The Impatient American

I am definitely feeling a bit of culture clash around patience. This was certainly one of the things going on with trying to get our immigration status squared away (we were not willing to wait a month or more for everything to be taken care of). I sense the same impatience in myself pretty regularly. For example, when someone holds up everyone getting on the bus because they want to add value to their card or when I go to the department store, spend about 30 minutes picking some choice items, and then walk up to the register only to see a line of about 12 people and one store employee who is methodically wrapping someone’s newly purchased gift. In my most recent failed trip to the store, I wagered I would wait about 30 minutes to pay. I returned my purchases to their shelves and walked away.

It’s not that I am in a hurry or have anywhere to go. On the contrary, adding cash to your card on the bus makes perfect sense and it seems that in Växjö you are supposed to be out shopping from Saturday from 10 – 2. In terms of the shopping this past weekend, seeing as it was too cold for a lap around the lake, my schedule was cleared to do what the locals do. Instead of having exernal constraints that keep me from waiting, I just find it excruciating to stand in line whether it is to give a department store my money, take my seat on the bus, or get my legal status squared away.

But even as I am capitulating to my own impatience, I am chastising myself for being such an American (With a dash of the Chinese penchant to refuse queuing altogether. What would happen if I pulled a China and just walked to the front? I might try that if I am spending one day in a Swedish town to which I intend never to return – just a little breeching experiment). Folks here are generally docile and patient. They wait silently to pay, for the bus to arrive, and for responses to their applications to the State.

I need to get my Scandinavian chill on. Can it be done?

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2 Responses to The Impatient American

  1. Steve and I have been discussing this same issue, precipitated by my solo trip to Costa Rica and his to the American Southwest. Stripped of the usual responsibilities – children, spouse, clients, employees, the house, the dog, the bills – we quickly realized that, despite the slow pace of the community we were visiting, we were still programmed to keep being as efficient as possible, even when it wasn’t necessary. In our Vermont lives, we pack in as much responsibility as we can, and we adjust to life on a schedule. We must maximize our time because there is always something waiting in the wings. Why is checkout taking so long?! Don’t they know I have to get back to the office take care of a million things before I leave to pick up my kid at preschool? I hate the person I become when I am impatient and angry at strangers for not doing things the way I want, usually because they are throwing me off schedule.

    Steve has a theory that we have a certain breaking point threshold, and when space starts to open up in our lives, we take on something new to fill it, despite the fact that our lives are full already. Case in point, now that our youngest is almost of out diapers, we get a dog who isn’t housebroken!

    Interestingly, we both recognized this compulsion during our trips, and we were able to make conscious adjustments to be in the moment. When I decided to give myself over to it, I was instantly happier. We both had experiences and met people we would have never anticipated because we unhooked from the urge to always be making the most of our time, i.e. packing as much in as possible. As a Type A who expects everyone else to have it together, I was so relieved to just let go of my expectations for others and go with the flow. Applying this principle to my “real” life is much trickier, and I’m definitely struggling now that the legislative session is in full swing. I am trying to find responsibilities to dump and intentional moments of nothingness. Time is the key. Efficiency is overrated.

  2. Pingback: Stepping in it: preface to a risky post | Vermont 2 China

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