Queuing etiquette

Having been raised in the politically-correct 1980s, I was taught to respect and celebrate even the most ridiculous behavior of foreigners. Guinea-pig, horse or bird-eating spider for dinner? Go right ahead. Keep three wives at home whilst you’re out hunting for the fourth? It’s your culture, I suppose. Enforce the right of everyone to carry automatic weapons in the face of overwhelming evidence of the negative consequences? Fine, if that’s what you want to do.

This approach, whilst conveniently non-confrontational, has its limits. Some things are simply so far beyond the pale that normal humans collectively condemn them – think slavery, cannibalism or arbitrary treatment by the legal system. Things tend to qualify for this list if they don’t require explanation or discussion on why they are wrong because pretty-much everyone just knows they are.

To this list I would humbly suggest something Eleanor Roosevelt may have overlooked – bad queuing etiquette.

The point at which I fell in love with South Africa was in their observation, and more importantly enforcement, of queuing etiquette. The British might relish the grumbling resignation of a good queue, but it takes a South African to impose good behavior on others. Citizens of some countries are well known for their preference for funnelling a mass of people through any small aperture (I’m looking at you, India) and in such places the options for the obedient queuer are limited to reluctantly joining in or taking the moral high ground but ultimately taking a lot longer to get where you’re going. Add a few South Africans to the mix though, and transgressors will be publicly shamed and physically forced to obey the rules (in truth, I’m guessing about the escalation to physical enforcement, but it’s so obviously on the cards that I doubt it ever becomes necessary).

A reasonable person might ask why this raises my ire more than, say, subjugation of women, child labour or religious persecution. Well, partly it’s proximity – as any perpetual tourist (at least those without a private jet) spends an alarming proportion of their waking hours in queues. More though, it is that bad queuing etiquette is a reflection of some of the most loathsome human characteristics: thoughtlessness, entitlement and self-asserted superiority.

That same reasonable person might also point out that if a good proportion of the world’s population does not believe in orderly queuing (and it’s not just India in the cross-hairs – a good portion of the Middle East and North Africa would join them) then surely it’s not universally abhorrent and therefore can’t be on the list of things deserving universal condemnation.

In response to this, I point out that this is an evolving list (slavery was pretty acceptable until relatively recently) so I’m not unreasonable, just ahead of my time. Further, collectives often behave in ways which the constituent individuals would not find acceptable were they alone (rioting, looting, not reporting crimes) so it’s legitimate for some behaviours to be both universally reviled by all individuals whilst at the same time participated in by those same people.

In the end, though, the ultimate test for inclusion is whether, deep down, we all just know it’s wrong. And we do.

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