Our culture takes line etiquette very seriously. The first recollection I have of this was waiting in line with my mother to purchase tickets to a concert. A man walked up to the front and asked if he could go next because he was in a hurry. Several people told him emphatically ‘no’ and sent him to the back of the line. As he passed us, my mother said, ‘He’s just a little man with a little job.’ Being that decades later I still remember this incident vividly, it must have had an impact on me.
I’ve noticed that other cultures don’t find line etiquette quite as important as we do. A bus full of Americans were dropped off at an air terminal in Tahiti. My husband and I were the last in line, waiting to be checked in. While we were waiting another bus dropped off French tourists who would be on the same flight as us. The French immediately started pushing their way to the front of the line. The Americans created a physical barrier that wouldn’t allow them to cut in front. Being that I was the last American, a French man took his cart and begin pushing it into my body. I whispered to my husband to look at what this jerk was doing. When he saw what was happening his protective instincts kicked in and he became aggressive (to say the least). When the other Americans noticed, they surrounded us in solidarity. The French made the wise decision to back up behind us.
Decades later, I was in Southern California taking three children to see Disney on Ice. The line into the parking lot queued from two lanes to one and therefore cars had to merge. Apparently, the man behind me after the merge felt he had been jilted of his rightful place. He laid on his horn, rolled down his window and began yelling profanities at me. Mind you we both had children in our cars. We’re all going to see a Disney production for Pete’s sake. He kept it up until we were actually parked, several minutes later.
And while waiting in the reception area of an office, while there is no physical line, it’s a foregone conclusion that most people know exactly who was in the area before and after they came in.
Gas stations are one of the few situations where it’s outright warfare to get to a pump. There are loose lines that rearrange themselves based on the driver’s analysis of who will be done first.
Concession stands and grocery stores, where there are multiple lines, a person must make a decision based on careful calculations of those ahead of them.
While we might not collectively even realize our cultural difference on the fine art of lines in America, others have noticed. The British Broadcasting Corporation aired a segment entitled, ‘Waiting in Line in America.’ The description states, ‘Benjamin Walker visits airports, amusement parks, roadways and colleges to document how the priority queue is re-ordering American society.’ How funny that outsiders even recognize our obsession, even if we may not.
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.