It’s just after 4 in the morning and I’m blogging about Patience. I’m sure there is something ironic about that, though it eludes me for now, oh well.

People who know me well, will know I don’t have a wonderful history of being patient. Now that I’m starting to develop better skills in this area I realize that it is one of the key gifts I can pass to my children.

Funnily I have Belgium to thank for this.

Firstly, why do I consider it so important?

Well, for me what usually sits at the middle of most of my ‘stressed’ moments, and many of the ones in the past where I used to get angry, was a lack of patience.

And most everytime I could see the replay of my childhood; watching my father curse a queue of traffic, a nut that wouldn’t go on a bolt, a drawer that wouldn’t open, a child who couldn’t complete a task as readily or as well. And not surprisingly, I picked all of this up and thought that was the way to behave.

Secondly, being patient makes me a nicer person to be around, I feel better when I am, operate more effectively, and keep stress at its lowest possible level, it has to be worth a few more years with my girls J , and for them it has to be a life skill of immense value.

Belgians have a different view on patience to anything I have encountered before. I wonder whether their somewhat phlegmatic approach to things – which can drive you insane on first, second and one hundredth encounter – is the reason that despite their smoking rate they live to old age quite nicely thankyou. Stress just doesn’t seem as prevalent as it does back in New Zealand. Belgians take their time over things in a way Kiwi’s seldom would.

People stand patiently in queues, wait at pedestrian crossings whilst people dawdle across, consider dining out as something that lasts the whole night (a single table turn is the accepted practice here – Chrissy waited almost 2 hours for a main course the other night – and so did everyone else), are happy to sit on a single beer for a whole afternoon, and a number of other subtle little signs that really show that ‘time’ is not a reason to get upset.

Of course it is not perfect, neither is every one in Belgium, Belgian.

It is in my mind part of why it has taken to so long to form a government over here (they have haven’t they?) – what’s the hurry?

The traffic jams here are something else – not because of the size of them (though my commute can vary from 35 minutes to 2 ½ hours!) but because people drive into the middle of intersections with know where to go as the lights change to orange then red. The only time I really encounter obvious impatience is when I refuse to drive out onto an already jammed intersection and wait patiently for someone coming from across the other direction to do the same so traffic can start to move freely. I do this at the personal cost of being honked at as if I am unreasonable. I typically conclude the person honking can’t be Belgian!

The other thing that is ironic is that whilst exhibiting all this patience, jumping a queue or pushing in for service is quietly accommodated as well, no-one really complains.

We have both become a lot better at getting to the front or ensuring we get served ‘in proper order’ – so certainly patient does not mean you are not assertive.

One downside to Patience is I do think that without focus and priority it can be a disaster, or if not a disaster it can lead to some bad habits. Most evident over here is the time it does take you to get served in a lot of places, the disinterest shown by people in serving you or assisting (which in fact is probably not disinterest but just a lack of urgency ‘what’s the hurry’). This can manifest in many different ways, from phone calls to friends or family whilst you wait in line, conversations with other staff with no regard to you or the queue, and then of course the wonderful tradition of shutting up shop for lunch or otherwise – I mean really who needs a hot lunchtime siesta in Antwerp!

Anyway, I’m pleased to report my driving has improved (slower, more patient, not concerned about being passed), I plan more for the ‘longest’ something might take rather than the optimal / fastest time something ‘should’ be done in, get less frustrated on a daily basis, ensure I build time into outings and don’t overcommit, enjoy the girls more and allow them time to develop skills (so what if it takes them 5 minutes longer to do up their shoes than I could do it in?), and generally get more done with much less stress and more enjoyment.

The simplest way to reality check your impatience is to ask the next time you are stressing about being held up in traffic – “and what will I do with 10 minutes I would have had at home without this traffic jam?”. Remarkably putting 10 minutes on the end of your day is not that difficult, in fact if you keep the stress down, you may not even need it.

Hard not to like really.