“There’s a reason a set time is given for most everything,” my mother said, staring at her 12-year-old daughter with narrowed Miss Manners’ eyes. “Turning up late is just plain rude.”
I could understand the importance of being punctual for a birthday celebration, but school was a different matter. It was bad enough I had to go, let alone arrive on the dot.
“What about being fashionably late?” I quizzed. “People do it all the time.”
“Fashionably late’s just being selfish. What if everyone thought the same thing?” she continued. “No one would show up until the event was almost over.” Years later, I grew to fully appreciate my mother’s words.
Recently, I had the rare opportunity to meet a dear college friend, Pam May, for dinner. It was on my calendar for Tuesday. We’d even confirmed via e-mail. The day was a particularly hectic one. Every second was allocated for something, but I made sure I left in plenty of time for the 45-minute trek to Kincaid’s Restaurant in Burlingame.
Upon my arrival, I searched high and low, but Pam was not to be found. “Hmm,” I thought to myself. “She must be running late.” I sat at the bar and ordered a drink.
Ten, 15, 20 minutes went by and still no Pam. “OK, this is rude.” Then a sick feeling wafted over me. This was not like her. Could she have been in an accident?
I pulled out my cell phone and, to my dismay, discovered I lost her number. I scrolled through old e-mails, to find our most recent discussion. “Can’t wait! See you Tuesday.”
“Where can she be?” I thought, increasingly more worried. Scrolling down a little further, I located our first e-mail. The subject line read: “Dinner on Tuesday, April 19.”
“April 19!” I blurted out loud. “It’s April 5. I’m two weeks early!” Feeling like a complete idiot, I finished my drink, paid the bill and slithered out the door.
As I walked through the parking lot, I thought about the deep affection I’d had for Pam. We were young women when we met 40 years ago, carefree and full of hope for our futures. We shared weddings, births, divorces and deaths. Now, we’re middle-aged women desperately trying to keep all the threads of our lives woven together while still maintaining our cherished friendship. No wonder I was early. I was beyond excited to see her.
While I don’t advise arriving two weeks early for any event, my extreme punctuality for that dinner with Pam taught me something important. Punctuality, I discovered, was a true measure of respect and care for the person or people you’re planning to meet or the event you’re planning to attend.
I thought of the many times I’d been a party host. I love a party. I love throwing a party even more. I plan for weeks: the menu, the beverages, the decorations, the theme. Each detail is carefully thought out, and I set the arrival time for a reason. That’s when I want people to show up, not two hours later.
I understand the hesitance over being the first to arrive. It’s much easier to make an entrance when things are in full swing. Yet, as the host, I’m always left feeling that my party wasn’t important to the ones who dribbled in far past the start time.
When we lose our manners, we lose respect for those around us – and ourselves. Once upon a time, etiquette was the glue that held our society together, enabling friends and neighbors to live in an orderly fashion, polite and respectful. But it often appears to be a lost art these days.
Perhaps it’s time to dust off that book on social decorum and review. Punctuality is a great place to start rebuilding lost etiquette, and, hopefully, we’re not too late to teach our children well.