Britain, British, Culture, My Articles

The British Art of Queuing

I arrived first at the bus stop and stood in the place I deemed logical to start the queue for the bus. Others arrived. They stood in random places: a businessman set down his briefcase and busied himself with a newspaper; an early shopper placed her bags on the ground and played with her telephone; a student stood a few feet away with headphones blaring a tinny noise, ignoring the world around him.

The British Art of QueuingWhen I say they stood in random places I mean they chose a place to hover; a place that was absolutely not behind me. There was no attempt to even pretend they considered themselves to be joining my queue. And then we saw the bus approaching from around the corner. As a group we shuffled a little closer to the kerb. I, in my expat naivety, believed it was only a matter of time before the other waiting passengers fell into line behind me before the bus pulled up in front of us.

Alas no such thing happened. Apparently without me knowing about it we began to play a version of British Bulldog where everyone that should have been in a queue attempted to reach the base (the bus) by bulldozing their way through me, and any other potential bus passenger or passerby.

The result was a ‘first there, last on the bus’ situation which left me furious. On the inside of course, I’m much too British and polite to actually blow a gasket in public.

For the four years I took a bus to work I made it my mission to teach my fellow Dutch bus users how to form an orderly queue in order of arrival at the bus stop.

However, no amount of tutting, deep sighing or head shaking got my message through that queue jumping is socially unacceptable, verging on illegal and certainly a violation of my international human rights. The Dutch are it seems oblivious to all manners of subtle scolding.

The mere hint of a tut directed at a queue jumper in Britain has them scuttling red faced to the back of the queue, showing every possible sign of regret for the mistake they inadvertently made (no British person in their right mind deliberately tries to push their way into an orderly, well executed queue).

It’s a sad fact of life that outside of Britain the art of queuing is dead, if it was ever alive, which I doubt. I see no signs of an historical tendency for queuing in the Netherlands at least. Ticket machines are needed in all manner of establishments to ensure Dutch queues remain civilised and orderly: the baker, the blood clinic and the pharmacist being three places that directly come to mind. Everywhere else it’s each man for himself, except for the ATM queues which seems to work well even if they do tend to entirely block the path with inefficient queue directionality.

In Britain we learn from an early age that queuing is just the right thing to do. Everyone has their turn and fair is fair; if you’re first at the bus stop you get to pick a good seat on the bus, and not spend forty minutes standing in the centre of a bus hurtling down a motorway at one hundred kilometres per hour clinging onto nothing but a flimsy headrest glaring at the passenger who stole the seat you should have been sat in. But I digress.

The point is that queuing is fair. In Britain civilised queuing is a throwback from World War II, a result of rationing and a sense of civic duty instilled by government war propaganda. In fact, many Brits find queues magnetic and will often join the end of a queue just to see what is at the front.

After decades of practicing, us British are renowned the world over for our queuing abilities. There are British expats in all corners of the globe who are silently brought to boiling point by the locals’ lack of queuing etiquette. Like me in the Netherlands.

I did a quick search online about queuing in Britain and I was astonished to read many reports that would have expat readers believe the art of civilised, fair and honest queuing is also a dying art form in Britain. I choose not to believe that the future of the British queue lies in the hands of us expats, and that Brits everywhere, even those left in Britain, are doing their utmost to uphold the reputation we have when it comes to forming a solid, orderly line.



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