28 October, 2011

Stuff British People Like

Stuff British People Like
(a new series, with apologies to Christian Lander)

1. Queuing up
Some people will lead you to believe that football (that's soccer for all the Yanks out there) is Britain's favorite sport.  Others will say rugby.  The very bravest will try to persuade you of the thrills of cricket.  But in truth, Britain's favorite past-time is something seemingly very simple yet fraught with strategy and complex rules of etiquette:  queuing up.

Lovely day for a spot of queuing!
 In the sport of queuing there can be any number of players, male or female, young or old.  It really doesn't matter, because everyone is on their own team.  The ultimate aim of the game may vary depending on whether you are queuing in a shop, a transportation hub, a sporting venue, etc.; but essentially, you are trying to wait your turn in the most orderly fashion possible.  You maintain your place in the queue even if there is no cashier at the till or no bus on the horizon; they'll be there eventually, of course.  Extra points may be scored by attaining the spot at the front of the line or securing the best seat once on board the bus, but you certainly don't want to look too eager to accomplish these excesses.  There's usually a referee present in the queue.  Queuing referees are remarkably skilled, because they don't bellow penalties or use hand signals to hold back the chaos of the game; rather, they use only their eyes.  Their two piercing, judging eyes, supposedly engrossed with a newspaper but subtly scanning the other players to make sure that everyone is playing fairly.  One glare from a referee is enough to turn an offending queue-jumper to a whimpering pup, trudging to the back of the queue with his tail between his legs.

I was in line at at a cash point (translation: ATM) recently.  There was just one person ahead of me, and he was nearly done with his transaction.  I was pulling out my wallet when a young man strolled right up and planted himself in front of me.  I wasn't in a rush so I wasn't really bothered, but I wondered whether I should just make him aware of my existence to satisfy my sense of justice.  As I stood there trying to make up my mind, my Awkward Radar picked up on several squirms of discomfort emanating from the woman behind me.  The source of her agony was evident:  The young man had clearly violated the principle of the queue - but she was too polite to inconvenience him terribly by asking him to move to the back.  Oh dear!  I decided to put her out of her very English misery.  I "ahem"ed and said, "Pardon me--"  He turned around and looked quite embarrassed.  "Oh!  I'm so sorry, I didn't realize!" he said.  The woman behind me looked immensely relieved and said, "Yes, I'm so sorry, it's just that there's a queue..."  (Another very British thing, by the way: Apologizing for something that's not your fault.  Maybe that's where I get it from, Dad!) 

Always respect the queue.  For the love of all that is good, respect the queue.

4 comments:

carrie said...

love love love this! so fun :)

ruth said...

this post is BRILLIANT and made me nearly laugh out loud in class (which I would say should be the goal of every good writer).

Peter said...

this is, indeed, tremendous. good show.

Anna said...

HA! So true. I visited Paris (their favourite sport would be sabotaging queues) with a British friend. Watching his reaction was endlessly entertaining.