A European Lesson In Patience

My father and I were driving from Galicia to Madrid on Monday when traffic on the A-6 (care-ay-TAY-rah day la nor-oh-AY-stay, according to the GPS) came to a complete stop — and stayed that way for nearly an hour.

The Spanish drivers got out of their cars, stretched and, in the case of almost every male driver, urinated on the side of the road. I ate most of the food I’d brought along for lunch and read a few chapters of my book (“The Known World” by Edward P. Jones: Must. Read.) Finally, I asked a nearby driver what had happened. He let out a stream of Gallego-inflected Spanish from which I extracted the word “mineros” and little else.

Miners? WTF? What could miners have to do with the highway being shut down? As I later learned, the highway was deliberately blocked by miners protesting a plan to raise the retirement age. On Tuesday, air traffic control in France was disrupted by a protest over the same issue.

What struck me from this experience was the utter calm with which the Spanish drivers greeted this delay. No beeping, shouting or even complaining.

I can’t imagine a similar reaction in the United States. Not only is this form of protest entirely out of fashion here, but we Americans have become a very impatient people. Even when a traffic delay is caused by circumstances beyond our immediate control — weather or a bad crash — we Americans honk and stamp our feet. I wonder why.


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