The etiquette of punctuality

Written on: January 25, 2018

In: Lifestyle by Elisa Coleclough

The etiquette of punctuality

The etiquette of what is appropriate when it comes to punctuality varies from place to place based on social and cultural conventions.


“Be punctual, and then no one will lose time in vain, except yourself” – Janina Ipohorska


“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late” — William Shakespeare


“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored” — Evelyn Waugh


Opinions about punctuality are as diverse as cultures and character traits, however when it comes to business, meetings and interviews here is some useful information:


While in some cultures, being on time is a sign of organization and good education, in other being on time is a sign of lack of importance and laziness. Furthermore, in others punctuality might be expected but rarely reciprocated.


It is vital we are aware of the differences and that when in doubt it is better to “play safe” and be right on time. Let us have a closer look at some cultural differences, which may be worth noticing whatsoever:




It is well known that for Americans or British being late is rude and disrespectful.  Japanese are very punctual as well, take note that even one minute late may be taken as an offense to your counterparty. On the other hand, other cultures (i.e. Brazil or Paraguay) may be ok to arrive late, except when the appointment/meeting specifies “English Time” meaning you NEED to be on time.


30 minutes late is alright…


For some Latin American countries, being late is only considered after 30 minutes delay, and lateness  is a rule of thumb. I can give you my very personal experience, in Mexico when you are invited to a wedding, the hour in the invitation is written 30 minutes earlier, why? Because it is expected that guests arrive 30 minutes later, actually in Saudi Arabia, Greece, Kazakhstan and others go along with the same 30-minute-delay rule.


Rules are mixed…


Russia is quite peculiar; you, as foreigner, are expected to arrive on time and most likely they will also show on time. However, if they arrived late, they would not apologize to you, it is not viewed as rude on their side.


Take for example in Argentina, people are usually punctual however, in some context lateness is accepted from people in leadership positions as they consider it is a sign of being busy thus being important.


Better be earlier…


Germans actually expect you to arrive 10 minutes earlier to the agreed time. Arriving right on time may be at some point considered you are a bit late.


“Punctuality is the soul of business” – Thomas Chandler Haliburton


So do not take personally if you are attending an interview/appointment/meeting and other arrive late. It is a matter of background and cultural context.  However, when you are visiting other countries or having guests or interactions with visitors, it is better that you research what the etiquette is and follow some advice to make it work for everyone:


Whether it is for an interview, business meeting or appointment the following may be useful:


  • If you are the organizer or host, set the rules of engagement about what it means to you being on time, and communicate it to other attendees (written rules, are never forgotten)
  • If you have no way to influence in the setting of rules (I admit, I am a bit of control freak), ask the host for directions.
  • There may be the case that the host is used to some rules and the attendees are from different cultures each, in that case, try to be on time. In case any other guest is unaware of the cultural gap, you may, however, be an excellent company and/or chat to others arriving on time.


Finally, even if they expect you to be late, my general advice, is don’t be. Remember, British are well known world-wide for their prime education and punctuality, better to be polite than to be rude or disrespectful, right?


“Punctuality is the politeness of kings” – Louis XVIII of France


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Have a great day/week, Eli