Friday, 27 April 2012

Waiting room etiquette...(or not)

Visiting the doctor in your home country can often be slightly annoying/an even further risk to your health/an absolute pain in the neck. Whatever your past experiences with doctors have been, they often pale in comparison to visiting the doctor in a different country, where the culture and/or language can be completely different to your own. My experience in Australia was rather pleasant. Modern waiting room, friendly receptionist. I actually wanted to bring the doctor back to Europe with me, he was just so...NICE. My experiences with doctors in Germany were...well, you can probably guess that there was a bit of a lack of bedside manner. Although German health care is seen as being top notch, and I can't disagree with that. Now we come to Italy. Efficient? Not by German standards. Pleasant? Not in comparison to Australia. So what will you experience if you visit a doctor in small town southern Italy? Let me explain. 

Unlike in my hometown in the UK, there are few 'surgeries' with a handful of doctors to chose from. Here, you pick one doctor and visit his private practice. So there I was, in a cold, very plain waiting room with plastic chairs waiting for the doctor. He came out to lock the front door at one point because he had a good few people in the waiting room. I wondered why he did this, as surely that wasn't necessary. I found out it was. Due to the fact that most appointments lasted about 20 minutes as opposed to the (usual) 10 I'm used to in the UK. If more people had come in, he wouldn't have finished the appointments before the end of 2012. And when I say appointments, I don't actually mean appointments. I mean coming in and simply waiting your turn. There could be one person in front of you, or there could be 10. You take pot luck. But even then, your turn in the queue is not secure. As I was waiting, a pushy, older lady barged her way in as someone unlocked the door to leave. Oh no, she declared, the doctor will see ME! This, of course was accompanied by many a hand gesture and some eye rolling at the ridiculousness of the locked door. And much to my delight, the doctor expressed his displeasure at her forced presence. But her response basically involved more tutting, hand gestures, etc. Oh well, I thought to myself, she's last in the queue anyway. Oh how WRONG I was about this. As the next patient left the doc's office, she stood up and, once again, barged her way through. I was squirming on my chair at the audacity of it all. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, thinking that perhaps she just wanted to get a prescription, and would therefore spend a few minutes in the office before grumbling her way out the door again. But no. TWENTY MINUTES later she re-appeared. I was positively scrunching up my magazine in annoyance. Why didn't I say something? Well because it seemed acceptable, at least by everyone else's standards. My British 'respect the queue' attitude was not shared by the others in the waiting room. This happens a lot in Italy. People push in, and the others who are being pushed in front of, to put it simply, don't care. Or don't notice. One or both of these is possible. The concept of the queue is very British, and it may not be something that people think of as a problematic cultural difference, but unfortunately, it can be a little trying. Patience is what's needed. A whole load of the stuff. 

This just about sums it up. (Taken from
 But in case you think I'm being a total negative Nancy (an expression introduced to me by an American friend, and one which I have fully adopted), it's not all bad. The doctor was serious and straightforward, yet there was no rudeness, and he showed a lot of patience when faced with my grammatically incorrect Italian. And despite the queue jumping and lack of appointments, there is one thing that I enjoy when sitting in the waiting room. And that's the chat. The 'keep oneself to oneself' mentality that we British often display is not welcome here. People will talk to you. It doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing, people chat. And the doctor's waiting room is no exception. Once the impatient woman had settled herself on a plastic chair, she engaged the entire waiting room in conversation about strawberries, and a host of other vegetables. I didn't get involved (please, I'm British... ;D) but everyone else did. People pass the time but having a good old gossip. And I find this quite pleasant. Maybe next time I'll stick my own nose in and share my (extensive) views on artichokes.

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