Queuing Horizontally

QueueThere’s nothing like jumping a queue to get Canadians riled up.  I live in a nation that prides itself on equality and social justice and which is also renowned for its patience and good manners.  Right now everyone is frothing at the mouth about stories in the press about famous and influential people being immunized against H1N1 ahead of everyone else.

I can’t help thinking it’s a good job all those outraged citizens don’t live in Baku, Cairo or Dubai.  One thing that I have learned from living in other countries is that most people in the world don’t queue.  Or as a friend once put it, they do queue but horizontally, ie shoulder to shoulder, side by side at the counter, instead of the orderly line we expect.

I remember the first time I entered my local post office in Cairo.  It was a scene of total chaos, crowds of people at every teller’s window, and in the middle of the room, sitting on benches, a few hapless souls who had given up all hope of ever being served.  Unable to able to read any of the signs, I proffered my airmail envelope to the guard by the door and shrugged my shoulders in the universally understood question “What do I do?”  He waved me to a scrum of people in the corner. 

I bravely shouldered my way into the middle of the group, and soon found myself completely wedged, unable to move in any direction and at 5’3” almost completely invisible.  But after what seemed like an age a knight in shining armour came to my rescue, in the form of a tall, elderly man standing behind me.  With a firm shove he propelled me forward a foot or two, while at the same time shouting over the heads of the crowd to the teller and pointing down at my head.  I don’t know what he said, but the meaning was clear “Hey, serve this poor foreign woman next!” 

A brief pantomime at the teller’s window, involving her punching numbers on a calculator and me proffering the contents of my wallet and I was out of there.  There was only time for a smile and a quick “shukran” to the chivalrous gentleman, now pinned against the counter himself.

I can’t say I have ever mastered the art of queuing horizontally, despite now having had many years of experience.  My British/ Canadian heritage is just too strong.  It’s like haggling, something else I’m completely hopeless at.  But that’s the subject of another post . . .

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3 thoughts on “Queuing Horizontally

  1. Oh, yes, lines or the absence thereof in foreign countries. Once, in a photo shop in Accra, Ghana, a gentlemanly-looking man entered and boldly just moved right in front of me to the counter to be served. I told him and the guy behind the counter firmly that it was my turn and it was not polite of him to move in front of me. It was not good manners, was it now?

    The guy shrank like a pricked balloon, apologized, saying really there was no problem and please go ahead blah blah blah.

    In the same country, many years earlier, I once arrived at the office where you get your driver’s license, and all and sundry moved out of my way and INSISTED I go first, me the little white woman in the crowd of black Africans. It was mortifying, but I had no choice, they just pushed me right up to the counter. No, this was not colonial times, but a leftover, I assume. And it does not happen anymore, thank God. On the other hand, you do get done quickly 😉

    Thanks for visiting my site! Loved your story here.

    Miss Footloose
    Tales of the Globetrotting Life

    • Ha, ha, yes people being overly polite and pushing you to the front is almost worse! In Dubai a lot of government offices have special lines for “ladies” which are generally much shorter. As a feminist and egalatarian Canadian I always battled with the decision on whether to take the regular line with everyone else, or the “I’m a poor weak female who needs to be protected from men” route.

  2. Haha. I love this article. I had the exact same issue in Belize, trying to get on the bus (these are old retired US school busses). Except I’m not a polite Canadian, I’m a “pushy, rude” American.

    I did learn pretty quickly to 1) Use my then 2 year old boy to push into the crowd – “That’s my son on there! You have to let me on!” 2) Grab some part of the bus and just shove in 3) When in Rome, do as the Romans do: just push and push until you get up there.

    Riding the bus in Belize is an experiment in patience and balance. But it sure is fun. 🙂

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