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I'm a gradate student at a UK university. Today, I faced a difficult situation and I'm not sure if my decision was right, so I'd like to hear your opinions (I'm not a native English speaker so I apologize in advance for any grammatical errors).

I was going to attend a valedictory lecture (the very last lecture by a retiring professor) in a building I'd never visited. I used Google Maps to get there and ended up in front of a facility with no entrance for students. Two other students were also there, confused.

We then spent a long time looking for the right place, until one of us noticed there were two buildings with the identical name and we were supposed to go to the other one. At that point, we were about 3 minutes late for the lecture, and I told them we might not be allowed to come in late because it seemed to be an extremely formal event (We had been told to wear formal attire).

They disagreed and headed for the right building, so I followed. However, by the time we arrived, we were more than 10 minutes late (the lecture would last for two hours), and we didn't even know which way to go in a huge building. Then I decided to give up and go back home, telling the others I personally found it rude and inappropriate to be THAT late. They went on and I don't know if they were actually allowed to join the audience.

But now I wonder if this was the right decision. One reason I decided not to go was that I had never interacted with the retiring professor (although we belonged to the same department) and she wouldn't even recognize me. How would she have felt if an unknown student (or actually, three students) had joined in the middle of her last lecture?

Could you please share your thoughts on this so I can make a better decision when I find myself in a similar situation in the future? Thank you so much for reading this.

EDIT: We were "invited" to the lecture and attendance was not compulsory.

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    I'd say if there's separate entrances for students and staff at your University it's them before you who have a problem with etiquette as it's the 21st century and such things should long be in the past. As for your question, I understand the feeling of worry in such a situation. It seems you would have enjoyed attending that lecture, and I think it would have been best to try and not worry and just go in quietly and perhaps give a facial expression of apology in the direction of the lecturer while sitting down. (Also note that 10 minutes is well within the so-called Academic Quarter).
    – Sixtyfive
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 11:13
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    Lectures are for the audience, not the speakers. You attend a lecture because you want to hear what the speaker has to say, not so that the speaker has someone to say it to. Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 14:52
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    @Sixtyfive I can't speak to the actual situation here, but a student entrance might easily mean "unsecured entrance", whereas other entrances have whitelist access control. Given the things that these might give access to, for a city centre institution these can have a very short list, excluding both students and staff.
    – origimbo
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 18:04
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    There's obviously a lot of cultural stuff going on here, and having been to the UK I do know why things might be like that there. It still does affect the way the students feel about themselves and the way the professors/teachers/lecturers feel about themselves and I still maintain that it also has the sideeffect of creating an intimidating amount of hierarchy.
    – Sixtyfive
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 20:06

5 Answers 5

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However, by the time we arrived, we were more than 10 minutes late (the lecture would last for two hours)

I'm not British, but 10 minutes is not that late. I would not find it rude - in principle - to enter a two-hour lecture 10 minutes late.

However, what is rude when arriving late is walking all the way across the hall, finding a seat in the middle of the row, and squeezing in front of people.

It would be fine to stand in the back, or sit only if you can reach a chair without being too disruptive.

From the comments: "I am British, and slipping into the back late would seem reasonable. The problem can be lecture theatre design with the only access at the front; then you have a dilemma"

Even then, I can't tell you the name of more than one person I've seen come late to a talk. I've been that person. Don't worry about it.

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    I am British, and slipping into the back late would seem reasonable. The problem can be lecture theatre design with the only access at the front; then you have a dilemma
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 8:34
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    @ChrisH I once had a class in a 400+ seat lecture hall. These types of rooms always have back entrances, but one student came in 10-15 minutes late through the front entrance. The front entrance had a heavy metal sliding door that opened via an electric motor after pressing a button. The lecture was obviously interrupted, and everybody stared at the latecomer for about a minute as the door slowly opened and closed again. Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 9:59
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    Basically, I agree with the above. As long as you do not disrupt the lecturer and others you're fine coming late. I had lectures I missed by half-time due to transport issues and could slip in at the back and still catch some information.
    – Nox
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 10:25
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    @JordiVermeulen Were you attending class in jail? Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 12:24
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    @AzorAhai-him- the building was designed by a famous architect, so it has some... interesting choices. Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 15:37
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Please don't worry about it. Missing the lecture was not a problem; these kinds of lectures are generally advertised to the whole university community and in particular everyone in the department. If everyone who was invited attended there might not have been enough seats for them all.

Also, having several buildings with similar names is also not uncommon. It often comes from having a generous donor who made more than one donation towards buildings and get the honour of being linked to it.

