“In France, we treat lateness as an art form” Why you should embrace a relaxed approach to timekeeping

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Editor-at-large of Stylist France, Audrey Diwan reveals the secret to becoming a little more French

In France, schools are quite strict with their timetables. They want to instil in children a sort of rigour, for them to submit to the rules required for life as part of a well-oiled community.

But from a very young age the French family environment puts right these so-called bad habits, destroying all those rules about punctuality from day one.

My mother always hated imposed appointments “with a passion” (she’d say as she raised her eyes skyward). Even flights were unbearable for her. The day we were due to head off on holiday, all her movements seemed to suddenly slow down. She would savour her morning coffee, reading the paper all the way through to the business pages, which she normally skipped past. Then she would take a long shower and deliberate over what to wear for the journey ahead. Only after all that would she finish packing her suitcase, even though she ran the very real risk of missing the flight in question.

During this time, I would be pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. And only when she finally admitted that we were running late was it time to start rushing. She gave me my first taste of adrenaline, as she hailed a cab that would have to break the speed limit to get us to the airport in the nick of time. I also remember her air of satisfaction when we finally buckled our seat belts at the very moment the engines of the plane fired up. “And we didn’t even have to queue!” she would add with a wry smile. I couldn’t stand that she kept us waiting. But in reality, I didn’t yet know what precious knowledge she was passing on. What my mother gave me was a very specific French skill: the art of being late.

Fashionably late

To be more French when it comes to timekeeping, you must leave your house at the time when you should in fact be arriving at your destination. You’re not intimidated by the minute hand on your watch. You have learnt to laugh at lost time – your own as well as that of others. How? The first pitfall to avoid, on arriving at your meeting or appointment, is showing any sign of guilt. That tell-tale childlike grimace of being caught out puts the other person in the role of annoyed school teacher. You must understand that time is relative; everyone possesses their own internal clock. Don’t mention your lateness. Sit down with an air of nonchalance and say hello to everyone in such a cheery manner that it extinguishes any chance of reproach.

And if, in spite of all your best efforts, the other person has the bad taste to comment on your lateness, act surprised and play the innocent. Simply cite Jean d’Ormesson, a French author, who once said: “I don’t wear a watch, because the tyranny of time is a serious attack on freedom.” And finish with a final smile to brush away the subject – and all that lost time – for good.

Read more: 9 important sayings and proverbs the French live by

Photography: Chris Floyd