Queuing – a very British pastime

People Waiting In Line

Queues are a British obsession. We all hate them but we all inevitably end up in one. Waiting for a bus, in the Post Office, at the supermarket checkout, boarding a plane, in traffic. The list is endless.

I looked up the definition of a queue and found this: “Think of a long queue of people stretching back from a ticket office or bus stop. It looks a bit like an animal’s tail, and this is the literal meaning of the word, which comes from French and was based on Latin ‘cauda’ for tail”

Really? Well I have my own definition “Think of a long queue of people. It looks like a visual representation of your life slipping away. Each slow, tedious, shuffling step forward sapping 1000 times more energy from your mental state than the manoeuvre actually takes to do”

The inevitability of being in a queue should make us Brits more tolerant about how queues work, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The British are a polite bunch who are usually willing to conform to expected norms of society. So, our collective noses are put well out of place if anyone has the audacity to consider a queue jump. These Mavericks make the pain of queuing even more excruciating than it already is.

You are waiting in line with all the other Mums and Dads to get into the school hall to see your little Johnny or Julie badly act out a poor version of the Nativity. It’s freezing cold, the PTA (Parent Teachers Association) volunteers are prowling the queue trying to pressure you into paying a pound for a cup of cold tea. Then you spot 5 adults swanning past and joining someone 25 places ahead. The “plant” in the queue spots them coming and waves “high, over here”. Blatant, they have no shame!  Are they relatives, or just friends? Is it right that one person can mark a space in the queue for 6? Who cares! This has darkened your already grumpy mood.

You are driving your car along a multi lane road and see that a lane closed ahead. As you approach, already in the open lane, you look in your rear-view mirror, you look up ahead, and then you must decide if you will let drivers from the closing lane in. The normal rational you suddenly turns into a defensive guardian of space. As the traffic slows, the gap between you and the car in front disappears as you think “no way am I letting BMW man in a gap at the last second”. If you must queue, so does he. Leave him hanging in the closed lane! But no, a combination of his intimidation, inching into your lane and a more forgiving driver up ahead gives him the gap he needs and whoosh, he has done it… Queue jumped!

My most hated type of queuing is queuing to pay for something. It is bad enough having to pay for (usually overpriced) stuff anyway, but to make me wait in line for the pleasure takes the biscuit! You all know what I mean here. That supermarket with more tills closed than open, making you wait behind the shopper who wants to chat to the cashier forever about the weather, carefully open out each one of their “bags for life” that they have neatly brought along, bag up their groceries in some mystical order (is it tins / packet stuff / cold stuff? Or is it just bagged alphabetically? Who knows?), and then finally pay using every bit of change they have in their wallets. You must stand behind watching all this, or try your luck in the self-service check out. “No there is NOT an unexpected item in bagging area”!

Of course, there is another alternative – on-line shopping! But let’s save that topic for another time.

There is a bit of “The Grumpy One” in all of us. I hope to help you get in touch with yours!



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