Late Again!


Don't you just hate it when people are late! Yet what if your version of 'late' is someone else's 'on-time'? Next time you notice lateness, spare a thought for cultural background - theirs and yours.

Each culture has unwritten rules which indicate the appropriate time to arrive, even what time to leave. In some cultures it's fine to arrive up to two hours after the start time for a social event. In others, even ten minutes late is considered rude.

Think about it. If you invite guests to dinner for 7pm, what time do you expect them to arrive? Before 7pm? At 7pm on the dot? (I wouldn't be ready!) Is up to 30 minutes okay? What about two hours? At what point would you decide they weren't coming?

Working with many different cultures over the years has made me very aware of varying interpretations of time. The very savvy president of one local ethnic group now tells her community that meetings start at 4pm, even when they aren't actually due to start until 6pm. After several years of having kiwi guests arrive on time to wait in empty rooms, she knows that her own culture says being two hours late is quite normal. This way she gets everyone there when it matters.

Learning the rules in a new culture takes time, observation and awareness that the expectations might be very different from your own. Like so many cultural norms, they are implicit, taken for granted and not generally found in guide books.

  • Check other people's meaning of 'on time'
  • Be clear about expectations 
  • If there is no room for flexibility, then say so 
  • If you set the time, make sure you stick to it yourself

Jenny Magee
Building diverse, inclusive workplaces

Ph: +64-27-4863-623


Trainer, coach and consultant, Jenny Magee (BEd, DipTchg, DipSLT) works with organizations to raise awareness of diversity in all its richness and has over 25 years experience as a champion of diverse workplaces and positive, productive partnerships.

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