Thursday, 10 May 2012

Modern Manners: 11 May

It’s not easy knowing how to be polite in the modern world. This week: What is to be done with people who are consistently late? Thomas Blaikie is here to help

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

I've got a problem. I find more and more people are late: late for the cinema, late to meet up for coffee, late when I invite them round for supper. Some of them don't seem to think it matters if they're 40 minutes late. It's driving me mad. What can I do?

Josephine Bingley, Okehampton

Dear Josephine,

This is awful. But don't worry. I promise you – something can be done. I speak from experience.

You're certainly not alone. The entire country is littered with the victims of lateness. Why is this? Mobile phones haven't helped. It's so easy to text: 'Sorry. Running late. Be with you soonest...' which supposedly makes up for everything. We're all supposed to be 'relaxed' about punctuality. It's the casual modern way. If you favour being on time, you're a freak and a mini-Hitler. But it's not casual, it's chaotic.

With friends who are late meeting up in a public place, be ruthless. Why should you bestranded outside the Odeon with nothing to do? If they are more than 15 minutes late for the third time, don't wait another minute. Go home. Go off and amuse yourself elsewhere. With some people, lateness is a symptom of deep-seated unreliability and selfishness. You might have to get rid of them altogether. But sometimes they reform. Always give them a chance if they promise to do better.

Going to people's houses for dinner or a party is a little different. Some say it's polite to arrive 15 minutes after the stated time. I think that's the maximum you can be late. There's something creepy about those who ring the bell on the dot. It suggests they've been lurking behind a bush, waiting to pounce. As hosts, we are often thankful for those five or 10 minutes after the start time in which the guests don't arrive.

But what to do about the gross offenders, who waltz in up to an hour late? They are hell. As likely as not they cause the occasion to overrun at the other end. Then everyone's horribly late to bed and wrecked for the rest of the week.

Mrs Robson Scott's (late of Dorset Square) method with such latecomers was simply to refuse admission. 'You're too late,' she would inform them on the doorstep. Extreme but you could try it. Or why not start without them? Don't offer to recap any missed courses either.

Be decisive at the inviting stage. Say, 'Would you mind coming at 7.30pm because so-and-so has to go off early the next morning on a business trip'. Target any known latecomers.

Include disparaging remarks about latecomers in your general conversation. Don't expect instant results. It's a long, slow burn, but it works. I've tried it. I know.

Please send your questions to  or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Noisy audiences

What to do about munchers, crunchers, whisperers, mid-perf' toilet-goers at the theatre or cinema? The other week at the theatre, someone right behind me was eating a salad all through Act One. My friend, Miss Mulholland, tried dirty looks, with limited effect.

The cinema has always been more free and easy than the theatre. But persistent talkers should be hissed at. If that doesn't work, summon the attendant. As for the hordes of waterdrinkers who are back and forth from the loo throughout, maybe it's up to us to accost them beforehand in the foyer (you can tell them by their bottles): 'Look here. Make sure you go now.' Otherwise, make way for them as they edge out, disrupting your viewing, with as much ill-grace as you can. The cinema managers should do something about it.

In the theatre there is never any eating during the performance, although some establishments have blurred matters by allowing drinks in plastic cups in the auditorium. There isn't any talking either. Nor consulting of mobile phones, even if in silent mode. They light up, don't they? Offenders should be glared at, tutted at and shushed.

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