Waiting Your Turn

The other day we went to the Immigration Office to pick up my husband’s permesso di soggiorno. Usually there are some people waiting, between half a dozen and twenty maybe. This time there were probably 200 plus all crowded into this room on a hot summer day with no apparent organization– nowhere to register, no appointments, no order. Just hot, frustrated immigrants, crying babies, and harried civil servants.

We stood there in amazement, trying to figure out the system. How were they processing people and what were we supposed to do to get what we came for?

Eventually a door opened in the back, a man entered and instantly the crowd flowed toward him. Everyone was reaching out their arms, waving their application receipts. Luckily I’m tall so I could almost see what was going on. I moved in with them waving ours, stretching as far as I could to make sure he collected our slip of paper too. At one point my husband exasperatedly said, “We don’t even know what this is for!” I didn’t care. I pushed into that crowd like a herded cow until the man took my form.

Turned out it was the right thing to do. After that cattle call they started announcing names and processed all of the people reasonably quickly. We were done in 45 minutes.

There’s a different culture about waiting your turn here in Italy. It is common practice for someone who thinks he has just a quick question to walk to the head of the line. The clerk who is attending to someone else will stop what he’s doing and answer the question. It’s just the way it works. Maybe someday when my language skills are better I’ll do it too.

Most of the time the informal non-structure works adequately. At the doctor’s office, instead of having a receptionist tell you when the doctor will see you, you walk into a waiting area full of people and simply ask, “Who’s the last?” Then as soon as the doctor’s door opens and one person comes out, the next one goes in.

Following rules makes me feel secure. I know my place and I know my turn will come. I follow the rules. I’m a good girl.

But sometimes rule-followers are boring and dismissed.

When I was 17 I visited my sister in LA and went to a taping of the television show Let’s Make A Deal. We wore goofy costumes and filled our purses with unlikely items in case Monty Hall wanted to give us cash for a hard-boiled egg or a paintbrush. We waited patiently in endless lines and finally reached the part of the building where they selected the people for the trading floor. The people in charge told us that we must be quiet and orderly and stay behind the white lines. They told us they were looking for people who knew how to follow the rules.

My sister and I stood there smiling and well-behaved as the selectors walked through. Around us people were squealing and waving and reaching out yelling, “Pick me, pick me!”

They didn’t pick me.

I learned a lesson that day– good girls don’t always win. Others who are entertaining and outrageous will often get chosen. Sometimes breaking the rules is called for.

Is there something in your life where you are waiting your turn, but in fact you could take matters into your own hands and simply do it? Where might you need to make some noise and be brazen? What if the only approval you needed was your own?

What are YOU waiting for?


Originally published at lizsumner.com on July 6, 2016.

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