Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cancelling at last minute -no biggy?

OK, well I'll just eat all this  alone then...

I was talking to one of my Shanghainese friends the other day and asked her about what she’d done during the wknd. (Unlike a lot of my friends here she didn’t just reply: “sleeping!”). She told me that she’d gone to a Japanese restaurant to catch up with an old school friend, but the friend had never turned up.  

-What?! I asked, clearly surprised. What happened? Did your friend have an accident or did you have a fight or something?

-No… well I went to the restaurant and waited for her for 2 hours (!!!). It was kind of annoying since I was really hungry but I read some magazines while I was waiting. In the end I was sad that she couldn’t make it but she was really busy at work.

I was astonished by her kindness! If a friend stood me up like that I am not sure that I could have said as many nice things about her, well at least not only 4 days afterwards. But the more time I spend in China, the more I realize that ‘cancelling things at last minute/not showing up/ having people waiting for you’ is not considered to be a biggy over here. 

Remember the western guy that I wrote about in the ‘go dutch’ post? Well, in the end he never had to experience any ‘who-is-going-to-pay-drama’ because the girls spent the whole day cancelling on him. First they cancelled lunch 30 min prior to it happening. Then it was said that they were going to play pool at 5pm. When he still hadn’t heard anything from them at 4.30pm he decided to give it all a complete miss (I guess on the bright side he saved a lot of money). 

The worse ‘stood-up’ I have experienced here in China, however, occurred when I worked at a city magazine and was supposed to go and interview some rugby (?) team that were practicing in Shanghai’s eastern part, Pudong, on Saturdays. I had arranged for a photographer to come with me, but when the day came I woke up with tonsillitis and couldn’t get out of bed. I spent the morning trying to get someone to cover for me, and then called the photographer to inform him that I wasn’t coming.

Turns out, however, that neither was he.

-Oh, I don’t think I can make it either.

-Why not? Are you also sick?

-No, but I am on the train.

-Train?

-Yeah, I am on my way to Guangzhou!

I find the funniest bit in this story to be the fact that I called him… Imagine if I wouldn’t have woken up sick, and gone out to interview the team and we all would have stood there (me and the beefy guys) waiting for the photographer. How completely unprofessional! But he didn’t even apologize. In the end I almost felt like as if it was my fault that he didn’t show up. I should have reminded him and double-checked (Fortunately, the story turned out well in the end. Since neither the photographer nor me could attend I simply postponed it all).

I still don’t really understand why people have such a relaxed attitude towards ‘not turning up/ cancelling on your friends at the last minute.’ I personally find it kind of…rude. Although that is obviously because where I come from, it is not considered to be OK to just ‘not show up’ or to be 2 hours late. And I think that despite the fact that ‘when in Rome,’ this is one of those things I will never get used to/do myself.

27 comments:

kanmuri said...

That does sound kinda rude to me,too. It's not really considerate... I mean, calling is not really hard now that everyone has cellphones...

Ramesh said...

Oh yes - thats a pretty rude thing to do, but somehow, I've never experienced this in China. I've never been stood up and I've found people are mostly on time. Well , everybody experiences different things in China - that's partly why its a fascinating country.

Anonymous said...

Can you really make a generalization about an entire country of 1 billion from your experience with two people?

The Casual Observer said...

I'm a bit astonished at your friend's patience. She waited patiently for two hours? If I'm in a good mood, I might wait 30 minutes before I try to call you to see why you might be late (or absent). I'd definitely order food if my friend was that late.

Several years ago when I lived in a different city, I would get together every Thursday night for dinner (at a restaurant) and a movie (rental video at someone's home). One guy was consistently late (because he is a workaholic). When everyone else arrived, we would order our food. The latecomer would order his food when he arrived. If we finished before him, we'd spend the time chatting.

This happened for probably 3 years. The late guy was never offended - he knew that it was his fault for being late.

Jackie said...

That's really really strange...Like you I would be royally pissed if someone just didn't show up. I would never wait two hours for someone and if a photographer bailed on me, I wouldn't be hiring them again. This must be a western thing where we expect everyone to stict with plans.

flyingfish said...

