Thursday, September 16, 2004

Queue, you

From my YOUK pre-departure handbook for US students going to the UK:

"'Queuing' in the United Kingdom is the ancient art of standing in line. People almost always form 'queues' in shops, banks, at bus stops and movie theaters. Jumping the queue is considered extremely impolite. Your American genes may cause you to feel frustration at the local indifference to long lines. Our advice is to simply be patient and 'get in the queue.'"

Aside from my confusion at that last past being in quotes, this section of the guide seemed a little odd to me. It's not as if it's some kind of free-for-all in American banks. Is this supposed to me that people in the UK actually enjoy forming queues? Is it like sport to them? We have baseball. Do the British have queuing?

At the supermarket today, I think I experienced my first culture clash. Just like in America, there are lots of tills in a line, but instead of queuing up at individual tills, everyone was forming one giant queue that stretched halfway back into the store, the person at the front of the giant queue stepping up as various tills finished with other customers. So there was this huge empty space where the many little queues were meant to be, and hordes of people in a huge queue taking up the area where people were trying to do their shopping.

On top of this, looming over the giant queue was an almost billboard-sized sign saying, "PLEASE FORM QUEUES AT INDIVIDUAL TILLS."

Being the rule-abiding citizen I am, I stepped up right behind a person being helped at a till, making me second in that particular queue. Well, that's when all the moms with their strollers and groceries, standing in the huge queue that shouldn't have existed, started shaking their heads and grumbling quite obviously. Marianne motioned frantically for me to get in the back of the queue. I pointed to the enormous sign validating my actions, but it was clear nobody was having this.

Dozens of pairs of eyes watched me slink to the back of the big queue. Instead of having reminded everyone that they could be served a lot more efficiently, I felt like a student who had been caught cheating.

So this is my personal experience supporting the argument that British people totally get off on forming queues. The bigger the queue, the bigger the pleasure as far as I'm concerned. I should have heeded the ominous warning of the YOUK handbook: "Just be patient and get in the queue."


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