Friday, January 9, 2009
Time after Time
As an American, something that may take getting used to is the fluid French sense of time. Americans are sharp and quite rigid when it comes to time - for instance if a meeting is to start at 9AM - you should be there five minutes before. A dinner party that is announced for 8PM - Americans try to arrive as close to 8PM as possible.
I have spent a lot of time waiting by myself when applying my American standards to French meetings and dinner parties. Once, I arrived first (of course) and was greeted by a "Of course the American arrives at 10AM on the dot! We knew it was you!"
It is hard for me to distinguish between arriving "on time" and "late". I keep extra reading materials with me and prepare to wait, if needed.
As an intern once, I used to wait a good twenty minutes by myself for a weekly office-wide meeting to start. Not wanting to be late - I arrived "on time" but the cultural gap was highly obvious as I sat in the conference room alone, a lot.
Polly Platt sums this up well in her bestseller "French or Foe".
Know your audience, for a dinner party arrive 15 minutes late (otherwise your hosts may not have finished dressing); for business meetings be on time and bring reading materials in case you have to wait.