Your question asked about being late. This does not have a simple answer, as it often depends on the architecture of the venue in question. In all of the lecture theatres I have used there are entrances to the front by the stage and at the back behind the seats. I do notice that some students who are not familiar with new rooms can enter next to me when arriving late to class. The wily ones sneak in at the back and sit down inconspicuously.

So you could have made your lateness public and suffered personal embarrassment, or you could have arrived unnoticed and learned useful things at the talk. However, even in the worst case scenario, in the UK, even those who were irritated by your lateness would have been grateful that you managed to make it.

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    I always find it incredibly irritating when multiple buildings on a university campus have the same (donor's) name. I have ended up in the wrong place for an event a few times because of it. It seems like the height of arrogance to insist on naming multiple buildings after yourself. One is a suitable tribute. Cover each building with the donor's name in gigantic letters for all I care, but why needlessly confuse people by giving multiple buildings literally the same name???
    – qdread
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 12:54
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    @qdread: This is why buildings should be numbered. They can have names, too, but numbers have the advantage of being immune to vanity.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 15:43
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    @Kevin well, until you have a donor who insists on a certain number building just to mess with people 😉
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 22:13
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As a British person who both gives lectures, and who is perpetually late for everything, I'd say

  • < 5 minutes late: Don't even think about it. The host is probably still doing the introduction, if they've even started that.

  • 5-10 minutes late. Probably be fine, try not to make too much noise as you enter and either stand at the back/side or sit on the end of the front/back row.

  • 10-15 minutes Starting to get a bit rude. People might tut or be briefly irritated, but not enough to take note of who you are, and will probably have forgotten it in a couple of minutes. Probably worth it if you are particularly keen on seeing the lecture or need to be seen there.

  • more than 15 minutes. Now you really are starting to be late. For a 1 hour lecture, you've missed more than 25%. Going in can still be worth it, it is unlikely to be held against you, but I would think carefully about it.

The above applies to a 1 hour lecture, so the times might be a bit longer for 2 hours, but not double.

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    As a non-British person who gives lectures, I'm always annoyed by anyone who comes in late regardless of the time being late. However, I would not interrupt my lecture. Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 10:23
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    @BrauerSuzuki These things are definitely going to be culturally specific. Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 14:47
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My opinion:

You should have quietly entered the room and stayed at the back - if allowed. Do that next time. Or better, leave enough time to find an unfamiliar room.

That said, I don't think your decision not to try is significant. Since you are professionally pretty distant from the speaker, it's likely that you were never missed.

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Could you please share your thoughts on this so I can make a better decision when I find myself in a similar situation in the future?

If this is truly your question, I'd say you could make a better decision in the future by being prepared and knowing where you are going ahead of time.

While reading your account, I kept thinking two things:

  1. Why did you not prepare beforehand to know exactly where you were going, especially since it was a place you'd never been? Which lead me to:
  2. You truly didn't want to attend the lecture, or didn't care either way whether you attended or not.

As for your question of of "how rude" it is, I'd say it boils down to your own personal measures of dignity and respect for others. There's no objective measure.

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  • Thank you for your answer and I appreciate your opinion. In fact, I did look up the location beforehand and I even walked through the area where the (wrong) building was located a few days prior to the lecture so I wouldn’t get lost. Also, on the day of the lecture, I arrived there more than 20 minutes earlier than the starting time to look for the entrance and the lecture hall. It was never the case that I "didn't want to attend the lecture" or "didn't care” about it. Could you please refrain from making unwarranted assumptions?
    – MYKD
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 22:12
  • @MYKD This is a Q&A format with no context other than that you provide. People have to assume a context in order to answer or comment. If you do not want answers or comments with assumptions you do not like, you can not ask questions, but it is better to just accept that people will not know everything, and even learn from the way other people read your questions.
    – david
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 2:06
  • @david Thank you for your opinion. I understand that my original post does not give the whole picture of the situation, but the question of whether I prepared in advance or was truly willing to attend the lecture is irrelevant to the discussion of how rude it is to be late for it. I don't find it necessary to make assumptions regarding that point. As someone who made efforts to get there on time and regrets not having been able to do so (which I believe can be inferred from the original post), I don’t think that these assumptions contribute to the discussion in a positive way.
    – MYKD
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 12:34
  • You asked "Could you please share your thoughts...so I can make a better decision in the future?", and I shared my thoughts. My friend, you're going to be in situations where "how rude it is" is completely irrelevant in the face of being punctual. You were late because you didn't know where you were going, because you were unprepared. You didn't make ABSOLUTELY SURE you knew where you were going. Blaming google maps or going to the wrong building the day before aren't going to change facts. Bottom line, be a grown up, be prepared and be on time. That's how you make a better decision.
    – John
    Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 1:56

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