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Getting in (and Out of) Line
August 8, 2010 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Getting in (and Out of) Line

The story of the scrum, the queue and the market begins, in most versions, in a Hobbesian state of nature in which the scrum controlled all. People got what they got based on their ability to push and pull, maim and slaughter. It required new ideas — of fairness, equality and the like — to replace scrums with lines.
posted by modernnomad (33 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
First... in line!
posted by hal_c_on at 3:50 PM on August 8, 2010


This is why I wait till I have really bad gas.
posted by Increase at 3:54 PM on August 8, 2010


In China, in 1997, the scrum formed at the doors to the toilets. You had to fight your way out of the little cubicle around the ditch in the floor. The little old ladies were the worst.
posted by etaoin at 3:54 PM on August 8, 2010


Next up from the NYT Orientalist Asia desk, why potbellys are so hip in India.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:57 PM on August 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


You should see how they drive in india
posted by BurN_ at 4:13 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lines are great if you've got a book.
posted by Faze at 4:15 PM on August 8, 2010


Our last overseas (from the US) tour included St. Petersburg, Russia.
Most of the group, probably 40 people, went to Peterhof.
While in line, our guide went to get the tickets. A group from France tried to advance throuh our group to get ahead of us. My french is not as good as it could be, but I understood someone behind me, "We can sneak past these Americans, they won't notice."
I turned around and said, "I understood that and you can all stay right there behind us where you belong."
They looked startled and stayed where they were. A moment later I heard, "Oh, they are Canadians." (because of my accent)
Cool story, bro.
posted by Drasher at 4:15 PM on August 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'd never dealt with a scrum until I lived in Germany for a year a couple of decades ago. I was startled to be standing at the counter at the bakery and to have little old ladies forcefully making sure they were waited on ahead of me, who was patiently following his years of training toward "first come, first served".

I quickly unlearned that habit for the rest of the time I lived there, and made sure never to let little old ladies push their way in front of me again. Maybe it was socially uncool to let WWII widows wait while my young self got the cake I wanted, but fuck that. Either queue appropriately, or lose to the larger and more vocal.
posted by hippybear at 4:18 PM on August 8, 2010


I'm pretty sure that if it weren't for the existence of lines, I never would have acquired a smart phone (because a book isn't always convenient.)
posted by zinfandel at 4:21 PM on August 8, 2010


People from different countries have completely different ideas about what a queue is for and how it ought to behave. I used to follow this musician actor guy about on tour and some of the hottest flame wars were about the queues to see him. It got so bad that a small group of hardcore queuers used to turn up the night before and hand out numbered tickets to the first fifty or hundred or so, then spend all day taking turns to police the queue. Some people brought chairs.

Intense philosophical discussion on the nature of queuing split down national lines, there were schisms about people who queued early and got their numbers then went off for coffee or to sightsee. Was going to the toilet okay? leaving one person to guard a place for two others? What consequences should the non-queuers face when security let them in through *clutches pearls* the wrong door? Friendships were made and broken in the queues. People's indignity and insecurities were exposed in the queues. People were accused of faking disabilities in the queues, and half the time they were right.

Tour organisers played games with them, acting like the queue would be at one end of the building then waiting for everyone to organise and fight over placement, then suddenly starting a queue at the other end of the building and waiting to see who ran the fastest.

I'm just saying, I fucking hate queues.
posted by shinybaum at 4:28 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


A line conceives of people as citizens, presumed equal, each with an identical 24 hours a day to spread among the lines around them. A market conceives of people as consumers, presumed unequal, with those who can pay in front of the others.

Not to brag, but I was responsible for inventing democratic and fair lines one morning in the Delhi train station. Tired of people cutting in after a 40-minute in the wrong line, I was directed to the correct ticket window, one with only two customers waiting. When a third appeared and tried to cut in, I politely tapped his shoulder and motioned to his proper place behind me. I did the same for a third would-be interloper. When the fourth appeared, those behind me had caught on, and were quick to show fellow his place. By the time I reached the window, there was an admirable line of a dozen or so people all sharing their equal rights to shoddy service.

I happily bought my ticket and left, but couldn't resist turning back for one last look at my legacy.

The line was gone, replaced by a mob all clamouring to reach the window first.
posted by ecourbanist at 4:28 PM on August 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


In China, in 1997, the scrum formed at the doors to the toilets. You had to fight your way out of the little cubicle around the ditch in the floor. The little old ladies were the worst.

Indonesia in 2000, the same thing. Though you can't take it personally. I was in the scrum to get inter-island ferry tickets, and I glanced over at this guy who had just vicious elbows, and he looked at me and gave me a friendly grin, and then we both went back to work.

Reminds me of this AskMe.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:30 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm just saying, I fucking hate queues.

A friend, speaking of lines worldwide.

"Excessive queuing betrays a lack of vigor in a nation's people."
posted by The Whelk at 4:32 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Weird, I've been listening to this song all day.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 4:50 PM on August 8, 2010


Hey it's the New York Times, shouldn't it be getting on line? Where is the Academie New Yorkais when you need it? Fuggedaboutit.
posted by xetere at 5:16 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that bothered me too.
posted by Opposite George at 5:28 PM on August 8, 2010


In DC, there's a nightclub called Fur that is kind of an evil genius of line manipulation.

