a queue must start in the mind

I HAVE just returned from a couple of weeks of standing in lines, aka queuing up, and I have no complaints to make.
There were times when I stood in a queue to be let into a restaurant even though I could clearly see empty tables in front of me; then when I chose to take a break during the meal I’d find myself in a queue to get into the washrooms where I learned not to be surprised to find even three queues – one for the urinals, the other for the cubicles, and a third for the wash basins (aka sink).
My event was the type for which we were allocated shuttle buses, so we got to queue up for these as well, while other people queued up for taxis.
Regardless of how busy one was, the queue was always in effect and formed so naturally that I was astounded to see fellows queuing up to witness some drama. A suspect had been apprehended outside the convention centre we were at and as the police went through their protocols of placing him under arrest, we gathered in a small group (those who were idle enough) to witness events.
I didn’t understand how I found myself right at the front of the small crowd at some point, but thought that some people had had their fill and moved on, and just as I contemplated doing so someone nudged me a little bit.
Afraid it was a pickpocket – a rarity in the city I was in – I turned back quickly only to find that an orderly array of people was neatly arranged behind me waiting their turn to view the drama ahead!
The possibility was too much to contemplate, and I had to ask, “Is this a queue?!”
Laughter ensued because normally this question was politely spoken when one arrived at a fast food counter or entrance to something or the other, and the words then were, “Is this the queue?”
Later on I realised that they might have thought that to be a taxi line but still, the fact is that they are mentally configured to fall in line and be orderly.
Being the type of person who craves the type of orderliness that we see in societies that queue, I enjoyed this aspect of my trip thoroughly the entire time.
The reality of change began to hit me when we got to Dubai and, still in a queue, witnessed a fellow breaking ranks with his suitcase to get it into the airport shuttle ahead of many people who had arrived before him. The indignation was silent but profound, and the shuttle operator calmly but firmly pointed him back to his place in the line.
We all breathed normally after that and went on doing so till we got to Entebbe Airport. Right there at the arrivals, before we had even processed ourselves into the country, some fellow tried to squeeze past me on the right just after I had compromised mentally with myself and agreed not to raise complaint about the family that had squeezed past us on the left.
“Yes?” I asked the chap, as I moved to block him even more, while a

A frantic queue formed and active somewhere. Photo from http://www3.pictures.gi.zimbio.com/

police person observed with a bored look.

“Let me pass?” he said, not even bothering to add any justification to gain my sympathy – no faked heart attack, no wife in labour, no burial to get to, not even a cramped leg from the flight. He was just trying to jump the queue, such as it was.
“No! Let’s go together. Get in line like everybody else!” I said, firmly.
Only to look around me and realise that we were a crowd of people trying desperately to get ahead of one another before we got to that point where we “had to” queue. The actual queue only formed where there were cordon straps indicating where orderliness was expected.
Anywhere outside of that is a free-for-all.

4 thoughts on “a queue must start in the mind

  1. I have also recently been travelling; alas, however, my only experience of queuing has been of the latter kind as I have been travelling around East Africa. I have come to understand that one has to literally climb on the back on the person in front of them to prevent the person behind you from jumping the queue! Two incidents come to mind:

    I was waiting in line to board a ferry and there was the usual mass of lines that narrows into a point up front. There was no particular hurry since it was still half an hour until the ferry was due to depart, and there was no danger of anyone being left behind so I let the members of a group of people pass me by so they could stay together. The guy behind me, however, began to scold me by asking why I was letting people pass! I was flabbergasted! I simply stood aside and invited him to pass as well, while informing him that we would all get onto the ferry eventually! To which he replied that the rest of them had no time to stand around! Well!

    The second incident was just two days ago, when I was in line to register for the national ID (I was out of the country during the whole earlier process). I was the last person in line when one young lady came along and squeezed into the half metre of space that I had left between me and the person in front of me. I tapped her on the shoulder and informed her that being the latest person to arrive, her rightful place was behind me. First she gave me a blank look but when I held my ground she gave me a dirty look and then grudgingly moved places to the back. A few minutes later the line moved up and she again moved in in front of me – so I asked her what her deal was and she said I was too slow to move up! Really? I told her there was no need to press up against the person in front of me as this would not get the queue to move any faster!

    All in all, I dread queues in this blessed country of ours, and adrenalin floods my whole body every time I have to tell someone off for jumping the queue since I expect some nasty response! But I say – that is life, I guess! Everybody else is in much more of a hurry than you are! :-/


  2. I’m glad you found my experiences entertaining! I could fill an entire book with these sorts of anecdotes, but such a book would be depressing as hell to write so I think I’ll skip it! 🙂

    Seriously though, the question that never fails to cross my mind at the moment someone is jumping the queue is: what am I missing? Like, are there some experiences that I had (or failed to have) that predispose me to meticulously keeping track of who arrived when and where their place in the line is? I feel like the queue police sometimes! Eventually I have decided that the wisest thing to do is to accept this behaviour by my fellow citizens as part of life (therefore not let it stress me when it happens) but I’m failing miserably – it still makes me silently go: Aaarrrgghh!!!

    (On a more hopeful note, yesterday I was in a queue that got a bit disorganised because we were waiting so long, but when things started moving the guy next to me moved aside and let me have my rightful place in the queue. I couldn’t help but verbally commend him on his good manners, although it is sad that such behaviour is even worthy of comment)


    1. @elithumu: Writing a book is good therapy and will make it easier for others to handle the angst rather than enter into queue-rage! I like the ‘hopeful note’ experience, though, and it just goes to show that things can and will change. A lot of the hard work is done by peer pressure, or society basically refusing to accept queue jumping as normal. Even in organised societies there are people who occasionally try to jump queues but the awkwardness and the value society there puts on avoiding awkwardness makes them go right back to their proper places more times than not.


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