British people love to queue (or so it seems at least). They form an orderly queue in almost every situation. When people ask me how Germans handle the dilemma of 100 people wanting to get on a bus with 40 seats, I never really have a satisfying answer. I don’t really know to be honest. It’s not that we don’t have queues in Germany; we have them in supermarkets, at the post office and in many other situations, but there is somehow a distinct difference. What you definitely won’t find are Britain’s absolutely unique bus queues.
Even though I have lived in the UK for a while now, I still sometimes find myself staring at the other side of the road thinking “what’s going on over there?”, quickly realizing that it is just an ordinary bus queue that has formed along the kerb. To foreigners this really is quite a peculiar sight…
British people really know their queuing rules and they are extremely careful not to break those rules or to step on anyone’s toes. You could be standing in the middle of Marks & Spencer’s waiting for your friend and an elderly lady might walk up to you asking “Is this the end of the queue?”. People are quite touchy when it comes to queuing. That’s one lesson I learned quickly: you don’t want to mess with a British queue! Queue jumping is regarded as a major offence. I have grown quite fond of this aspect of British culture and have developed my personal queuing rules over the years:
- always politely ask if you are at the end of the queue
- shrug your shoulders and possibly patiently nod to the people around acknowledging the fact that “yes, we’re all in this together; we’ll just just have to wait…”
- possibly make a comment about how slowly the queue is moving and – if outside – that hopefully it won’t start raining
- look disgusted and appalled at someone’s attempt to jump the queue
- bring a good book
Queuing seems to be such an important part of British culture that British police have begun to encourage “crash courses in queuing” for foreign students living in England a few years ago (see article here). The locals had simply become too concerned with the “influx of continental queue-jumpers”!
I don’t know what it is… maybe there are just never enough bus seats, bank clerks, supermarket tills and sandwich shops. But I don’t think this alone is it… Brits just love to queue J