeting before we begin. If you want a meeting to start at the appointed time, you must make a stink about punctuality.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:50 PM on January 24, 2011

Heh. Being Excessively Early is one of my favorite entries at Stuff White People Like.
posted by ErikaB at 8:53 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I want to add one thing about the "be 10 minutes late if you're showing up at someone's house" thing.

I used to have people over frequently for dinner, since I liked to cook but wasn't good at cooking single-person sized portions of the food. So, I would tell people that "dinner will be at 7PM". I'd time it so that at around 6:58, everything was done and I could plate the food.

Then, my friends (listening to this advice), don't arrive for another 15 minutes. Hey, cold dinner! Awesome!

I took to actually planning to be late with the dinner because I knew my friends would show up late due to this awkward social convention that seems to be in place (show up late if it's at someone's house). Yargh.
posted by King Bee at 5:32 AM on January 25, 2011

The poster came and visited my house a few days ago. She was as near as dammit on time, and I appreciated it. Hello, Amy!
posted by Wolof at 5:49 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is another way to respect someone else's time, and that is to understand who that person is and what their expectations are. If someone who is always late invites you over DO NOT BE EARLY. If you are going to an early person's house, DO NOT BE LATE. If the plans are "oh, lets meet at 6, 6:30 at wherever", and nobody makes a point to clarify the time, you shoot for 6 and if you are late it is no big deal. And if someone makes a stink for showing up at 6:30, they are the jerk, not you.

I prefer to look at times as a window. The window widens and narrows depending on the gravity of the situation and the people involved. In many cases, including the mode of transportation. If you and all your friends are public transportation people, you have to allow for a +/- 10 minute window. If they are driving, you have to give them 5 minutes +/- some factor of their driving time and traffic and parking. You and your friends are sharing that time window- you can all vary inside that time and be OK. Because you are friends, right? But, if you THEN have a deadline to meet (movie, show), you make the window ahead of that time. This is why places where there are strict deadlines have lobbies. Show is at 8, your window is 7:30 - 7:45, because we are walking into the theater at 7:46 to get a good seat.

Basically, it is project management. You have your unmovable milestones and your buffer time. If you don't plan for one or the other, your project will fail and someone will be pounding around in a huff. The people who can't tolerate the buffer times are the jerks.

Nobody *likes* sitting around alone waiting for someone to appear. This is time we give of ourselves to other people because we value them. If we don't want to give them this time, then we value our own time or egos more than the other person's.
I want to add one thing about the "be 10 minutes late if you're showing up at someone's house" thing.

I used to have people over frequently for dinner, since I liked to cook but wasn't good at cooking single-person sized portions of the food. So, I would tell people that "dinner will be at 7PM". I'd time it so that at around 6:58, everything was done and I could plate the food.

Then, my friends (listening to this advice), don't arrive for another 15 minutes. Hey, cold dinner! Awesome!

As someone mentioned above, that is why the cocktail hour was invented. Whether that time is explicit or implicit. "Be there at 7" doesn't mean dinner is served at 7 in any society I know of. "Dinner served at 7" does mean dinner is served at 7, but it implies that your doors will be open to guests earlier than that. Many people consider it rude, or at least a hassle, to walk into someone's house and BAM! be sat down and forced to eat and be charming. Can't a guy hang up his coat, take a leak, pet the dog and tell the kids how big they are getting?

Maybe it is just me, but I find it incredibly unnerving to walk into someone's house to see a table completely set and with food already "plated". Makes me feel like I am just there to play a part in someone else's show.

The goal of socializing isn't how well we adhere to a schedule, or to collect accolades for our wonderful cooking skills. As a host, your obligation is to be gracious to your guests and give them the benefit of the doubt and all possible opportunity to be seen in a good light. If you don't give them 15-60 minutes before Luncheon Is Served, you aren't valuing them or their time- you are saying "I expect you to expend a lot of effort getting to my event right when I say, because if you are late, I will be disappointed and judge you. And don't expect to sit around in my living room if you get here early, either, because I am busy. You need to be PERFECT to meet my minimum standards."
posted by gjc at 7:33 AM on January 25, 2011 [10 favorites]

I didn't tell them to be there at 7. I told them dinner would be ready at 7. It's not a difficult code to crack.

I would think it obvious that if dinner is going to be ready at 7, then you might want to be there earlier than 7 if you don't want to walk in with a plate of food ready to go for you. Apparently, it's not.
posted by King Bee at 7:47 AM on January 25, 2011

King Bee, if someone told me "dinner is at 7" and didn't tell me any other time, I would NEVER in a million years show up even one minute prior to seven. Coming significantly before the announced time of a party is pretty unforgivable in my book unless you're explicitly showing up to help, and if 7 is the time given, then 7 is the time given. If you want me there in time to eat at seven, say "Dinner will be on the table at seven, so show up at 6:15, 6:30." You gotta give people an idea of what kind of timeframe you're expecting them to show up.
posted by KathrynT at 8:04 AM on January 25, 2011

Late to the party, but I wanted to chime in that the proclamation about New Mexico above is definitely not universally, or even close to universally, true here.

I doubt any of these "proclamations" are universally or even close to universally true. They're anecdotes. However, I stand by what I've said relative to my own experience in New Mexico.
posted by vorfeed at 4:59 PM on January 25, 2011

KathrynT, that is indeed eye-opening. I was unaware that "dinner will be ready at 7" could mean something other than "I mean that I am making dinner, and my plan is that it will be out of the oven, completely cooked, absolutely ready to eat at 7, so if you want to relax for a bit at my place before we eat, you probably shouldn't arrive at or later than 7".

And FFS, we're not talking "dinner party" here. We're talking "hey dude, I'm making lasagna tonight, you want some? Dinner will be ready at 7 PM" and then having them show up at 7:15.
posted by King Bee at 6:22 AM on January 27, 2011

King Bee, I'm an "on time or early" person, but I always tell people, "Dinner's at 7, if you want to come by between 6:15 and 6:30 we can have drinks?" or "Dinner at 7:30, the baby goes to bed at 7 so if you want sloppy kisses, 6:45, and if you want to avoid sloppy kisses, 7:05." Or "Dinner's at 6, why don't you just come by on your way home from work and we can chat while I chop?" Especially on workday evenings I find people are reluctant to show up without a timeframe that it's acceptable because they don't want to crash in on you if you're showering and changing and cleaning house and so on. People seem to need less direction on weekends or for actual parties, but on weeknights when it's casual people actually seem much MORE reluctant to accidentally impose on your routine in any way, since you're not "entertaining," per se, just sharing a meal.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:18 AM on January 27, 2011

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