Friday, February 25, 2011

Time management

Why are Chinese people often late for meetings and appointments? It doesn’t really make sense if you look at their education system? Having such strict educational methods in schools, I don’t think kids dare to come to class late (will they even be let in?). Is it instead so that since they are always in time when they are kids, they make up for that by being late as adults?!

For me (and many people that I know) it was the opposite way around. I was a pretty good kid, but a rebel teenager. I often came late to class. In high school, I had no what-so-ever time management when it came to catching the bus each morning to school (it was a 40 min bus ride, so I kind of had to be on time otherwise I would be very late for class). I’ve given my poor folks so much headache over the years, running down the stairs every the morning, yelling for dad that he needed to give me a ride to the bus (I lived about a 15 min bike ride from the bus stop too, so my non-existent time management skills were not really making matters easy for anyone), having him sometimes refusing, and sometimes giving in. One of my friends, Mia, was a tad bit worse. She always missed the bus. As a result, her dad had to take her in a car and ride behind the bus, and then hopefully manage to overtake it, speed for a bit, and drop her off before the bus hit the next bus stop. Mia and I also played in the same basketball team, and every time we had a game our coach used to tell her that it started 1 hour before it actually did. That was, she would miss the warm-up, but at least be in time for the first half.

Now, as a “grownup” (well at least I do try very hard to fit into that category) I am hardly never late for meetings or appointments. I often think that I will be, and therefore I often send an apologetic text message, just in case, but then I’m often the first one to arrive. I have become much better at time management, so even though I think that the 20 min I have given myself to get somewhere isn’t enough –it often is. And it feels kind of good. I don’t like being late for things.

But some of my Chinese friends… Geeez, it’s almost getting to the point where I am getting annoyed. Take the other day for instance. I was stressing like a maniac to run from the yoga club to a restaurant where I was meeting some friends (mixed nationalities) at 7.30pm (my yoga class finised around 6.50pm, and I needed a shower). I thought I was going to be a bit late, so I sms:ed one of the girls just in case. Still, I managed to be there at 7.25pm. I called my Chinese girlfriend to ask how many people were coming and how big of a table we needed. When she picked up she sounded rather surprised when I said I was already at the restaurant. I could hear from the non-existent background noise that she was still at home. Still, she didn’t say anything about being late or so. The other ones dropped in at 7.30…. and then we had to wait until 8pm for our Chinese friend to come. She barely noticed herself that she was late. How is it possible?!


George said...

Do you also notice that hardly there's any Chinese people has a little diary book as a lot Western people do, and seems no need for an appointment for anything, doctors hair dressers etc, in China seems nothing is planned, and anything can change at the last minute!

Pepe Le Pew said...

If I have to be somewhere at 8:00 and it is a 15 minute drive and it takes my wife 30 minutes to get ready, then she starts getting ready at 7:30. That means we will be 15 minutes late.

In the same situation, her sister would start getting ready around 8:15.

It's just the way some people are either wired or raised.

Unknown said...

Some people like to saunter in to feel'important'!! And there's always excuses - jam, others will be late too etc. But I do not fall into this category, so I'm always punctual. Basically I think it is no consideration for others when one is late.

Saif said...

Maybe because you are a foreigner they dont feel embarrassed being late or tardy. Happens here in the UAE. Foreigners will come to meetings late and not even feel embarassed if no other foreigners are attending but will apologize profusely if late and there are other foreigners at the meeting. Just a thought.

Jonna Wibelius said...

George -yeah, u r right. There is f course a charm about that, but at times it can be annoying.

Pepe -yeah but that's the thing. I strongly believe that Chi kids grow up always being on time! They are so diligent in school, how could they ever be late!?

Keats -I'm not always punctual but I've gotten a lot better lately. I just hate it when I'm late. Makes me feel so unprofessional.

Saif -really? I think being late is bad, but being late and not even apologizing for it is awful!

Anonymous said...

I'm just like you. I usually arrive early, sometimes way too early when it's for something important.

In Japan things were quite the opposite: people are always on time, to the very minute. We had parties at foreigner friends' houses and my Japanese husband always stressed out when we didn't arrive exactly on time.

Li said...

I am chinese and i am working both in Beijing and Shanghai for almost 15 years. In our company, if we plan to have a meeting at 10am, normally it will start at 10:30am.From beginning, our swedish workmates always complain. Now i guess they get use to it. Nobody cares if you are late, at least in our company nobody cares. I remember i always on time when i was a student, even i am confused why we chinese behave so different once we become adults. When comes to company parties, normally half of chinese will be late and seems nobody cares. I do wish we can change, at least i am doing better these days.

Chinese Traveler said...

Jonna, so glad to read this post. I wish I could provide some insight to Chinese late habit. My wife and I are both Chinese. We live in the U.S. Our kids are born and raised in the U.S.

1. We are very seldom on time when we go to a Chinese party. And our Chinese friends are rarely on time when they come to our party. Being late by one hour is the norm.

2. Before our American-born kids were old enough to add their opinions, we were usually late (by 30 minutes on the average) when we went to an American friend's house for party. But we were never be late for meetings or other appointments.

