You can get so confused
That you’ll start in to race
Down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
And grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
Headed, I fear, towards a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
- Dr Seuss

Athens Bus Terminal

By now we’d gotten waiting to an art form after six weeks of travelling. Most of our days consisted of waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting at borders and waiting for friends. There’s a special type of waiting though when you’re one of hundreds waiting. A sort of pilgrimage-like feel. That we’re all in this together despite trying our hardest to not make eye contact or touch.

The waiting in Greece was foreign to the waiting we were used to. There were no clean white plastic seats or LED signs to illuminate our path. Greece had been our first taste of something truly foreign. We’d wondered the dusty paths of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, we’d stumbled through Omonia (“home to pickpockets, prostitutes and drug dealers” Lonely Planet pg 520) to a hostel that seemed to exist in a perpetual state of darkness. It was now, though, that we truly felt out of depth.

Waiting at Athens’ Central Bus Terminal having been awake for sixteen hours was…unique. The whole city was evacuating to home towns to celebrate the Greek Orthodox Easter: old women cloaked in black and dabbing delicately at their mouths with greying handkerchiefs and youths with noose-like gold necklaces, thick and heavy, smoking and leering. Peddlers and beggars, often hard to tell a part, flapped long coats of sunglasses, watches and little packets of tissue paper. Feral dogs the size of ponies lay about in the heat, tongues lolling and ears twitching, fast to avoid a reversing coach or snag an unwatched lunch.

Time dragged on. We clutched our packs to our knees, scanning the bus signs as each arrived in its passenger clogged bay. I rubbed my eyes as if they were greasy window panes, hoping to see more clearly through the haze of exhaust and cigarette smoke. Surrounded by people, we were isolated. We can barely say yes (“nαι,” which sounds like nah) and no (“όχι,” which sounds like okay) and our Greek Dictionary was well thumbed through and its binding was coming loose. I missed the order of British and Australian terminals, waiting in ease and comfort and fresh air.

Finally our bus arrived. It looked new, slightly dusty and the hub caps didn’t match, but safe enough for our four hour trip to the little town of Agrinio. The bus driver hauled the undercarriage open and a half dozen sheep carcasses were unloaded, wrapped in bloody plastic and teeth grinning from their skinned skulls. It’s unanimous that we keep our bags with us on board. Our waiting for now had come to an end.

Definition of “to wait.”

The verb to wait is derived from the early Middle English waiten and/or the Anglo-French waitier. The Latin equivalent is exspectare meaning to expect, to look out for or to await.

Hong Kong Layover

At first glance all international airports look the same. Same colour schemes, same announcement chimes and the same fast food eateries: MacDonald’s, Hungry Jack’s, the token sushi joint. The toilets are the same too. The toilet paper transparently thin and the liquid soap fairy-floss pink. It isn’t a different country at all. Just some sort of stopover point, a gateway that is neutral territory. The signs are in both English and Cantonese and the announcements are repeated in multiple languages so you’re never left in the dark for long. Yet, as Alain De Botton points out in his book The Art of Travel, “a plug socket, a bathroom tap, a jam jar or an airport sign may tell us more than its designers intended, it may speak of the nation that made it” (69) and an airport sign, “despite its simplicity, even mundanity” (69) can be an exotic delight for foreign travellers. Even the act of waiting is slightly different in different countries.

The Cultures of Waiting

In examining different cultures, the perception of time, including willingness to wait, can be divided into two categories: monochromic and polychromic. The monochromic system divides time into precise units resulting in regimented schedules and time frames to get things done. Monochromic cultures include the United States, Australia, Canada, Switzerland and Germany. The polychromic system is more fluid in its approach to time where several things can be done at once and not every moment is accounted for, instead focused more on traditions and relationships. Polychromic cultures include Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan. What happens when these two systems merge such as in international airports? Is the world heading towards a monochromic global culture where time is money and when every moment is measured and weighed?

Sydney International Airport

“G’day ladies and gentleman.” After five months travelling throughout Europe, I was delighted on arriving home to hear such a clear Australian accent. It didn’t take me long to get used to the r-lessness and specific use of vowels, but it was more welcoming than the actual words. It has its own flavour that puts me instantly at ease. The air tastes differently here too. A mixture of red dust, smog and the beach. The waiting is over. I’m home.

The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

  • Dr Seuss

Works Cited

De Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin Group, 2002. Print

Dr Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! London: Harper Collins, 2003. Print.

Lonely Planet. Europe on a Shoestring: Big Trips on Small Budgets. Footscray: Lonely Planet Publications, 2007. Print.