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Queuing – The Great British Pastime

Flag of the United Kingdom, Union Flag (also r...

Little known fact: The stripes on the flag represent England, Scotland and Wales queuing.

There are many great things about being British and many things that make Britain great, and to this end, it is little wonder that around the globe, people of various nationalities have developed a fixation on all things British. They want to take afternoon tea while reading The Times, they attempt to use the phrase “not on your nelly, old chum” and take their bulldog for a walk wearing brogues (dogs hate wearing brogues, by the way – they much prefer wellies), but they shall never truly feel the full splendour of what it means to be British until they have mastered the Great British art of queuing.

Queuing, to quote the dictionary, is “to form a line while waiting for something”. To quote Britain, “it is the very substance of all that keeps civilisation mannered and orderly”. To quote the rest of the world “waiting? a line? what?!” You see, while Britain has a very clear set of mysterious and unspoken rules surrounding standing in long lines, waiting for something, the rest of the world just marches straight up to the buffet table and goes right ahead and fills their plate. Around the world, readers are nodding their head, thinking yes, I was hungry, there was food, I took it. Britain, in true Brit passive-aggressive form is muttering under its breath “I’m not stood here for my health, you know!”.

So, while the rest of the world sits down to eat their plate of delicious hot buffet, why is Britain still snaking round the room in a single file of hostile good manners? Because we’re British! The queue is our kryptonite; when we see other people standing one behind the other, slowly shuffling in a vaguely forward-moving manner, we are powerless to resist and must join them, regardless of the fact we have no idea what the queue is for or where it’s going. I generally hope there will be wine and free money at the end but more often than not, it’s the customer services desk at Marks & Spencer. I also wouldn’t be at all surprised to reach the front of the queue, only to find the other end of it, in some hideous eternal loop of shuffling drudgery, much like an eternity stuck at an old people’s home where a conga line is the only activity.

I genuinely think that even the smallest of principalities could conquer the British Isles if it only thought to place a series of “Queue Here” signs around the coast lines. We’d be held powerless in very slow and tedious holding pattern indefinitely.

If you have ever thought that queuing is a simple enough task, you’d be wrong – we have huge theme parks across the nation, dedicated purely to this fine pastime. The rules to queuing are vast, complex and a true indicator of your social etiquette prowess. Only a few are exempt from the rules of queuing, and they are forced to wear an armband with a star on it when leaving the house. No, hang on, that was the Jews in WW2. Seriously though, there are no exceptions. Here, for the benefit of those visiting Britain, or caught in the daggered glare of someone apparently reluctant to help themselves to the all you can eat buffet, are a few of the basic rules (queue-ers of Britain, feel free to add your own favourites).

1. No pushing in. This is THE cardinal rule of The Queue. Pushing in or cutting straight to the front is the rudest slight you can make against a member of The Isles of Brit. Ignoring the huge line of people who have formed a train of dull faced suffering in front of the thing you want to get to is enough to get you deported from Britain. Many people think that Piers Morgan moved to the USA of his own accord but the reality of it was that, above all this odious little man’s other hateful personality traits and questionable ethics, he pushed to the front of a queue of 12 at a petrol station on the M4 just outside Swindon and had to flee for his own safety. America, you can keep him. Please, keep him.

2. Keep close formation. Leave no gaps between you and the person in front as these can be seen as an invitation to the opportunistic pusher-inner. If you need to have a conversation or perform any distracting task such as checking your phone or stopping your child from choking, save it for later. Eyes on the prize, people, eyes on the prize. At no point should there ever be enough space for a full pace to be taken, it’s all about a constant shuffling, as though your feet were glued to the man in front. If you find this difficult, try gluing your feet to the man in front.

3. If someone should “inadvertently” miss the huge line of people patiently waiting for their fair turn at almost-being-able-to-see-the-front, and stroll straight to the target destination (commonly seen in foreign students in London Underground ticket halls) do not, under any circumstances talk directly to them. As their crime is one so obvious, all comments must be in the passive-aggressive form of muttering and sarcasm, just loud enough for the person next to you in the queue to hear. The queue-jumper was evil enough to push ahead so they’re clearly too barbaric to want to correct their innocent devious mistake. Your feelings of resentment and fury will haunt them all day as they carry on getting ahead with things.

