For Mother’s Day I arranged a four-course lunch for my parents and extended family at The Tamarind Tree. Located in the Little Saigon Neighborhood, it is one of Seattle’s finest Vietnamese restaurants and features dishes like Shiitake mushroom satay, Tamarind Tree crepes and dessert jelly served inside a coconut shell.
Although our reservation was for 12 o’clock noon, I told everyone in my family to arrive at 11:30 am. In Asian cultures, there’s an ongoing joke that Asians are always late. My personal experiences in Cambodia and even here in Seattle confirm this.
Of course, American culture dictates that hosts should always arrive early to greet their guests, which is exactly what I did. But when I showed up at 11:30 am, my aunts, uncles and cousins were already there, waiting outside.
“James, they won’t seat us because they said our reservation is at noon,” said Aunt Stephanie. My aunts and uncles had arrived at 11:00 am because they too wanted to come early and on time.
“Um…I sort of told everyone to come at 11:30 because I thought you would all come late,” I replied.
“Why would you do that?” asked Uncle Phung.
“Because we’re Asian…?” I answered with trepidation.
“Does this look like a wedding to you?” Asian weddings were another occasion where guests are notorious for being late. “Of course we arrive on time.”
And so it was, for the next 30 minutes all 24 members of my family stood outside waiting to be seated because we all arrived early.
“Well that’s a first…” I thought to myself.
Lesson learned: Don’t use Asian time on Mother’s Day. Your family will be pissed and exact unspeakable horrors upon you—like encourage you to apply to law school.
Need more useful advice? Here a list of Asian Time Dos and Don’ts.
Do use Asian Time when waiting for public transportation in Seattle. They never arrive on time, so why should you? If the schedule says a bus will arrive at 7:35 pm, I typically add on a few extra minutes. But don’t blame Asians when your bus arrives late; we’re not usually the ones driving.
Don’t use Asian Time at the movies. It’s rude and disrupts people who are there on time.
Exception: If said movie is The Hobbit, you may arrive 20 minutes late because nothing remotely important happens.
Do use Asian time when emailing. Americans have gotten spoiled with emails, text messages and IMs. Our new culture of instant gratification is corrosive. People expect you to reply to them immediately. Some people even write “URGENT: Reply immediately” in the subject line. Even my mom has embraced this culture; she will call me just to ask if I received her email. Well I’ve had enough! I now wait 24 hours before replying to any email that is not urgent*.
Don’t use Asian Time at work. It will ruin your reputation as a staff member and you’ll quickly lose credibility with your employer. Exception: You work in Asia.
Do use Asian time for Baby Showers. People won’t even notice if you’re late because everyone is so focused on when the baby is due to arrive. I once showed up to a baby shower two weeks late and there was still plenty of food left on the table. Unfortunately, the expecting-parents were vegan so the food wasn’t any good.
Don’t use Asian Time on a first date. During courtship, it is absolutely crucial that you bring your “A-game.” By showing up late, your date will think that you do not care about them or respect their time. Exception: You’re not Asian, making you “fashionably late,” which exudes mystery, confidence and allure—all very attractive features in a mate. Exception to the exception: You’re not Asian, but your date is and you think showing up late will impress them because you’re displaying “cultural competency.” You’re not. And don’t fake like you know Asian food because you use sriracha sauce like its ketchup.
*Authors note: Urgent emails include: anything related to grants or fundraising, funny Youtube videos, letters from Nigeria telling me I have inherited one million dollars.