Deux secondes

It was the recurring refrain when my kids were growing up.

“Deux secondes,” my son would say whenever I asked him to do something.

“Deux secondes!” my daughter would call from her room when we were running late for school.

“Je suis à vous dans deux petites secondes,” says the woman at bakery, placing baguettes on the shelf. (Be with you in two seconds.) Two small seconds obviously being much quicker than normal ones.

I’ve never understood why the French require two seconds when all we ever needed was one. “Just a sec!” I used to yell when my mother would call me. But around here two seconds is the norm. Sometimes it’s two minutes (deux minutes!) or even two hours (ne prend pas deux heures!) but whatever the unit of time, two are always required. I guess everything with the French just takes longer.

It is said that patience is a virtue. Unfortunately it is not one with which I am familiar. Two seconds or minutes or hours are too long for me when I want to get somewhere or do something. It goes against my nature to spend any longer doing anything than is absolutely necessary. This philosophy is entirely incompatible with running a business, raising a family or living in France.

So finally, after much reflection, I’ve decided to cultivate the art of patience. Because it seems that patience, like other qualities, is not something that you have to be born with to enjoy.

And I’m starting small.

Two seconds isn’t a lot of time but if you’re mindful, you can make them work for you. In fact, they can be life changing. It’s enough or run a stop sign or get hit by a car. Long enough for your heart to beat a few times, to make up your mind, to have a stroke of good luck. Two seconds was all it took for me to catch a certain Frenchman’s glance across a crowded bar a very long time ago.

So I’m using ‘deux secondes’ as my mantra. Every time I’m about to tell myself — or the dog, or the driver in front of me — to hurry up, I stop and say the magic words: deux secondes. And for that tiny bit of time, I breathe, focus my eyes on something, relax.

I don’t know if the two-second rule will ultimately stop me from stamping my foot or swearing to myself for very long. I may not make it to two minutes, never mind two hours. But so far I’m amazed at what two seconds can do. Even if I can’t be patient for long, I can enjoy two seconds where things slow down. And then somehow, my sense of urgency evaporates.

Are you a patient person?


  1. margaret21 · November 7, 2019

    Nope, not remotely. I hadn’t noticed the French ‘deux secondes’ rule, but of course you’re quite right. I shall attempt to cultivate the ability to breathe deeply, and relax… just for two seconds.

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      I’m not sure I’d call it a rule…just an expression that I have hijacked into a self-help approach. The world needs more patience, so if it works, why not? 😊

  2. weggieboy · November 7, 2019

    There is a similar phenomenon in American style football, the football minute. At two minutes left on the clock (the “Two Minute Warning” period…), each minutes becomes an hour, at least for those of us not into American style football. There are so many time outs that stall the game for strategizing that the final two minutes can extend an hour. It is one reason I never became a fan of this style football.

    As for the two seconds in France, it is a Latin culture after all!

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      True enough….I must have Latin blood in me after all! 😂 As for football, I’m afraid that is one foreign language I don’t speak on either side of the pond.

      • weggieboy · November 8, 2019

        I haven’t the patience to watch any televised sports, frankly, though soccer/football is easier to sit through than American football with it =s endless interruptions for time outs and commercials.

  3. midihideaways · November 7, 2019

    I’m pretty patient when it comes to most things, but I can’t stand being messed around… Especially by shop assistants who are having a private conversation when they should be looking after a customer!

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      Oh, yes, that does sound familiar! Some make it a point of pride not to jump to attention when customers are waiting. It’s a French thing, methinks. 😭

      • midihideaways · November 11, 2019

        I would just be happy with some attention, no jumping required 🙂

  4. francetaste · November 7, 2019

    I love when people say “ça va prendre une petite heure” or “il sera là dans une grosse demi-heure.” It’s so much cuter than “it’ll take less than an hour” or “he’ll be there in just over half an hour.”
    When our kid was little, my husband once marveled at my patience. But that was because a small child doesn’t have great experience with time and is just learning to acquire the skill of waiting, whereas it’s up to adults to accept that kids are inept and will spill/drop/ruin things and that such things are not intentional.
    Where I lose my patience is with people who should know better. Whose obliviousness to others is downright rude (the people who stand in line at the grocery for half an hour, playing with their phone, and then act surprised when they have to pay and can’t find their checkbook–WHO STILL WRITES CHECKS?!?!?–or a pen or their driver’s license for ID and then spend 10 minutes looking through their bag and pockets for everything …why didn’t they get it all ready while waiting in line?).

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      Sadly, lots of people still write cheques in France because they can’t get credit cards after issues with banks. It frustrates the heck out of my husband, who continually raves about the fact that Swiss have abolished the cheque entirely (it’s either cash or cards there). Like you, I can be patient with little ones and dumb animals, but people who are oblivious to others drive me nuts!

  5. 355101pkl · November 7, 2019

    A lot of people from my generation were aware of the story of Albert Einstein taking a stroll through a park in New York when a child asked him the time.His reply to the child “There is no such thing as time ” hit the worlds headlines. I think most people have probably forgotten about this. But to think about what he said, a murder, rape or any act of god can take place in the space of a few seconds. We look at time in a one dimensional way.. The passing of a few seconds is really eternity. Our actions in that few seconds cannot be undone however human beings try to forgive or forget.

