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Helen Croydon

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The Perpetually Late Don't Mean to Be Rude

Posted: 05/03/2013 21:28

It isn't often that I can relate to the sentiments of an A-lister but I can certainly surmise how Justin Bieber was feeling yesterday - mortified, regretful, guilty and full of self-loathing at his lateness.

Fans and parents of fans have lashed out at the teenage star after a two-hour delay at his concert at the 02 Arena on Monday. He has been accused of being selfish, arrogant, disgusting, disorganised and even lazy.

As someone who frequently arrives for appointments cringing at the position of the big hand on my watch, I know very well that late people are none of these things. Late people hate being late. We sweat and run in painful heels and risk being spliced in two as we jump through closing tube doors. We curse ourselves and feel terribly guilty but we offend again and again.

Yes, I know. Teenagers were kept up past bedtime on a school night. People missed trains. Babysitters had to be paid overtime. All these things are very bad. I don't defend Bieber's tardiness but merely offer clarification on the gravity of his crime. Punctual people get very worked up about lateness. But I see it as a crime of diminished responsibility.

Late people are far from lazy. We try to cram in as much activity as we can to maximise time. If I know it takes 30 minutes to get to a 9am meeting and I'm ready to leave at 8.25. I think: "Five whole minutes!" I'll start an email, I'll gather up the recycling and try on an alternative scarf. Suddenly it's 8.45.

Lateness is a personality type. We are determined crammers. If we have ten things on our to-do list, but we've only done seven when it's time to leave, we'll start the eighth as the clock ticks on. We have to. We are addicted to maximising time. We defy time. We force big tasks into small gaps even when we know they don't fit.

I make every diary entry fully intending to be on time. But late types just can't stop ourselves cramming in an extra activity or two. We get a buzz every time we gain back a minute. If I can squeeze in an unplanned load of washing just as I'm leaving the house, it's pure crack.

We are time junkies, and we thrive on the challenge of a good rush. We are like gamblers. Sometimes we gain five minutes by cramming our schedules but other times we lose hours because the plan implodes. I once missed two flights in the space of 18 hours because I squeezed in a gym session before leaving the hotel. It was four figures to rectify. There are other financial penalties for the perpetually unpunctual. I never buy those cheap train tickets where you have to stick to a certain train. Flexibility is our friend and we like it near us all the time.

Late habits start young. Age 11, year one of high school, I was detained for appearing in 'the late book' for 72 days out of 80. God I hated that smug prefect on the school gate! At university I was always at the back, after slipping in five minutes late. My first employer found my lateness endearing. My second employer didn't.

There have been many attempts to find the root of perpetual lateness. A popular theory is that it is a form of rebellion over feeling controlled. Some, like clinical hypnotherapist Mark Darlington believes it is a form of self-sabotage. Others claim repetitive tardiness is characteristic of creative personality types or even conditions such as adult ADHD.

Justin Bieber apologised to fans and blamed technical issues. He insisted he was only 40 minutes late, not two hours as charged. His plea for amelioration is a telltale sign of a habitual latecomer. (Just forty minutes? Well that's ok then!) Late people live in denial at their wrongdoing. We refuse to believe that when we can't control time, it is our fault. If we ran out of time, well that's a resource issue and nothing to do with us.

Fan anger at Bieber's delay at a such a large-scale public event is understandable. But the level of haughtiness at unintended slips of punctuality in general is over the top. Repetitive lateness is annoying but it isn't rude. Late people don't offend through malice. We punish ourselves enough without the wrath of others.

In an era where every smart phone offers something to read or play or listen to, is hanging on for someone for ten minutes really so devastating? As anyone who has ever entertained will know, one thing much ruder than being a little late, is a guest who turns up early.

 

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