Friday, January 08, 2016

Notes on queuing

People, and perhaps the British in particular, like to pretend they hate queueing – what, after all, is more frustrating than having to wait in line for a bus or buy a ticket, or some shopping? But the funny thing is, I think we actually like to queue. It gives us a sense of order, solidarity and security. Recently there was a long queue for a museum I was at. It was hardly moving and looked like it would take about an hour to get in. However, to the side of the queue were automated ticket machines with assistants encouraging people to use them. But no one was – they were empty. They were pretty straightforward to use and enabled one to bypass the queue entirely. We got the tickets from the machine and strolled past the queue, saving at least an hour's wait and walking into an almost empty museum.

Perhaps they didn't trust the machines, I don't know, but I had the sense that queueing to get into the museum (this was the Hermitage BTW, not exactly the equivalent of queueing at Sainsbury's) was a matter of some importance – waiting patiently in line was rewarded with gaining entry to the museum and perhaps its treasures appreciated even more after the long wait (in the cold and rain, if I remember correctly). Worth the wait, in short.

Like most aspects of modern daily life, the British queue officially started in the industrial revolution, and hasn't stopped yet. The move from country to city, the change from hand production to machines and the bringing together of masses of people all contributed to the orderly queue. As did the Second World War, where rationing required people to queue for basic goods – even if they didn't know quite what they were queueing for.

This is the crux of the matter – a long queue looks important, so it must be for something important (even if it isn't). There is a certain sheep mentality to joining queues. A queue can also be ritual and tradition – the dole queue, Wimbledon tennis, toilets at music festivals. Queues can be fun and a good place to meet like-minded people. It's best to enjoy queues – on average we spend six months of our lives waiting in queues.

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