4. Comradeship can only be established over other people’s misdemeanours and should take the form of eye rolling, tutting and muttered phrases of vaguely audible heroic threats, otherwise, no talking. Talking could lead to distraction which could lead to you leaving a gap (see rule 2).

5. Elderly people can only push in if they pretend to be lost, confused and frail, and then have to be invited in by existing queue members who fear these old people may die before reaching the front. Old people know exactly what they’re doing here and have been known to remove hearing aids and glasses and put on a damn good show of being “doddery” especially. Just watch once they leave the premises. Practically skipping home.

6. Disabled/injured people may also push in but must first join the back of the queue as normal and guilt-trip every person in front of them into letting them go ahead by trying to refuse any special treatment. It’s like a very apologetic game of leapfrog, with less jumping and more false modesty.

7. Sob stories only work on customer service officials who haven’t been stood in the queue for 3 hours. You have a flight to catch? You should have been there 4 days early like everyone else.

8. The other queue always moves faster.

9. Placing a child/partner in the queue and then leaving it to get more items or perform secondary tasks is punishable by death. Well, not death exactly, more just stares of resentment and some overly harsh tutting.

10. When joining a queue, always ask the person in front “is this the end?” This is not a deep and morose opener to a conversation on humanity’s bleak existence, it is the obligatory way of saying to the 4 people chatting 10 feet behind you that they just lost their place in the queue.

11. No matter how many serving points there are, always form one single, solitary queue. If there is a fifty meter bar of unlimited free drinks, one queue. If there are sixty self-service tills, one queue. Airports around the world, as well as having ‘huge-mass-of-people-all-vaguely-going-in-the-same-direction-queues’ also need to have a “UK only” queue for the single filing Britons looking for order and calm in these places of chaos and motion. If we can’t find one, we will make one. As one Tweeter reported to me, his friend briefly stood to look at the departures board at one airport and turned round to find a neat queue had formed behind him (you couldn’t make that up).

12. If you leave the queue for any reason, of course you can rejoin the queue. At the back. Three miles away.

13. Queuing is a perfectly legitimate excuse for being late to work, weddings, funerals (even your own), owing to their national importance and the impossibility to break any of the rules. Most companies now offer paid holiday, sick leave. maternity and queue days.

14. If anyone tries to offer you their place in the queue, refuse. This is a trick and should you accept, (even though you do only have 2 items and they have a full trolley), you will lose the respect of an entire nation. Queuing is your national pastime, be proud of your place in it.

There are of course, many more finely honed rules to the true art that is queuing (a sport so distinguished, it got overly ornate with the vowels) but it truly would take an entire lifetime of British culture-washing to fully understand, so your only hope of comprehending the British need to queue is this; we do not queue to reach the front, we do not queue because we were raised to by mother, we do not queue because we enjoy standing behind one another. No, we do it out of national pride, an innate desire to belong and show we honour all that is British, we do it because this is what makes our fine nation a harmonious and civilised one. And we’re also hoping that one day there will be wine and free money when we reach the front.


About prettyfeetpoptoe

I live in London and have both my own legs so I am fortunate enough to get out and about on occasion. I form many views on the things that I see and do and love nothing better than a session of linguistic gymnastics in order to share these views.

33 responses »

  1. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  2. Very funny blog! I must remind my daughter, when she returns to the UK this week, to remember her queuing ps and qs…or she might be drummed out of the country for being too North American. It’s easy to forget these things after a three-week respite!

