Fashionably Early or Fashionably Late?

In the west, when we send an invitation inviting people for lunch, or a dinner or what-ever, we give a time to arrive – so do the Chinese. But they don’t seem to really mean the time given.

For example, a western invitation would read something like this:

 Loobie Lu and John Doe would love you to join them for lunch  on

Saturday 31st of December at 12 noon……


 And to me that means that 12 noon is the EARLIEST time they would expect anyone to arrive.

China is SO different, and when I first started living here I could not get my head round it. An invitation such as the one above would mean some of the invited Chinese guests arriving either on the dot, or up to half an hour EARLY!


Quelle horreur! (as the French would say!)

In the west, there is a concept of being ‘Fashionably late’ by which guests mean to show that they are busy, popular people with a lot to do, thus giving respect to their hosts for turning up.



In China, it is the reverse – it is fashionable to arrive early; it shows respect to arrive early for any event.  My DH drives me crazy when we are invited to a Chinese event by insisting we should arrive early – why? WHY?  They gave a time on the invitation, let’s stick to it is my view.

Both these ways have problems for whoever is hosting an event – but I find the Chinese way the most problematic.

Often, I have got everything for a meal prepared, table set, etc. etc. but have cut the time a little finer than intended; just leapt into the shower and about to dress in smarter clothes then slap on some make-up, when – 30 minutes early –  some of our Chinese guests arrive…. aargh!

On the other hand, with Western guests, everything is ready, the apartment, the food, the wines and other drinks, I am fully glammed up etc. and nobody comes, time passes and still nobody arrives. I start panicking, did I put the wrong time/date on the invitation? What will I do with all the food I have prepared if no-one arrives? And so on and so forth.  Then, 45 minutes late, the first couples burst through the doors and everything gets going.

After several years of always being on the back foot so to speak, my solution is to have a stiff drink and to hell with the timing!






About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
This entry was posted in politeness, timing, invitations, being a good guest,, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Fashionably Early or Fashionably Late?

  1. Clearly a stiff drink is the only solution. Personally I arrive on the dot – in the west and the east and to hell with respect!!!!

  2. Bea dM says:

    I used to freak out when people arrived early. I usually plan to be ready on the dot, whether as guest or host.

    • herschelian says:

      I will always be sure – as host – that I am ready on the dot, but NOT 30 minutes before hand.

      • Bea dM says:

        So good luck to you if you’re living in China! I love the Swedish habit of all guests arriving 10-5 minutes early but waiting outside … even in the heart of winter 🙂 until the time’s on the dot, then one of them rings the doorbell and all march in. Being more than 5 minutes late is considered ever so rude … Great for soufflé…

  3. Marjorie A Wilson says:

    Yes clearly stiff drink very necessary….

    • herschelian says:

      And another thing that annoys me even more is when, having arrived early they say ‘oh can we help you prepare….’ – what do you think? are you going to put my mascara on for me? Just wait outside for the correct time and THEN arrive, it’s not difficult!

  4. Christine Novak says:

    I remember this only too well when I was in China. Our training started at 9:00. To me that meant be there at 8:50. But attendees arrived anytime between 8:30 and 9:30. But in all fairness, some variance depended on public transportation. Something nearly non-existent where I live, along with no traffic jams. “Viva la difference”, I say. Glad you’re back blogging!

  5. camparigirl says:

    It would drive me crazy! I get so ticked off when people show up early. I always bank on at least 20 minutes past the hour I called for – unless it is my in-laws. They would be quite at home in China.

  6. Eha says:

    In Northern Europe where I was born, the rule of politeness is simple: you use what is commonly known as the ‘academic quarter’ . . . it is abysmally rude to ring the doorbell until 5 minutes past the given time, even if one has to stand waiting around the corner. It is just as unforgivable to be later than the quarter hour past without a good reason and abject apologies. Have acted along these lines all my life and it has worked well . . . 🙂 ! No soufflés falling flat waiting for guests to arrive !!!

  7. Karin Moorhouse says:

    I too used to be traumatised by guests that arrive early here in China, until it dawned on me why. My invite was for dinner at say 7pm, but guests come in advance to drink tea, eat snacks and chat a while before eating, as is customary and polite. Even restaurant private dining rooms have a lounge and tea table installed for this reason. Usually this can as much as an 1 hour or so before the appointed time (although I’ve had guests arrive up to 3 hours early) so I’ve learned to jump in the shower early and prepare with a pot of tea. I’ve also discovered it’s a very relaxed and convivial time, so no one cares if you are still fussing around in the kitchen.

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