Hate the Late?

lateness is strangely toleratedQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What do you do when someone is always late?


A Dear Faye:

I think I have just the opposite problem. I always think I’m going to be late, but no matter how much I try, I am generally on time. How does that happen? Anyway, here are some interesting words on the subject of punctuality. It’s from Vogue’s Book of Etiquette, written by Millicent Fenwick in 1948.

1948: Punctuality

Lateness is a curious thing. Chronic lateness, we are told, can be a manifestation of neurasthenia, a subconscious effort to escape the rigidity of time, or a desire to bolster one’s ego. But as a rule, it has no such serious connotations, and can be traced to nothing more interesting than carelessness mixed with a little selfishness, in more or less equal parts. Lateness is frowned on in Europe, where anything less than perfect punctuality for a social engagement is considered a rudeness. But in America, supposedly the very nest of efficiency, lateness is strangely tolerated. In fact, with three exceptions, overpunctuality is not admired.

The first exception are hosts and hostesses who, in theory at least, must be punctual. Their tendency to come down late for their own dinners is still considered rude, although it may explain why super-promptness in a guest is regarded as somewhat unattractive. And more than any hostess, a man must be prompt when he has an appointment with a woman. The third inevitable promptness applies to occasions when royalty or chiefs of state are involved: Everyone must be present when they arrive. Apart from these three exceptions, there is a pat little scale of accepted lateness of which guests can ~ and do ~ take full advantage.

1. Luncheon or Dinner
With another person of the same sex: five to ten minutes.
With a man, if one is a woman: anything up to fifteen minutes.
With a married couple at a restaurant: never more than ten minutes.
At dinner, if one knows there are to be fewer than ten guests: fifteen minutes.
Up to twenty guests: twenty minutes.
At a very big dinner, of perhaps fifty or sixty people: lateness up to a half an hour is tolerated. At buffet dinners, especially, such lateness is expected.

2. Tea
A small tea party (five or six guests): fifteen or twenty minutes.
A large tea party, cocktail party, or any large afternoon reception to which one is invited for a given length of time: lateness from fifteen minutes after the first hour mentioned in the invitation, up to half an hour before the reception is to be over.

3. Dances
An hour’s lateness is entirely permissible at dances and all large evening parties except musicales.

4. Musicales
No more than five or ten minutes’ lateness, unless one is sure what time the program will begin. In this case, one should arrive at least ten minutes beforehand.

Source: Fenwick, Millicent. Vogue’s Book of Etiquette. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948.
~ pp. 468-69 ~