people who do not keep appointments


25 June 1664

Read Samuel Pepys Diary by clicking on the link above

I wonder how many people you know who promise faithfully to do something and fail to do so. In India, it is impolite to say no to anybody and so even if you cannot do something that someone asks, you will try to find a friend to do so to honour the request.

Timekeeping varies wildly from country to country. Famously, trains are supposed to arrive within 15 seconds of their advertised arrival time. Germans are punctual, Finnish people are very punctual and events start exactly on time. Indians are less punctual, Mexicans less so, and in certain parts of Africa any time the same day will do.

Today’s thoughts are occasioned by Françoise who went along to give a French lesson to someone who was not there. When I heard about this I jumped to the conclusion that the person had simply forgotten but that since no notice had apparently been given, the person would have compensate her for her time especially as she had to visit the house of the person concerned.

In actual fact we found that the student had written earlier in the day saying he had to cancel the appointment due to the need to visit a doctor. An apologetic phone call followed and the matter was resolved.

This makes me reflect on why people offer to do something when they have no intention of doing so. Is it the thought that being a person who says no or changes their mind is a negative and unhelpful person? An insecure person will promise something out of fear of losing someone’s friendship. I believe that people really do want to help another person but have no way of saying that they are unable to do so.

  1. Here are some suggestions for how to say no.
    I would love to do this but I don’t have the time to give it the attention it deserves.
    I would love to come out with you tomorrow but I have got such a lot on my mind that I would not be very good company.
    I am very flattered that you’ve asked me to do X Y or Z but I don’t feel I have enough experience to do a job of the standard that you require.
    I’m really sorry but I can’t come on this occasion. I will be freer next week. Can we phone or text and discuss it then?

Please note that you are not downplaying or devaluing the person but saying why you feel you would not be a suitable candidate at the moment. This means that no one’s feelings are hurt.

With professional appointments, you as the practitioner need to make it quite clear that 24 hours notice is required for cancellation. In practice this means by some time in the afternoon of the previous day. In other words give them time to fill the space. It is also an excellent idea to text somebody and remind them that their appointment is due in 24 hours or 48 hours. My own dentist reminds me three times. I find it irritating because once it’s in my diary there it is. However, it seems that the dentists have obviously found it necessary to remind the more forgetful or scatty person that they have reserved time and staff and equipment which is probably worth let us say £200 an hour if not more.

This is a matter for self-discipline in the case of clients. If you feel there may be a problem, let the other party know as far as you can in advance. In the case of a private practitioner, if you have genuinely forgotten then the fault is yours and you should ask them how much you owe them. They may well say that you don’t have anything to pay because they managed to fill the space but I wouldn’t bank on it.

It is unacceptable and unforgivable to fail to turn up and fail to give an apology or advance notice. You wouldn’t like it if someone did it to you so why do it to other people?

As all being fashionably late this may be okay if you are a pop star but I totally disagree that it applies to ordinary people. I like it very much when I’m told to be there 6.45 for 7 PM. Social parties are a little bit more flexible but normally the host will indicate by saying “from 8 PM” in which case I would think that any time up to 9:30 PM would be acceptable.  Lateness is not acceptable for dinner parties. It is not acceptable for events that start at a fixed time for example a film or a concert or theatre performance. To avoid anxiety on the part of the person who has invited you I would turn up between five and 10 min before time.

It is a mistake to make the gateway too broad for example at a house warming “come round any time” since people want some indication of when they will meet others and not come in dribs and drabs when there are a few others around. if you are showing someone round a garden I would simply say “we shall start showing people around at two o’clock” in other words come slightly beforehand.

Saying to friends ‘come round any time’ may confuse them unless they know you very well.