British etiquette when it comes to timings
The British are particular about timings and being late is frowned upon but being on time is a complicated matter because in some situations that means being a few minutes early on others it means being exactly on time and in some instances it is completely acceptable to arrive 10 minutes to a few hours later than the stated time.
This can be a minefield for someone who is new to the UK so here are some basics rules that will help you get your timings right whatever the situation.
Formal meetings, such as job interviews – You should arrive at least five minutes before your meeting. This will give you time to compose yourself before your big meeting. In the UK arriving late for a formal meeting is seen as unprofessional and will reflect badly on you. If you are running late ring your host to let them know you will be late. On arrival apologies sincerely and offer a reason for your lateness, such as you got lost or the train was delayed. It will help you redeem yourself. However, if you are late because you set off later than you should have it’s wise to keep that to yourself!
Appointments, such as visits to the doctor or dentist – The time you are given for your appointment isn’t necessarily the time you will be seen. It is not uncommon you may have to wait between 15-30 minutes before you are seen by a doctor and that can be much longer if it is a hospital appointment. Nevertheless you should arrive at least five minutes before your appointment and it is recommended you take a drink and something to read.
Job – When you start a new job you are given your typical working hours. For example if you are expected to start at 9am it is not acceptable to arrive after this time. Most employers make an exception if you are late once in a while. If you have an appointment then you need to seek permission from your employer to arrive later on that day.
Being late consistently will land you in trouble and you can be sacked from your job if after three warnings you are still late.
Lectures and seminars – There is an unsaid rule that you can be a few minutes late for a lecture or seminar once in a while. When you are late you should enter quietly and find a seat at the back of the room. At the end of lecture or seminar you should offer your apology to the lecturer.
Plays/concerts/sporting events – You should arrive at least 30 minutes early as it is traditional to meet friends for a drink beforehand. You will also find that entry to the event may not be possible if you arrive as the event is starting.
Dinner party – If you have been invited to a dinner party then you should arrive exactly on time as the host will have planned when they will serve the food. You will find that your host will serve their guests a pre-dinner drink, so that gives you a bit of wiggle room, but if you are running later than 10 minutes you should ring your host and let them know how late you might be. That way they can decide whether to go ahead and serve the other guests.
When you arrive you should offer the host and the other guests your apology for being late.
House party – Are one of those occasions when no one arrives exactly at the time given by the host. In fact it is seen as a bit uncool to arrive too early to a house party. Most guests will first have a drink in a pub and then make their way to the house party. It’s not uncommon for guests to arrive at house parties after 11pm and stay until the early hours of the morning!
Meeting friends – The occasion really determines whether you need to be punctual or can afford to be flexible on when you meet up with your friends. If you are meeting friends for dinner or to go the cinema then you cannot be much later than a few minutes. On the other hand if you are meeting friends in the pub and there is a group of them you can arrive anytime, but it’s always polite to drop someone in the group a text saying when you expect to get there and checking they are still there!