Queen Late

When a Chinese friend of mine was in first grade, she was habitually late for school. Usually about ten minutes. Her mom took her to school on a bike. One day she was 20 minutes late. The door was closed. My friend opened the door. “May I come in?” she asked the teacher. The teacher came to the door. She took my friend to the front of the class. “Here is Queen Late (迟到大王),” she said.

Everyone laughed, including my friend. She thought it was a funny thing to say, not mean. The name stuck. Many years later, she was called Queen Late by those who knew her in primary school. Her teacher was not a great wit. Other students at other schools were called the same thing. It was/is a standard joke.

Sometimes I think Chinese have, on average, a better sense of humor than Americans, but who really knows? A more interesting contrast is how lateness is handled. At UC Berkeley, about 20 years ago, I attended a large lecture class (Poli Sci 3, Comparative Politics) taught by Ken Jowitt, a political science professor. Jowitt was considered an excellent lecturer, which was why I was there, but he was also famous for being hard on students who came in late. When I was there, a student came in late. Jowitt interrupted what he was saying to point out the offender and said something derogatory.  I don’t remember what Jowitt said but I do remember thinking — as someone who also taught large lecture classes where students came in late — that he was making a mountain, an unattractive mountain, out of a molehill. It didn’t occur to me to wonder how he could have dealt with the problem in a way that made everyone laugh.



5 Replies to “Queen Late”

  1. I had several professors in college who disrupted the class far more with their offense at latecomers than did the tardy students themselves. One actually stopped talking, walked to the door, yanked in the late students physically, slammed the door and yelled that no one else was to be let in (it was unclear as to who was to enforce this). It made us all very uncomfortable not just for the remainder of the class, but for the rest of the semester.

    We tell new members to my book club that we start at 7:00, or 7:15 if you are on “Donna time,” obviously named for a member who is chronically late. Also not particularly witty, but amusing to us nonetheless.

  2. “Sometimes I think Chinese have, on average, a better sense of humor than Americans, …”: what’s the opposite of ‘fishing for compliments’?

    Seth: Uh, “fishing for insults”?

  3. My ex-roommate from college entered the New York State Police Academy after graduation. He told me that one of the cadets had a habit of falling asleep at inappropriate times. Eventually, the instructors called the whole class for an assembly in the auditorium. Then they made the sleepy student move his bed from his dorm room to the stage. He then had to get into his bed and “sleep” in front of his classmates.

  4. When I was in law school, a professor intensely disliked lateness. During the first week, a student came in just a few seconds after the start of class, she humiliated him by demanding, in front of the whole class, to know the answer to the question. There was, of course, no question, and the poor guy was so embarrassed while she browbeat him that the rest of the students were very uncomfortable on his behalf. Finally she said “the answer is ‘yes.’ Now go sit down.”

    Which I learned after the fact, since I walked in a minute after that. I tried to slip into my chair unnoticed but she demanded to know the answer to the (nonexistent) question. I said “yes”–thinking, hey, I’ve got a 50/50 shot!–and sat down. The entire class burst into applause, the teacher blushed purple, and then told me to leave her class and pick up my law degree on the way out because I didn’t need her class. I had no idea what was going on, but the class continued laughing so and I stayed put. It was a cool moment–how often do 100 people clap for a display of bravado–and a really, really uncomfortable semester.

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to learn the lesson enough to cure my chronic lateness, which continues 12 years later despite some occasionally awful consequences. I’ve tried setting alarms and timers and keeping records of how long things take, but the answer is always “10 minutes more than you think.”

    I wish you had a not-being-late hack that worked as well as brown noise and magic dots.

    Seth: I try to get everywhere 10 minutes early. I end up getting there a few minutes early.

  5. “Seth: Uh, “fishing for insults”?” I was hoping that there was an idiom.

    Latecomers: I never minded in the least someone who quietly entered by a rear door and sat down without disturbing her classmates. People who entered late by a front door and started to walk across the room between me and the class would find themselves ushered out and advised on the whereabouts of the back door. If they ever tried it a second time I’d usher them out, explain that they were in danger of being reported to a disciplinary officer, and tell them to fuck off. That worked.

    Seth: That’s reasonable. The student Jowitt made an example of had entered quietly through a back door. No one would have noticed if Jowitt hadn’t made a fuss. Maybe the idiom you are looking for is “making a mountain out of a molehill”. In Jowitt’s case, it wasn’t even a molehill.

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