I hear you! I posted about this on my blog a while back:

http://flyingfish-windcaughtinanet.blogspot.com/2009/01/milkshake.html

But I've never had an experience quite as dramatic as your photographer story!

Recipes for theLife said...

Its the same here in India.People always turn up late at meetings,parties,weddings etc so we have this Indian Standard Time.which means if you want to meet someone at...say 5 o'clock.Set up the appointment at 4:30.That person would then probably meet you exactly at 5:30.:D.got it?

Cat said...

I'm with you: how rude! I hate being late/waiting for people... very occidental! I'm not sure I could get use to that.

Lover of Life said...

I agree, it's rude. I would think consideration in any culture would be a benefit.

flowrgirl1 said...

If a friend did not let me know prior to a meeting i would be very angry. Its common curtousy for me and my friends to let someone know well in advance of a cancelation. I would be very mad if i waited two hours with no call.

Jonna Wibelius said...

anonymous: Generalization? I never said that everyone is like this in China. I wrote about three examples and said that I feel there seem to be a more laid-back attitude towards cancelling/not showing up/being late here in China than elsewhere.

How could I ever say anything like 'this is how it is in all of China?' How could anyone?! I definitely do not mean to come across as if I am generalizing about an entire country. I think you need to re-read the post if that is the feeling you get.

Jackie -yeah, from talking to and interviewing Chinese people I get the feeling that people here are more 'forgiving' if someone is late/doesn't show up/cancel than how we would be where I am from. I find it interesting at times but annoying at times. Likewise, I once interviewed a Chinese woman who worked at a Swedish bank here in China. During her first visit to Sweden she was more or less offended when she realized that some of her Swe workmates wouldn't change the plans they had already made (like, going fishing with friends during the wknd) DESPITE the fact that she was there and needed to be entertained. rather, they just said: 'yeah, sorry I cannot hang with you this wknd, I already made some plans.' So yeah, we sure do like to stick to our plans where I am from!

erik said...

We got stood up pretty badly for a job interview: We were living in Sanya (Hainan) and just couldn't get any more legitimate work there so we started sending resumes to Haikou. It's about 3 hours away by bus. Mr. Wang invited us to come for an interview, and we could stay overnight in his school's guest room. We asked him what day was best to come, since we were free all the time. He said Wednesday, we went up on Wednesday. When we arrive his wife informed us that he had gone to Qionghai (2 hours away) and "might" be back tomorrow. We could have waited to come until tomorrow if he'd bothered to tell us!!

awing said...

+U +U! 我看好你哦!

WoAi said...

I got stood up loads of times in China for ridiculous reasons that would NEVER hold up in England:

1. It's too cold.
2. It's too hot.
3. It's raining.
4. I'm tired.
5. It's too far.

But the BEST excuse that is used ALL THE TIME in China : 对不起我有事 which means "sorry, something came up".

How's that for a generalisation ANONYMOUS!

It's pretty simple, plans here are all tentative whereas in England, once agreed, they're pretty much firm unless someone dies.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's the culture they have. To be honest, I find it quite primitive and rude. It's not just social, but in most parts of their lives. They have no qualms about not showing up for appointments to the doctor, dentist, hairdresser, etc.

The only time I've heard them understand is when they work in an appointment based job, like hairdressing or doctor. Then they understand how irritating it is when others dont show up.

Sorry, no funny anecdotes for this. This one pisses me off.

Adrian

Edo said...

I agree with you. Working in the business world, it doesn't matter what your culture is- professionalism means showing up on time, and if you must cancel, do so at the earliest possibility.

Edo
http://jaggedlittlethrills.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

No, I was wrong. I do have an anecdote.

I've got the flu, so I'm not exactly at the top of my game. Tonight went down across the road to the 7-11 to buy some bread.

Got the bread, some yummy raisin bread and another loaded with dried fuit and nuts. Absolutely scrumptious. Put them on the high counter and then reach down to my pocket to get some money.

As my hand moves down to my pocket, this woven tray full of small bags of cookies and muffins has the audacity to stick out over the counter, so that when my hand makes contact with the front edge, everything comes flying out, half of which bounces off the guy waiting behind me, who was so surprised he didnt have time to duck out of the way.

