Last week I was at the supermarket here in Chile. I chose an aisle because there was just one man in front with very few items. When asked to pay he took out a bag of coins and counted them out, one by one. ‘Oh, how much did you say?’ he asked. Then he started all over again. ‘Ah, wait… I keep my 100 pesos coins in another pocket’. He started counting again. Then he got muddled.
He started over again.
He probably only took two minutes, but it felt like an eternity.
Afterwards I went to the pharmacy and the single person in front of me seemed to take ages to pay.
‘How are you?’ asked the server. ‘Oh you know, well my cousin was sick with this terrible fever…’ After an health update of her full family tree, (the brother who was much better, thank you, but yes the sister was still with that boyfriend, but the daughter was doing really well at school…) was I able to buy my son’s medication.
I was complaining to my mum about this on the phone and recounted similar stories from my time in Angola and Spain.
In Angola, a country still coming to terms with its civil war and colonial past, every day seemed like a miracle. I once overheard my driver complain to a colleague about ‘these Europeans who want everything done yesterday. They’re always in a hurry. Always rushing for no reason, but they forget… this is Angola!’
He had a point. You can’t expect lightening speed internet, free flowing traffic and fast check outs in a country like Angola. But still it bugged me…
In Spain, it annoys me even more. Why can’t the Spanish queue? Why do we have to waste time wrestling in a huddle when it would be so much quicker if we just waited in line?
Why can’t old ladies finish their chat when they’ve completed their check out at the supermarket? Why can’t the cashiers scan the goods at the same time as they talk?
Why do all Spanish ladies of a certain age block pedestrian walkways by sauntering along three in a row? If any national rugby team is looking for some new team mates I can recommend my mother in law’s friends in Barcelona. You’d be a brave man to pass these women in the street.
Meanwhile, my Spanish husband’s DNA is pre-wired to prevent him from walking faster than 0.05 mph. The only time I’ve ever seen him break a sweat was when he was late for mass.
But OK I get it. It’s not Angola. It’s not Spain. It’s not Chile.
The old man in the Chilean supermarket was just old. Give him a break.
The woman in the pharmacy was just lonely. Let her have a chat.
But try as I might, I can’t help it. I hurry when I’m not in a hurry. I run when I could walk. I hate to be late.
London, as you may know, advises commuters on its metro to ‘keep left’. An Angolan friend found this system of separate walkways for faster and slower walkers hilarious. ‘You guys really have a problem!‘ he chuckled.
But I know I’m not alone. Shanghai folks, I love your pace of life. Tokyo peeps, I bow to your efficiency. Londoners, I hear you. I reckon all you British expats have felt my frustration at some point in your lives abroad.
I do wonder how Chileans would survive on London’s Oxford Street. I’d give them two minutes before a passerby shouted, ‘Keep bloody left!’
I appreciate I have to adapt to my new Chilean home and I’ll try to be more patient. Somethings I can’t change, though. I am British to the core. Thankfully for this reason, when the old man in the Chilean supermarket apologised for taking so long I smiled, ‘Oh, it’s no problem. I didn’t even notice’.