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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┬ámother, 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.


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