I quickly pick up all the goodies, pay and skulk out of there as fast as humanly possible, in my flu induced drunken condition.

Hopefully this is mildly amusing. I think I'll need some pointers from you Jonna on how to make disasters sound humourous.

Have a good day and good luck with this weeks 79 characters!

Adrian

.::~P~::. said...

Canadians don't care either...

We, although, call in advance but yeah I've been stood up many times and I have done the same.

People need to chill when others can't make it. Not saying that waiting 2 hours wouldn't make me slightly mad but whatever...

For the professional events though, NEVER would we do that. But personal meetings are way different..

Don Tai said...

I did't feel this was common in China. Then again, maybe you did not have sufficient guanxi with the other person, so they blew you off. If you don't know someone then there's no issue with blowing them off. Blow off an important contact and you won't hear from them again. Blow off someone and the person that gave you the introduction will be pissed off, thereby killing 2 people's guanxi. To phone back to say they can't make it is common courtesy and should be expected.

Showing up on time IS a Chinese trait, though I don't know why you have these experiences. I'm gone after a 20 minute wait. Maybe younger Chinese have become more lax to being on time.

People show up on time for classes, for train and plane trips, for special events, etc. China is no different.

Betsy said...

Coincidentally, my Chinese teacher was just telling our class the exact same thing the other day. I would definitely have a difficult time with that, since I always arrive early for things and sometimes get annoyed when my friends arrive later than I do . . . aka on time! :]

mantse said...

i do not know is this the Chinese have more serious "problem" on no show at last minute.

this cannot put all in "one Child policy" said Chinese youngsters are more selfish but i think this put a some effort on that.

hopefully if my friend do not show at last min, they will sms me at least 10 mins before schedule time ^_^!!!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Woai -thanks, I couldn't have said it better myself :)

Love it when u all share your experiences/stories... Erik -that is an awful story!! I hope he had a good excuse for 'forgetting' about your visit...

Betsy -yup, it is def hard for someone who likes being in time to get used to being more laid-back about people being late...

David said...

Totally true...one of my best friends is a Chinese PhD student at my university and he thinks nothing of canceling Friday night plans 2 hours before getting together via e-mail. I've gotten mad at him before for doing this and he just seemed completely shocked by my reaction.

I agree, seems rude to me and I doubt I'll get used to it.

WoAi is completely right about the list of reasons, lol. My friend and I will have plans to go running together at the recreation center and often he won't show up, so I'll call him and usually the reason is either "it is cold" or "it is raining". Nevermind that it is an INDOOR recreation center, lol.

erik said...

Actually we didn't call him on it because we really needed the jobs. Should have seen it as a sign though - this guy was bad news! Offered 2 jobs (1 for my wife and one for me) then reneged and only hired my wife, then fired her before she had taught her first class. I don't consider him typical though, just an extreme example of what you were talking about.

Another aspect of the canceling last minute that I find interesting is when people refuse to make plans because they might have to cancel. We invited a lot of our college students to dinner at our house "next Saturday" and asked them to let us know if they could come or not so we would know how much food to prepare. Many of them got a panicky look and said "But I don't know what I'm doing next Saturday!!" Great, we said, you are coming to our house for dinner. "But I don't know what I'm doing then!" they exclamed. They weren't able to commit because you just never know what might happen.

We've found the longer we live in China the more we feel the same way. Everything is unpredictable! Our motto has become: Every day is an adventure, we never know what we are going to do until we are doing it.

LightsOn/开灯 said...

I have to say yes it is true in China (even nowadays!!) that many of us do NOT follow a good habit of punctuality.

Basically it is normal that western people are more used to long-term appointments while Chinese choose short-term ones more. Maybe it is because there are many more uncertainties in Chinese society than in western societies, which reforms people psychologically. However, it is really unprofessional & polite, I can agree with you no more.

VIII.Gr said...

Well, in my country (PRC), it's a commonsense that the higher your status is, the later you show up in conferences, meetings or dinners. Leaders or relatively important people always make others wait for some time.
Maybe you can take notice of the speed of walking in China.It's really interesting and educational.

yanagihara tetsutarou said...

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