As a nation, the British feel compelled to queue – and if reputation is to be believed, us Brits are better than anyone else at forming a queue.
Trying to discover how and when queuing came to form such a large part of how we live is quite difficult, but it seems to have really come into its own during World War II. At that time, the newspapers and radio were forever telling the public how everyone needed to “do their duty” and “take their turn”. Queuing initially was associated with hardship with the poor queuing to accept handouts and charity. As propaganda drilled home messages about taking your turn, queuing then merged with ideas of decency, fair play, and democracy. Despite historical images of the British patiently queuing in hard times, the reality was that there were many arguments and disturbances and frequently the police were called to restore order.
Despite queuing being associated with hardship and difficult times (the dole queues of the 1980s), queuing has remained a Great British past time. It is often joked that the British will accidentally form a queue or that we join queues without knowing what we are actually queuing for! There may be some truth in this – again, during the war, rationed items would periodically go on sale and word would quickly spread about the availability of longed for items. The end result of this would be people joining queues without knowing exactly what they were queuing for but based on the number of people already in the queue …. it must be good!
The nation’s reputation for queuing is highlighted for annual events – from people queuing daily for Wimbledon tickets or for Jubilee concerts. Images are shown across the world on TV and through the internet of people queuing (sitting on deck chairs) and generally having a grand day out…. in a queue! The British queue emits an aura of togetherness – again, possibly an echo back to war times.
Our love of queuing does cause issue when we travel though as it seems completely alien to us when other people do not queue. One example of this would be the “buffet” experience at hotels. As queue loving Britons, we expect to start at one end of the food and walk in single file around all food items – mentally we automatically create “food starts here” and “food ends here” labels in our minds. Should another guest walk straight by the queue to say, the soup bowl, without joining the queue – our tempers start to rise. It makes no difference to us that no one else was there wanting soup – chances are, there will be scowls and tuts as he should have queued and not “pushed in” – the level of twitching being the same as if he had snatched the ladle out of another’s hand. Fortunately, hotel buffet restaurants are now becoming so large that this is becoming less of an issue!
So when we become incensed at people who cannot queue – what is it that makes it so annoying to us? Is it lack of manners or are we really more concerned with protecting our own interests. Has someone pushed in the queue for the bus and taken the seat you wanted near the window? What if they take the last roast potato? Is your anger at the queue jumper arising out of the notion of fair play or the fear or missing out?
A couple of years ago when all Ryanair planes were boarded en masse by 300 people trying to sit together – boarding the flight had remarkable similarities to a rugby match scrum. Elbows, walking sticks, and hand luggage were all used as subtle weapons to keep your place in the huddle and push your way on to the plane. Thankfully those days are pretty much behind us with everyone knowing their seat before the plane is called – the only scrums now are from the desperate rush to ensure your handluggage is on the plane and not in the hold!
When you read articles about 3000 shoppers forcing their way into a new Primark in 2007, despite there being 50 security staff, resulting in people requiring hospital treatment – there is much to be said for an orderly queue – but before fights break out over the last digestive biscuit, I would say – remember where you are and consider whether your actions are appropriate for the circumstances.
The English School of of Manners & Etiquette