  3. Bloody brilliant! (Apologies for attempted Britonism) Makes me want to move to England. Yes, ’tis true, I am a born and bred American. I love my rights, however, queuing is a lost art over which I shed copious amounts of…oh, let’s be honest, profanity.
    I teach, I see students from kindergarten to twelfth grade move through large corridors that interconnect what are intended to be the very hallowed halls of learning, and NONE OF THEM, not a one, learns to queue properly! They try in the primer schools, Lord bless ’em, and nearly succeed! They stumble at rule #2 by way of rule #4. Gaps ensue, and chaos reigns.
    The end result is an admittedly self-serving public that enters a restaurant, stands a moment bewildered by the presence of others whom also wish to consume comestibles, then barges forward as if “might makes right” (Is that a state motto somewhere?).
    I find myself LONGING for a good queue. I have even proposed the use of cones and tethers to make some sort of queuing a necessity, however we as a people are apparently so ingrained in our rebelliousness we’d just duck under or circumvent them anyhow.
    Say a prayer to the gods of the queue for me, I’m of to the store and seem to be the only remaining person in my area cognizant enough to ask, “Is this the end?” ~Regards, Dan

    • You would LOVE our theme parks! They have a few rides to entertain people in between the main event of queuing. We even have special priority queues and “Q-Jump” tickets for those who have passed their queuing proficiency exams. Hours of line based fun.

      • Here the “theme” of the parks is “rush headlong toward the front with no semblance of a queue and try to keep from getting crushed” – not so much fun.

  4. I had no idea this was such a serious business. If I even find myself in Britain I shall certainly keep these rules in mind.

  5. And of course, I had to follow the queue to read your post ’till the end. Hilarious! You have given me a new idea for an excuse when turning in late for work: “Hey, I was queuing you know!”

  6. I’m simply participating in the queue of comments left here at the end of your post… I AM at the end, aren’t I? Well, it was the end when I got here. Very enjoyable post. I must be the first American to quote Maggie Smith’s latest zinger in “Downton Abbey:” “When I’m with her (American), I’m reminded of the virtue of the English.”

  7. charmedbylove

    I went to Japan and saw snake-like queues for food at almost every store during peak hours. not a nationalistic symbol, but more like a pastime to Instagram that latest overused ramen picture xD

    • I think that’s the difference between the two nation’s queues – the British queue because we are British, the Japanese do it so there’s something else to photograph.

  8. There was a petition to send Piers Morgan back, but the queue wasn’t long enough.

    • Sadly the petition was started by a schizophrenic with a hard-on for guns, otherwise you’d have stood half a chance. We’re hoping to hide the country when he tries coming back over.

  9. Adventures in Kevin's World

    This one made me laugh. Multiple times. Thank you.
    Made me think of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – in one of the 5 books he rips on British queues.

  10. Love this, hilarious and yet soooo true! I once told off an old man for pushing in front of me, he was very apologetic and I felt bad when I saw how frail he was but still, I was clearly in a queue!

    • He was clearly trying it on with the confused old doddery duffer routine who hasn’t got long left to live. Don’t be fooled. He’s had his whole life to do “stuff”, as if he needs to get anywhere faster than you do?!

  11. I’m baffled by No. 11 – a new innovation that seems to be sweeping my local W H Smith. Two tills, one queue. What’s that all about? It used to be a commensurate number of queues to tills. But now it’s as if there is a lack of queue-forming confidence; a timidity that is directly impacting the queue-forming imperative that inhabits the genes of every true Brit.

    Be bold, people of Great Britain. Wherever you find a till, form a queue!

    Great post!

    Chastity x

    • There’s now the whole quandary over whether to form one queue for the manned till and another for the self-service tills, or if the one shuffling line should serve both. It’s enough to divide a nation!

  12. When someone behind me at the store has only 1-2 items to my entire cart, I will allow 1-2 people to get in front of me. After that, it’s me all the way.
    I believe in queues. It’s also a wonderful word to use in scrabble.

    • Well done for using queue as a Scrabble winner. I loathe the fact that this is the only work in the English language that is pronounced the same way, no matter how many letters you lop off the end – and people abuse that. Long live the superfluous vowels!

  13. I guess that’s why Canada is Britain’s baby, we do all of those things – except for #14! But then we are an overly apologetic bunch so it does sort of fit the bill 😉

  14. We do all that in New Zealand!

  15. Pingback: England: More Than Just Downton Abbey | Change of Scenery

  16. Pingback: This is How We Do It | livelytwist

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