Mastering the art of French waiting
Confession: I hate waiting. I am the girl who is constantly checking her watch, annoyingly tapping her foot, scowling at the person who is holding up the line. I despise being late, wasting time, not having things go my way. It is not my finest quality, and despite years of yoga and zen breathing, I’ve come to accept that impatience is just a part of who I am.
Because in America, we expect things to be done now, pronto, ASAP. The good ol’ U-S-of-A is not known for doing things at a leisurely pace. We invented fast food. We can’t bother with even sitting down to eat. We’d rather DVR our television shows than wait out a commercial break. We drive everywhere, even when it’s within walking distance. Surely, the American ideal of instant gratification has fueled my inability to wait patiently.
In my service marketing class in college, we learned about the psychology of the queue (for Americans: that’s the fancy British word for standing in line) and how to eliminate negative waiting time for customers. We literally spent weeks learning about how to get rid of wait times or distract people from thinking about how long they’ve been waiting (i.e. magazines in waiting rooms). I don’t think French business owners took the same course–or would even see the value in it.
To the French, waiting is just a natural part of life. Whereas Americans expect things to be done now, the French expect things to get done…later. Whereas a line is a sign to Americans that a business needs more staff/better procedures/automation, a line is just what’s expected when you go to the post office, bank, grocery store. No one scowls at the customer taking forever at the register, because they realize that they’ll get the same attention (or incompetence) from the employee when they reach the front of the line.
Surely, the French don’t like to wait anymore than Americans do. It’s quite boring, no matter what culture you’ve been raised in. However, when you stand in line in France–and you surely will at any store or business you go to–you won’t see the French tapping their feet, checking their watch, asking the clerk what exactly is taking so long. I’m not going to attempt to explain why the difference exists–I’ll leave that to the anthropologists–although I have a strong hunch it correlates to much older traditions and culture. 234-year-old America is still just an impatient, whiny adolescent next to the older and wiser France.
So next time I head to the post office, I’m going to try and blend some of that sage Gallic wisdom with a bit of yoga breathing as I attempt to patiently stand in line. Oh, and I’m leaving my watch at home.