In France there is a verb for being patient, a separate verb from simply waiting. If you go to buy a parking pass at the little machines, the screen will tell you to patienter. I am not good at being patient. Sometimes I think I am being patient and I count in my head or I look at a clock, thinking I will not bug my child about leaving until 10:17 (when it is 10:13).
Many years ago I went to visit my good friend Y in Germany. I was very jet lagged so we went to a swimming pool park with her German boyfriend and swam in the very cold water. She and I lay in the grass chatting about life and everything, in English, and children ran by. One little boy was intrigued at our non-German speaking and boldly ran closer and closer, yelling, « time is money! ». I thought it was hilarious that this was the only sentence he could come up with. He was so proud of his English but yelled it in such a way that he probably thought he was being naughty.
In the US all of our time is money and I feel like I have lost the art of waiting. France is giving me new lessons. Our visas took longer than necessary, my son couldn’t go to school for three whole weeks when we got here, it took me two months of airbnb life to find an apartment, the bank is going to call me back but they can’t say when, and today I stood in line many times. We wait for our baguettes, for our arugula, to pay for our coffees. Yesterday, at the quite twee Madame Bovary tea salon, I was asked to wait for a table. The people had already stood up to leave but they hadn’t finished paying at the counter. The waitress wanted me to give them a little space, to wait until they were truly ready to go. I am often asked to wait in the little cafes I visit and when I do, I always get what I desire, it just takes time. When one reaches the head of the line at the bakery, it is perfectly permissible to refuse two or three baguettes until the right color one is found, to ask for a loaf of bread to be sliced sideways, to chit-chat, and to ask for six little coffees in paper cups to be made one by one by the baker. Yesterday was the first time I saw a French lady sigh deeply about waiting but I think it was a little racist moment or moment of intolerance.
In the US I often worry that if I am not seen or heard then I will miss my place in line, lose an opportunity, get stuck behind the pack. In France we are all equally waiting, it just takes time for everyone to get what they need but eventually they do. I do not like to make vast cultural generalizations and a lot of what we are experiencing also has to do with living in a city. The first few days we were here we stood in line a lot since all of the students were coming back to town. It was hot and the lines were long but people just stood. I didn’t feel the rising anxiety and potential anger brewing that I often sense in the US when people have to wait. My son and I have pretty much decided that road rage doesn’t exist here (except when I get stuck in the damned pay tunnel in Marseille three times) because no one is feeling personally affronted by the construction waiting or the extra cars on the road.
The job I have held for the last twelve years is all about time. We constantly debate schedules and calendars and add up hours for ourselves and our students. We fight to keep our precious prep time and try to carve out time to eat and pee. In that atmosphere waiting is a terrible burden because there is simply so little time in the day that is not worker time. I wonder if being patient can make time thicker and richer and more interesting and if it’s an art that I can develop enough here that a flavor of it will remain with me. What if I wasn’t waiting to get something or to get somewhere but simply waiting to wait, to practice letting time slip through my fingers without providing any actual fruits?