Saturday, December 17, 2011


The Intermarche down the road from me is a fairly large, well stocked supermarket, which has all the normal supermarket amenities, including about 6 checkout counters. Very rarely, however, is more than one counter going at a time.

A string of about 6 or 7 customers with bulging carts can be lined up waiting patiently, and still, the man polishing the apples, the girl re-arranging the wrapping paper, and the woman counting coins at her (closed) till - all employees of the supermarket - will remain doing what they are doing, leaving one lone cashier to deal with everything.

No one seems to have a problem with this. A half hour wait to pay for your groceries? Not even a ripple of dissatisfaction. They all seem perfectly content to stare into space whistling softly to themselves.

A price check can take upwards of ten minutes. The cashier will pick up her phone and ask for assistance; until help comes, she starts an involved, highly animated conversation with the customer. When help ambles up at a leisurely pace, he proves to be puzzled by what is being asked of him, necessitating a mass exodus of the cashier, the customer, and any other interested parties, to that part of the store from which the item is supposed to have come.

And still, not even a whimper of despair comes forth from anyone in the line.

I, on the other hand, am basically shaking in an anxious agony. My thoughts start to spin out of control:

"Getting through the grocery store is not supposed to take this long. Haven't they heard of efficiency? Customer service? Oh dear Buddha I am going to DIE if I have to stay in the line a moment longer. Oh my gosh I might start SCREAMING. What if I fall on the floor, foaming at the mouth: would they let me through faster?"

A weirded out glance is directed my way, and I realize I am hopping from foot to foot in my complete anxiety to be rid of the place. I must look like I have to pee about three gallons of fluid.

"Deep Breaths, Mary. You can do this. You don't have to be anywhere. This is fine. Enjoy the wait. Smell the smells of the supermarket. Soak it in. DEeeeep Breaths....

"OH MY GOSH the damn hippy in front of my hasn't showered in about 500 days. This is disgusting. What is WRONG with him? Hasn't he heard of deodorant? I think my nostrils have to be fumigated. I bet I have some airborne disease now. He is probably carrying the plague. LET ME OUT OF THIS PLACE."

The anxious hopping starts back up, and I start to contemplate dumping my basket of food onto the floor in a grand gesture of self-righteous anger at European inefficiency.

Back home, even a 30 second fumble as I try to wedge my debit card out of its wallet garners grumblings of dissatisfaction, anxious glances at watches, and has the cashier tapping her nails against the register in an impatient staccato. And I get it, I totally get it; the number of times I have been behind someone and wanted to grab their wallet and get their damn card out for them are too many to count.

What is this terror of waiting?

If I am behind a line of ten people at Starbucks, and it takes the cashier more than two minutes to get all those orders and process all those payments, why do I start groaning as if death is imminent?

If I take my car for an oil change, and there is more than one car ahead of me, I will pull out and resolve to try again later - even if the oil needed changing about 1500 kms ago.

If I am in a line at the store, and the cashier is being trained, I don't even try to wait. I just dump my stuff and walk out. Too bad, amazing shoes that made my heart stop. You just better be there tomorrow.

It's not just me, either. I know very few people who are comfortable with waiting.

We live in a time where we have to wait for very little. Especially in North America, this is taken to extreme degrees: "If your pizza isn't there in 10 minutes, it's on us!" or "If your plumber isn't there within half an hour of your call, we pay YOU!"

We are encouraged to wait for very little; I can't really think of anything that we are told it is better to wait for - except for, perhaps, having children. Perhaps this is because children really slow you down....those little suckers really make you wait.

(At which point I stared at my laptop for 2 hours, drinking wine and staring into space, randomly answering emails. What did I start out trying to say? What is the resolution of this post - is there one? Where is my brain? Why am I so tired? Is it normal to eat chocolate in place of a balanced meal? Maybe that is why I am tired - my body is dying of nutrient deficiency. Is it possible to drink too much tea? What if there is no other way to stay warm? Am I drowning my organs? Why am I so neurotic?)

And then Meaghen grabbed my laptop because she wanted me to finish so we could watch more Prison Break together, huddled in the couch, screeching at the gross scenes.

From Meaghen:

And all of this just because you were dying of hunger and couldn't stand to wait in line for more than .003 seconds. I think we found the root of Western Impatience right there: hunger. In this case, physical. But in general? Spiritual. At least I think that's what you are trying to say.


Thank you.

I'll be here all week.

Until March.

1 comment:

  1. You two make me LAUGH OUT LOUD! I kid you not! One day Meaghen, you must sit at my kitchen table and wait....probably not for dinner, probably for Mary....ha ha