First, they offer 'free entry' to everyone who gets there before a certain time -- say 11pm. The club supposedly opens at 10. This guarantees that people start queuing up early. Once the line gets to the point where it goes around the corner of the building, they start letting people in.

Usually just a couple of people at a time, and never fast enough to actually bring the line down to a reasonable wait. In fact, they generally only let maybe 40 or 50 people in for free, even if 300 people were there waiting in line at 10 to get in.. Then they just hold the line until the 'free entry' expires. The reason they do this is that having a line outside your club makes people think that it's popular, so even more people get in line.

There are actually 4 separate lines at this club. One for people who buy tickets in advance. Generally this line goes the fastest and they don' t hold people up at all. One for people who buy bottle service-- 'the vip line', which has no wait at all. One for people on 'the guest list', which basically is always the longest line and includes people who were promised free or reduced entry if they get there early enough. And one for people who just show up and are willing to pay full price -- and this line is usually shorter than the 'guest list' line.

After the guest list line and 'regular' line start getting to ridiculous lengths, they start sending guys around saying 'if you pay $30 more, you can cut to the front of the line'. And then they take people around to the 'vip line', where they pay $30, plus the cover.

They go through this ridiculous process every single Friday and Saturday night, which is why the club doesn't even fill up until 1am. Which, to me, seems incredibly counterproductive, because every hour I'm waiting in line, is an hour I'm not spending $20 on liquor. But, hey, I'm not a bar owner.
posted by empath at 5:31 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Every 4th of July (Independence Day), people start showing up at 2 or 3pm for the fireworks that start at 9:30pm, the lines and crowds get bigger and longer throughout the day trying to get downtown to find parking and a patch close to the action. The fireworks go off for 25 minutes, and then the real line begins, as everyone tries to leave at once and gridlocks the entire downtown and you end up sitting in line for another 2 or 3 hours. Independence Day is all about the line.
posted by stbalbach at 5:49 PM on August 8, 2010


As the article says, Britain is land of the queue. And we're good at it too, naturally forming that bank-line style queue so that you don't get stuck in a slow line. (In a parallel to the Hong Kong thing, McDonald's had to put up signs asking people to queue inefficient American-style one-line-per-till as the single lines were stretching back to the doors)

We get nasty when people try to skip, too. I went to pick up a hire car the other weekend, and the place was pretty busy when we got there. So we joined the queue and waited. Just as we got to the desk, a French couple who had been sitting on seats against the back wall zoomed up and said it was their turn.

In the spirit of European brotherly love, and also because they were already rattling the clerk's ears, we let them in. Then they left, and we approached the desk again. Then another damn French couple whooshed in from the other set of seats and said, in huffy and outraged tones, this it was *their* turn now. Ho, the muttering and tut-tutting from the natives. It almost grew to a tsk-tsk. Later, outside, we exchanged terrifying glares. And when we arrived at the other end of the journey, we told our hosts all about it. Twice.

I tell you this not because it's intrinsically interesting, but to show you how much queues matter here. I think it's a good thing, it shows we trust one another not to cheat.
posted by bonaldi at 5:55 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


(that said, the best queue I've ever been in was the epic five-hour line for the WWDC keynote. It even had tea.)
posted by bonaldi at 5:57 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Scene: Sometime in the '00s, Lucky, Luanne, and Bobby are the first and only people in line, several days early, for Brownsville Station concert tickets.
Bobby:	Being bored all day makes me hungry.
Lucky:	Not to worry. I came prepared. Let me dip into our provisions.
Bobby:	Could I have a sandwich with something on it besides bread?
Lucky:	Soon, Bobby. Once people start lining up, 
	we'll be able to trade for anything your 
	heart desires: lunch meat, pickles, Brownsville Station bootlegs.
Lucky:	Oh, good! Here's Elvin with our comfort station.
Luanne:	I can't go in a Porta-Potty. I'm going to find a ladies' room.
Lucky:	Whoa! You can't leave, baby. No saves-ies. It's the Code of the Line.
Luanne:	But I can't hold it for five days!
Bobby:	I have to get going. I got homework to do.
Luanne:	Nuh-uh. You can't go if I can't go.
Lucky:	Hold on, Bobby. Are you still in school?
Bobby:	Seventh grade.
Lucky:	Then run along, professor.
Luanne:	What about the Code of the Line?
Lucky:	The Code acknowledges that the children are our future
Having once bribed the saleswoman at Turtle's to let us cut to third in line for Pink Floyd tickets, I'm a known violator of the Code of the Line. Do people even wait in line or camp out for concert tickets anymore?
posted by ob1quixote at 6:02 PM on August 8, 2010


The bank-line style queue was an Australian invention, and is a reflection of our obsession with fairness. It perhaps relates to our convict heritage...there are many aspects of US culture that we find distasteful, from waiting staff relying on tips as a sole means of income and the whole internship thing, to employing illegal immigrants as cheap labour. We are also not very good at diplomacy. These qualities could be regarded as either virtues or foibles.
posted by chrisgregory at 6:13 PM on August 8, 2010


Queues are a godsend for people like me who are easily intimidated by old ladies with sharp elbows.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:55 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


This thread reminds me of garius's brilliant queue-jumping story, from this interesting (and relevant! it even references the same Hong Kong anecdote as the article) askme post.
posted by wander at 6:56 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can you hold my place? I'll be right back.
posted by Fizz at 8:07 PM on August 8, 2010


Fuck queue.
posted by sfts2 at 8:31 PM on August 8, 2010



Fuck queue.

