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The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Waiting Time


Time talks. --Edward T. Hall (The Silent Language)

Until the early 1300s, the length of an hour in London could vary from 38 minutes to 82 minutes. It wasn't because they had lousy clocks in the Middle Ages. They just had a different attitude toward the passage of that mysterious thing called time. --Curt Suplee (1994:H1)

Never check your watch at a party, unless it's time to go. --Véronique Vienne (1997:156)


Chronemic cue. The number of minutes, hours, days, or weeks spent between a scheduled appointment and a meeting with a business associate, medical professional, program administrator, or friend.

Usage: Waiting time varies across cultures. Appointments with business executives or government officials in Latin America, e.g., may require longer waiting times than are customary for U.S. workers. The different cultural norms for time spent waiting may trigger anger and strain rapport. (N.B.: Waiting time is usually less with attractive, liked, and high-status individuals.)

Cultural differences. 1. "In northern Europe, the people are exact and precise about time, much like Americans on the East Coast. The northern Germans and Swiss are particularly punctual" (Vargas 1986:127). 2. "In South America, most people know no other way of living and never explain or apologize [for being late]. To my upper Midwest sensitivity, their lack of respect for clock time is almost unbelievable" (Vargas 1986:127).

Media. "In Italy . . . television stations make no effort to begin their programs on the hour or half hour. One program is run until finished, and a new one begins with no concern for clock times or schedules" (Vargas 1986:127).

Salesmanship. "It is vitally important that you do not hesitate or pause in your entrance" (Delmar 1984:31).

Time sense. Along with balance, hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch, human beings have a highly developed sense of time. So time oriented has our species become that we define distance in chronometric terms. By international agreement, ". . . the meter is defined as the distance light travels in 1/299,792,458 of a second" (Itano and Ramsey 1993:64). 

RESEARCH REPORTS. As a nonverbal sign, waiting time (in the U.S.) has eight levels of duration: immediatevery shortshortneutrallongvery longterribly long, and forever (Hall 1959).