Before I lived abroad I thought Americans were the most impatient people in the world. After three years and as many countries, I saw impatience in every culture. It’s a human condition. Just as people feel when impatience stabs, it’s also unnerving to discover what turns people into players in their own mini-dramas. Let’s take a look at some seemingly arbitrary experiences that makes us all realize how ridiculous impatience is— even if it is a human trait.
I was unaware of the stereotype of the Chinese as bad drivers until I lived there. Though reams could be written about what makes them bad drivers, for the sake of brevity let’s just talk about honking. This is apparent in north and south China. For instance, if a line of traffic doesn’t move forward before the light turns green, the long line of cars begins honking. Then, regardless of the fact that the six lanes are each 43 cars deep, #2 through #43 honks. This is not simply little putt-putt honk. This is full-on laying on the horn as if it’s the one-note soundtrack for the NASCAR race going on in his mind. Then there’s honking when the cars reach another stoplight. Honking when they drive the same speed as the car before them. Honking when they drive the same speed as the car next to them. Honking at pedestrians walking in the opposite direction as if suddenly he’ll turn around and want a ride in your direction. Honking at pedestrians walking perpendicular to them. Honking at a car a quarter-click down the road that looks like it might turn onto your empty, two-land road. The impatience is so predominant that its manifestations become habit, an undiagnosed tick. This, however, is more like road rage, less like the high school girls of LeRoy, New York.
Imagine you’re shopping for something, a purse, a video, whatever, at a market. It seems you’ve got the vendor’s stall almost to yourself when whamo! A corpulent woman shoves you aside with one hand. You’re not even looking at the same purse she is. Yet she’s decided she must haggle— now— with the vendor. Then another woman comes up and begins screaming with the vendor, and then another and another until you’re surrounded by a cloud of women like a cloud of gnats. You soon realize that acting polite (at least by your country’s standards) means this vendor will sell out of purses before you get yours. Therefore you watch the crowd of screaming, haggling women for a few minutes. You pick up the gestures— those geared toward the vendor and others to thwart other shoppers—and strongly push your way back into the crowd that seems to have shit you out like yesterday’s lunch. Within minutes you’ve got your new purse and new uses for elbows and shoulders. Only the strong survive.
What would happen if you make a Peruvian wait a full minute before answering a door? Would they break out in nervous hives? It would never have occurred to me that I’d be thinking, ‘Crikey, shut your pie hole!’ about an impatient Latino. Their reputation is one of almost sloth, yes? Not so when it comes to doors.
There they wait in their cars when picking up a friend from his house and honk until the maid comes to open the (nonelectric) garage door. But it isn’t just a pop-pop honk like the Chinese. This is a cartoonish dut-dah-dah-DUN-dah dat-DUN. Rather than get out and open the things on their own, they get their money’s worth out of their maids, honking for her services as if also trying to get their money’s worth out of their car’s accoutrement.
Same can be said of doorbells. These can’t be rung only once; it’s an unwritten rule to ring them in quick succession half a dozen times. They will not cease ringing the bell until indeed the maid has run to answer the door.
I don’t deny I too become impatient about certain things. But, just as age comes with wisdom, patience comes with travel. It’s taught— or forced— me to simmer down the mini-dramas. It’s allowed me to spend my waiting time focusing on things I like (reading, listening to podcasts, writing, smoking cigarettes, observing people). Patience is perfect; She always gets what she waits for.