Oh, hi there! Do you consider yourself a very patient person at home? What about when you’re abroad? …
Yes? Good for you! Because I am NOT patient. But if there is one thing that I have learned from my nine years abroad, it is this:
“Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. “ -Jon Kabel-Zinn
And unfold in their own time they do, don’t they? A LOT. Just today, I went to the post office here in our tiny town in France to mail a letter to Germany. Quite an important letter, actually (to pay back my student loans). When I got to the counter, the French clerk ripped open my carefully sealed envelope to mumble something about “not right, need to change envelopes…”.
“Excusez-moi, mais qu’est-ce que vous faites?” (translated loosely to What-on-earth-are-you-doing?) did I ask her ever so politely. She ran off, stuck the papers in another envelope (which to my unprofessional eye looked exactly the same), and gave me a price. I was quite annoyed at that point, but….what did we learn?…patience! So, after a bit of discussion it turned out that the envelope she gave me was specifically designed for Europe-wide shipping and would therefore make my papers get to the address faster and cheaper. Huh, not so bad after all.
I often find myself in situations like this. I judge someone’s response, or the procedures and processes by my standard of accepted waiting time. But when I dig a little deeper, there is another mechanism at play. When I become impatient and frustrated because I didn’t understand the behavior or the reasons behind a certain rule or process, I feel like the odd one out. It seems everyone around me has no problem seeing the advantages of the system and accepting them for what they are, but me.
Even after a long time abroad, I still have these moments of surrender. I give up. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. WHY ARE THINGS SO COMPLICATED ABROAD? I want to scream it in their face. But wait…what did we learn…patience. In the end, it won’t resolve anything to yell at someone for their -in their eyes normal- behavior. Actually, it would make you look pretty stupid, don’t you think? Losing your temper of a situation abroad that you cannot control (unless you’re trying to change a country’s bureaucratic structure, for example) is not a response that will help you solve your problem.
What helps? A smile! A surrendering shoulder lift to signal that you have no clue what’s going on! Being personal and telling them your story! And a few words in the local language often do the trick. In China, every time we went outside, our newborn was surrounded by people with cameras taking pictures of this doll-like white baby of ours, giving her age-inappropriate candies and trying to take her for a stroll. Some of these Chinese had never seen a foreign baby before. But honestly, it was pretty hard for us to enjoy the moment without any privacy. Did I feel like yelling and telling them to get out. Oh Yeah! But that would have not worked. Instead, we summoned our few words of Mandarin, joked around, and made the SHH! sign to signal that our baby was trying to sleep. Over time, we adjusted to this and it became normal. Our daughter actually really enjoyed these encounters in the end. Only when we had visitors did we notice these situations again.
What helps you when you’re about to lose your patience? I’d love to hear your strategies in the comments.
Stay interculturally fit,