Places and dramas of waiting

Despite that you often think life is too short to spend it waiting, you do spend a great deal of time on waiting during your lives. According to statistics, one spends on average three years with queuing. Either it is queuing or other kind of waiting, they are all manifestation forms of social adaptation, which are organic parts of your lives and culture.


Steam-engine and passengers waiting at the station in the 1920s  - Thúry György Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

The whole world is a huge waiting-room 

128010_b.jpgSometimes you realise how much waiting is part of your lives:

“I have arrived twenty minutes earlier and I have to wait until the mail-train leaves, (…) it is certain that I had already spent much more unpleasant time on waiting in my life than this one now. If I think of the surgery of a famous doctor, dentist or photographer, who are probably all busy by the time one arrives there, and one has to wait for the convenient moment!... Or when we wait for the customs clearance of an unfriendly officer. Or we are waiting for a laggard dear letter to arrive for days or weeks. Which does not want to come, no matter how hard it is waited. Following the way of my thoughts I soon had to realise the reality that one spends a large part of one’s life on waiting for something, and we might as well call the world a huge waiting-room.” – 1885, Pápai Lapok


Waiting at the buffet of Utasellátó at the Áfor filling station of Budaörs in the 1970s - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

Psychological phases of waiting in a traffic jam 

2009_384_1_f.jpgEither you go by car to work or on holiday, you can expect that sometimes you get in traffic jams. According to experts, human reactions to getting stuck in a traffic jam, can be divided into different psychological stages. The first stage is the phase of denying, which starts before the journey when you imagine during breakfast that you will drive along the way until your destination without any problems or delays. Due to your blind optimism, it feels like a cold shower, when you rush into the congestion. Does really everybody want to come this way now? And anyway, where are all these people going to? Why is that the other lane goes faster, and why does not move who should? On the basis of these and similar thoughts, you can realise easily that you are already in the phase of anger. The next phase is the stage of bargaining, when the optimistic thoughts like “it surely won’t take long”, trying to reassure and calm yourselves, and the incredulous thoughts like “why does this happen to me” alternate, until the stage of depression comes, which is followed by the phase of acceptance.     


In a congestion in 1968  - Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, Pápa, CC BY-NC-ND

Conformists, cheaters and rebels: roles and characters of queuing

126770.jpgAs people usually do not consider queuing as their favourite activity, if somebody in the queue does not adapt to the generally accepted rules, it can provoke serious conflicts. Those who break the common courtesy and jump the queue – and become cheaters in psychological aspect – have a trick, the tactic of “chatter and overtake”. The main thing is that the overtaking person starts a conversation with a person who stands at the beginning of the queue, and then the overtaking person “forgets” himself or herself there, trusting that other people behind them will not notice it, or they will not dare to criticize it. This kind of breaching rules can be especially frustrating if the queue moves slowly.

“Waiting is hard. Waiting wracks nerves, breaks down horns, and dissipates self-confidence the most.” – Zsigmond Móricz, Relatives


Queuing in the self-service restaurant in 1960 - Fortepan, CC BY-SA

If someone thrusts, it causes rage, indignation and despair in others. The conformists in a queuing situation, who do not like cheaters typically, are even able to fight against cheaters sometimes, because of their indignation, and several persons in the queue might rebel against the cheaters. According to psychologists’ observations, these negative reactions usually restrain people from thrusting. 

“The waiting… that is the worst. Chewing all the time over what will happen next. And how? And waiting for it to happen.” – Agatha Christie, Peril at End House

When waiting might be good

One considers waiting a bad thing generally, which is especially typical when it goes with worrying:

“Naturally, this interest in harvesting is there every year, and people look forward to it with the greatest expectations. But the basic mood of this waiting is not always the same, but changes with the conditions. This time last year, for example, we felt the worry of fear, when we thought of harvesting; but now it is the hoping expectation that we feel, when we look forward to the development of things…” - 1899, Tolnavármegye


A ferry at the port in 1968 - Fortepan, CC BY-SA

There are situations as well, when waiting is not negative at all, but it is a positive experience for us. This usually happens when we believe that an expected event will come, in other words: if our belief in the occurrence of an expected event is stronger than our doubts about it. Naturally, in this case, we might have fantastically positive ideas related to the occurrence of the event, or we expect too much of it sometimes. This time, we might think that: 

“The waiting (…) is better than the reality.” – Amy Harmon, Making Faces


Feeling at ease at the port in 1967  - Fortepan, CC BY-SA 

98_6828_1_e.jpgNaturally, waiting can go with enthusiasm sometimes; this happens typically when we wait for good things that are almost sure to occur, like the summer vacation, holidays or a journey:

“The child, who waits for the first snowfall – waits well, and its waiting itself equals to a long-long snowfall. The one, who prepares to go home, is already at home during the preparation. (…) The deep patience is born inside people, who can really wait, and the patience is not less in beauty and meaning than the thing they wait for.” – János Pilinszky, Hitünk titkairól

Erdélyi Károly

Translated by Zita Aknai


  • A váróteremben. Pápai Lapok, (12). 18. 1885. május 10.
  • Aratás előtt. Tolnavármegye, (9). 24. 1899. június 11. 
  • Changizi, M., Ruiz, O., Barchie, E.: Conformity. Head Games, Se. 1. Ep. 1. 2012. június 3.
  • Faulds J.: The 5 stages of sitting in traffic. ( 2017. június 12. (Hozzáférés ideje: 2020. március 13.) 
  • Móricz Zsigmond: Rokonok. 1960. Budapest, ISBN 9789630782050
  • Agatha Christie: Peril at End House. 2009. Budapest, ISBN 9630793067
  • Amy Harmon: Making Faces. 2016. Budapest, ISBN 9786155631061
  • Pilinszky János: Hitünk titkairól. Új Ember, 1974. december 15.


More thematic virtual exhibitions