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      I had not heard that story and it’s brilliant! The idea of time as relative dimension intrigues me…although unlike Einstein I must profess to having no scientific understanding of it. Philosophically, I love it!

  6. Garfield Hug · November 7, 2019

    In lil red dot, we holler ,”just a second” – I am not a patient person and will want things chop chop usually.🙈Bad but I am always hard pressed for time.😊

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      I know the feeling! We are all in a hurry these days…time is our currency. I hope we can both find the time to stop and smell the roses. 🌺

      • Garfield Hug · November 9, 2019

        Agree with you. Stop the rat race or rather pause it now and then to smell the roses🌹🌹🌹

  7. Joanne Sisco · November 7, 2019

    I think technology has made us more impatient – especially when it comes to getting responses. If a response to an email takes a day or two, I’m chomping at the bit. Texts are even worse. If I order something online and it takes more than 48 hours for delivery, I’m rolling my eyes with impatience at the delay.

    I like your 2-second strategy. It’s just enough time to take a deep breath and put life into perspective.

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      You are right about technology. Instant gratification is just a click away and when it fails, well…so does our tolerance. My 2 seconds helped me stay cool at least 3 times today. I hope it works for you too!

  8. Becky Ross Michael · November 7, 2019

    Good relaxation technique!

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      Thanks — so far, so good! 🙏🏻

  9. Ally Bean · November 7, 2019

    Generally speaking I’m a patient person, but I like your new mantra and may add it to my repertoire of things to think when stressed by life. You are clever to have figured out how to turn this phrase into a guiding principle.

    • MELewis · November 7, 2019

      Cheers, Ally! I find little memory tricks help. The hard part is to change our habits but if we manage that, it’s clear sailing. 😊

  10. Colin Bisset · November 7, 2019

    I rather like the precision of that ‘two’ which suggests a moment longer than the ‘just a sec’ second, a little more considered. Will try out your new mantra… Thank you!

    • MELewis · November 8, 2019

      We could all use a little extra margin in our lives — hope it works for you! 😀

  11. George Lewis · November 8, 2019

    As you know I am not a patient person but I always say “just a minute “ because two seconds is a lie, no one finishes what they are doing and comes in two seconds. I guess my mantra is Trooper’s song “ I’m here for a good time not a long time “.

    • MELewis · November 8, 2019

      I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree….and as far as your mantra goes, you’ve certainly been having a good time for quite a long time! 😄

  12. suzlearnsfrench · November 8, 2019

    Long distance running has helped me cultivate patience. And the longer you run, the more patience you need. Nice article!

    • MELewis · November 8, 2019

      I can totally see this, although I am not good on long distances which makes sense given my personality! Glad you enjoyed. 😊

  13. acflory · November 9, 2019

    Commiserations! Or perhaps congratulations are more in order. 🙂 I’m a ‘stop and think’ girl so I’ve tried to be more spontaneous as I get older. Not a bad way to be, but I find I get…ahem…a lot grumpier than I used to. I wonder if that’s me being spontaneous, or just old. 😀

    • MELewis · November 11, 2019

      Ha, ha…there’s only one cure for the aging thing, and I think we’d probably both like to avoid it as long as possible! 😂 You and I sound like we’re going in opposite directions with a common goal…balance. Although I am not often spontaneous I certainly can be impulsive and have a hair-trigger temper. If I can hold it for two seconds, congrats are definitely in order!

      • acflory · November 12, 2019

        -grin- What’s that they say about skinning cats? Becoming our best possible selves is the goal, imho.

  14. Brittie the Lowlife Traveler · November 9, 2019

    Gotta love the French with their limited sense of urgency. I’ve gotten much more patient after traveling and living in different countries myself. Even if the culture isn’t big on patience, there’s something about being a foreigner, stumbling through a language you don’t know, and things just not going your way when you want them to. These days I go to the bus stop and I just sit patiently if I don’t have anywhere to be on time. A half an hour goes by and I just accept it for how it is.

    • MELewis · November 11, 2019

      I would love to be that chill but although I’ve stumbled my way around as a foreigner for many years, I’m not there yet. Kudos to you! 🤗

  15. debscarey · November 11, 2019

    My only experience of France was in Paris, and I don’t imagine the two-second rule applies much there. However, the rest of the country I’ve heard is very much a different story. Rather like my experience of moving a bit further away from London and to a more rural life, I’ve noticed (and already love) the slower pace of life. Like you, my inclination is to hurry up, but I’m learning …

    • MELewis · November 14, 2019

      Things definitely move at a slower pace outside of Paris and major cities like Lyon and Marseille. I love the quieter rural side of life but like to feel connected to a city where I can get my dose of shopping and culture. For us that’s Geneva. Thanks for checking in, by the way!

  16. zipfslaw1 · December 7, 2019

    I’ve never noticed this before —thanks !

    • MELewis · December 7, 2019

      De rien. ☺️ Glad to share something new!

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