*takes a number*
posted by The Whelk at 8:43 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like the way they do it in some parts of Latin America where you say, "¿Ultimo?" Who's last, who am I behind? There's no physical line, but we're queuing up in an imaginary order where you just have to know who comes before you. Instead of standing stiff in a line you can kill time however suits you and only worry about keeping track of who you are behind temporally. It's like the honor system for a queue.

That said, local line mores are something you should always be aware of and not push against too much. There was an event I attended in DC where there were way more thirsty people than bartenders and a long line for drinks. Waiting in line, just before we got to the counter a girl cut right in front of us. My girlfriend, not shy in the least, directed her to the back of the line and the line-cutter made the poor choice of telling her to mind her own business. For me, the patient and forgiving one, this was one of the times where I had to assert my own way of handling things; my girlfriend was ready to pull hair and scratch the bitches' eyes out, but no, wait and see I said, she will reap as she has sown.

So this line-cutter picked up two beers and a glass of wine and under-tipped the overwhelmed bartenders and headed back to her group of friends. Like a shadow I followed her back to her people. She had a beer in one hand and a beer and a glass of wine in the other. I stepped up behind her, turned my open palms and forcefully swatted upward at her elbows launching her beverages into the air at her friends as a fine mist.

Oops. "Oh shit, clumsy me," I offered.

I apologized, "Sorry you sent this skinny bitch for your drinks." I apologized profusely, "Sorry you thought this line-cutting nobody would get you to the front of the line." I said, "Sorry you are so thirsty that you can't see how it works here."

So an earnest apology, and huge muscles, gets you far in the queue.
posted by peeedro at 8:50 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not to brag, but I was responsible for inventing democratic and fair lines one morning in the Delhi train station. Tired of people cutting in after a 40-minute in the wrong line, I was directed to the correct ticket window, one with only two customers waiting. When a third appeared and tried to cut in, I politely tapped his shoulder and motioned to his proper place behind me. I did the same for a third would-be interloper. When the fourth appeared, those behind me had caught on, and were quick to show fellow his place. By the time I reached the window, there was an admirable line of a dozen or so people all sharing their equal rights to shoddy service.

I happily bought my ticket and left, but couldn't resist turning back for one last look at my legacy.

The line was gone, replaced by a mob all clamouring to reach the window first.


Wow...you goras are so helpful whenever you come to India. Thank goodness for all your help...or else we'd still be wondering what to do with so much spice.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:41 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Hey it's the New York Times, shouldn't it be getting on line? Where is the Academie New Yorkais when you need it? Fuggedaboutit."

I'm not logging in to the VPN at 4am, so without checking the style guide (which I've basically spent the last three weeks internalizing—it's long), I'm pretty sure it mentions specifically that only New Yorkers say "on line" with regard to waiting/queuing and urges against using this in (Inter-)National articles.

One wonders if it wasn't common practice to paint lines on the floor in NYC back in the day for people to stand ON. Or maybe it's an immigrant-preposition-mangling thing.
posted by Eideteker at 1:22 AM on August 9, 2010


This thread reminds me of garius's brilliant queue-jumping story, from this interesting (and relevant! it even references the same Hong Kong anecdote as the article) askme post.

Was gonna post this exact thing. Brilliant story.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:12 AM on August 9, 2010


When I was in high school (more than 20 years ago now), I used to take the 141 from the Saint Michel metro (in Montreal). During rush hour, there was always a long line up, but on this particular day, the line took an interesting shape - first there was a line of about 15 people from the bus stop to the back, then the line curved 180 degrees and another 15 people queued from back to front this time, then another 180 degrees, and so on. There were about 4 or 5 curves, making a long but snake-like line.

The bus finally came, and people started to get on, and everyone moved forward from where they were, curving along with the line.

I was at the back, and it was quite humourous to watch - this long snake-line of people moving in this pre-defined path, as if there was an invisible rope guiding them along the way.

This orderly approach, however, lasted about 35 seconds when finally another person, also near the rear of the line probably thought to himself "screw this" and bolted to the front of the line to try to force himself onto the bus.

A lady who saw him started yelling "monsieur! monsieur!" and when she saw that her protests were getting her nowhere also ran to the front of the bus.

Then a third person and a fourth person who witnessed the whole thing decided to try their luck rushing the front of the line.

Then the snake line exploded, with everyone flocking to the front of the bus.

I think I walked home that evening.
posted by bitteroldman at 6:56 AM on August 9, 2010


This thread reminds me of garius's brilliant queue-jumping story

That story has everything.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:18 AM on August 9, 2010


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