3. Now that our American-born and raised kids are old enough to add their opinions, they make sure we are not late for American parties. As for Chinese parties, they could care less.

I must also point out that even though I am Chinese, I don't like to be late for parties. My wife is the one who has to be late. If the party starts at 6:00PM, she would start getting dressed at 6:15PM. I cannot understand her mentality. I am always on time as I have been raised by my American parents to believe that if you are not 15 minutes early, you are late. My wife is even late for church on Sundays. Even when she could leave on time, she would deliberately take more time to dress up so that she could be late. Kids are so embarrassed that they are now working on mom to be more punctual.

It seems to me my wife would take being punctual the same way as if she is alone on the stage making a speech. It's embarrassing to her to arrive early. She told me that once. I just couldn't understand her.

Unknown said...

Jonna, Thanks for the insightful post.

Do you find that Chinese people are late by about 30 minutes in general to all social meetings? I hope they are not late to business meetings at your company, are they?

Any difference in whether they are men, or women, rich, or famous, or powerful, or arrogant, or humble?

I know that being late to a banquet or party is entirely different than being late for a meeting with friends. But from my experience, Chinese people are expected to be about 30 minutes late to birthday and wedding banquets. And they expect to be socializing for about at least an hour or so before the food is served.

Arriving late to a party is not just a phenomenom in China. Here in the USA, it is a generally accepted custom to arrive about 30 minutes late. But it varies depending on whether you are on the east coast, west coast or the mid-west.

There is something known as being "fashionably late" here. And then there is the being a few hours late like some movie stars.

I think it would be interesting for you to talk to a few of them and find out how and when and why they learn and acquire this change in habit once they leave school.


Sarah said...

I come from Ireland where everything is always running late, the buses are never on time, lectures never start on time. usually if we say meet at 7.30 its usually a given people will arrive around 8...

However I do remember arranging to meet 2 Chinese girl friends at 1 to go shopping. I was running late and text them to say I won't be there til 1.30. I got there at 1.30 and rang them and they told me oh sorry we won't be there til 2ish we woke up late. so we are only waiting for the bus now.

Oh so annoying

黃愛玲 said...

I am the same as you. I was always late for class in school; I rebelled so badly! Now I am always on time. I would never be disrespectful and make anybody wait up for me. My husband is the same way. Luckily. When my husband stayed in South Florida, he couldn't believe how late some of the peoplke were at his job. We're talking at least an hour. That's a dreadful thing to do. Unprofessional, as well. It's one thing to do it to your friend but...for work? Even worse.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Interesting comments. I should have made myself more clear about what I mean with being late. The whole, being late to a party, where the "starting time" should not be taken too seriously, is a completely different story. When it comes to that, I believe people from all over there world are the same: they try to be fashionably late. What I mean when I say late, is when you are late to a dinner that u planned to have with friends, or late for a meeting or an appointment. This, I simply cannot stand. Even though a dinner could be considered as something a bit more laid-back than an office meeting, I still don't understand why you should leave your friends waiting at a table for 30 min for you?

Maybe it is like Chinese Traveler pointed out with his wife: they don't want to be the first one to arrive, as this is considered embarrassing. I, on the other side, is more embarrassed when I am the last person to arrive.

I am def not saying that all Chinese people are like this, oh no no no!! But I know a few people that I always, deliberately plan to meet at 2.30pm, just so that I know they will come at 3pm. There is always a valid excuse: traffic, or this or that, but that still doesn't mean it's a bit annoying. Anyway, when I know that I have a meeting with a typical "I'll-b-30-min-late" person I try to put it at the end of the day, so that it won't effect my other meetings. Still, the people that are 30 min late are still better than the ones who don't even show up, but that is a completely different story...

flyingfish said...

But then there's also the "early bird surprise" phenomenon, where the people with whom you have made an arrangement suddenly and inexplicably decide to move it up an hour or two, so they telephone from the meeting place to ask you to hurry it up because they're already waiting. I think you've mentioned this yourself! Didn't it happen to you once at a job interview.

The whole diary-free approach seems really lighthearted and appealing to me in theory, but in practice I find it more than just irritating -- it's destructive! I have such severe issues with stamina, I CAN'T wait around. And it's not just me. A prime rib can't wait either, can it? Last Christmas my brother-in-law was, like, actually in tears because he'd ruined the roast waiting around for our chronically late sister.

mantse said...

this case comes common in many different place but China is more serious. i just feel that because some of them only think about their own self. not care about others.

just a habit...

Homer said...

Back in the States I was, still am for the most part, a very punctual person. If you give me a time I am there, but since coming to China I've, how do you say, relaxed a bit, haha. I usually try to be in the middle. Not the first, not the last. Depends on the affair. But yes, I have noticed that a lot of time most people are late to most things here in China. I try not to let it get to me. If it's a American friend, I'm there on time. If it's a Chinese friend, I plan on taking my time because I know they are too.

On a side note, could it be because they have been so strict as Children that they want to rebel as adults? I mean, if it was me the first thing I would stop doing after a childhood of being on time is to stop being on time.