Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

I am about to end a friendship because of someone’s continual lateness when we have agreed on a time to meet for lunch, or have dinner out with our husbands. It is maddening and very difficult to be pleasant when she does arrive. Do you have a suggestion as to making her change this habit?

Waiting, Weems

Dear Waiting, have you heard the one about the man who was introducing his friend to a co-worker who never got to a meeting on time? He said, “Charlie , I’d like you to meet the late John Jones.”

Although we are all probably late at some time, your concern is with the chronic late arrival. The problem may be because he or she once heard it was fashionable to be late. Or it may be due to disorganization….or might a new watch be helpful? Whatever the reason, there is usually at least one other person inconvenienced by the tardiness. 

Here’s what the etiquette gurus at the Emily Post Institute have to say about punctuality, and the lack of it. “It is never fashionable to be late whether for a business or a social engagement. At the very least lateness is a sign of disorganization; at the worst if screams, ‘I am more important than you or this occasion.’ In business, being late could cost your job or a contract.

“For a social invitation, always arrive at the time specified or within the next 10 minutes, at most. It’s awkward to arrive early because you’ll interrupt your host, who may be finishing last minute preparations. In business, or for any appointment, it’s a good idea to arrive a few minutes early so that you have time to freshen up and collect your thoughts. In either case, if you are going to be unavoidably late, call as soon as you realize the problem and give an ETA.”

For latecomers to business meeting, it is suggested a 10-minute wait is appropriate for the first incident. However, chronic tardiness should not prevent the meeting from beginning on time. Socially, a party should begin when the invitation says it will. For dinner, latecomers should be greeted cordially but served whatever course is being enjoyed by the other guests, be it appetizers or dessert.

As for your situation, dear Waiting, a serious talk with your friend about how upsetting her tardiness is might prove useful. Don’t accuse her of being insensitive, but let her know that you feel as though your time and emotions don’t matter at those times. If that doesn’t change her behavior, and the friendship is still valuable to you, consider setting a meeting time for 15 minutes before you actually arrive yourself. If she has to wait for you several times, there may be enlightenment.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at