, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Queue: a line of people, usually standing or in cars, waiting for something.—Cambridge English Dictionary

[Note: on my travels, I’ve realized the purest way to identify cultures may boil down to how they wait in line. I have now tested this theory in many places around the world, most recently on my current trip to India.]

Queuing Behavior—an ongoing international study

  • In the UK, where queuing skills are taught in the mother’s womb, queues require straight lines, with militantly precise space separating those waiting. Eye contact is frowned upon, and speech which doesn’t involve the weather or a dog is unforgivable. Any deviation will result in severe throat clearing and coughs. Severe.

    [image credit: Thrifty Theatre Thinker]

  • Contrary to popular belief, Americans do actually know how to queue (we just don’t always know how to spell it). Line appearance allows more random spacing and requires everyone to gaze at their phone, even if there is no signal. Conversation may be attempted at your own risk, although Americans don’t discuss the weather unless it currently involves a weather event severe enough to have “…mageddon” on the end of its name, are divided on the topic of dogs vs cats, and might be armed with semiautomatic weapons. Americans know if you let another driver cut in front of your car, they will own your manhood and possibly your soul. Everyone in line has the absolute right to comment on others queuing failures, antecedents, intelligence or lack thereof, or (in the case of concealed carry locations) decide this behavior constitutes a threat which confers the right to shoot at will.
  • In Spain, queuing is such a civilized art that no physical queues are required at all. All one has to do is ask who was last in the (virtual) line, and then keep an eye on that person as you get on with discussion of more important topics such as erring spouses and adorable grandchildren.

    All of these people in Spain are actually queuing to buy oranges at the weekly market. How civilized!

  • If you’re in Italy and you take a space they feel should rightfully be theirs, sweet old ladies dressed in black might hide your body and you’ll never be heard from again.
  • In India, queuing doesn’t involve actual lines as much as swarms in which entire crowds move as one body, although many are taking selfies at the same time.

In India yesterday, for example, I was with my old friends/traveling companions Janine and Jaya. We needed to queue for a government bus to take us up to the World Heritage site, the Cave Temples at Ajanta.

Our chariot awaits (courtesy of Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation)

As we waited in our line for the next bus, the one that had been loading closed its doors and took off. The horde of people trying to shove their way onto that bus turned as one and rushed our line. Jaya and other matrons ordered them to the back of the line, which they (sullenly) did. Then the bus we’d been waiting to board started up and drove to where the previous bus had been parked. It was too much for the crowd. They broke, abandoning all pretence of lining up, and rushed the new bus site.

Ever-pragmatic Jaya shrugged and ordered us to follow her NOW. That crowd was fast, but Jaya has a lifetime of Indian experience. To nobody’s surprise, she ended up at the front, her matriarchal glare subduing any considering displacing her. She shepherded us onto the bus, where we found seats just before a million other people pushed their way on. When the bus was groaning under the full weight of extra people in the seats and packed standing in the aisles, it creaked to life and took off. No throats were cleared, voices raised, or weapons fired. Most people smiled, chatted, or asked to take a selfie with us.

So here’s what I learned. Above all and anything else else, Indians are fundamentally practical. As with most regulations and anything involving motorized vehicles, queuing behavior is more along the lines of guidelines than rules.

  • Is your side of the road too crowded? Don’t let that other side go to waste. Other drivers (and livestock) will get out of your way.
  • Is your plane/train/bus about to take off? Head to the front of the line. As Jaya often reminds us, Indians are very kind—they won’t mind you going ahead of them.
  • Are you a good person but this is really important and anyway, those so-called rules are mostly guidelines? Congratulations! You’re Indian. Go to the front of the line.

I shot this video without actually opening my eyes. Trust me—it was better that way.

Please help me extend this important research.

Send lots of money to me, or at least let me know what queuing rules apply where you are.