The British and Queues

One thing that we will always remember about the death of our dear Queen is the long queue along the banks of the River Thames, where people waited patiently to pay their respects to the Queen lying-in-state. At its longest, the waiting time was more than 24 hours and it’s maximum length 10 miles (16 kms). There were more than 500 portable toilets and local venues and museums stayed open for 24 hours to enable people to use their facilities. I would have love to have been there.

But do the British really enjoy queuing so much? It’s been said that the British so love to queue, that they’ll join a queue then ask what it’s for. This of course is not true and in fact Brits resent queuing as much as anyone. The only difference is they have utter respect for the convention and loathe anyone who tries to manipulate it. They expect others to observe the rules of queuing and are highly offended when these are violated, the most important being of course queue-jumping – you just don’t do it!

However, as the anthropologist Kate Fox points out in her book “Watching the English”, “Paradoxically, it is only in England, where queue-jumping is regarded as deeply immoral, that the queue-jumper is likely to get away with the offence. We huff and puff and scowl and mutter and seethe with righteous indignation (basically we are very angry!)  but rarely do we speak up and tell the jumper to go to the back of the queue. Very politely, we may say, “Excuse me but I believe the back of the queue is over there” but not wanting to make a fuss, we probably wouldn’t!

I had to smile when I read that Kate wanted to jump the queue to see how the British react, but couldn’t do it in the end as just the thought of doing it was so horribly embarrassing for her. I know what she means!

I would probably also ask, “May I ask if this is the end of the queue”, even if it is completely obvious, just so that the person in front knows someone may be breathing down his neck …

My friend Julie loved queuing for over 13 hours to see the Queen. She said she had so many wonderful conversations with so many different people, it was an experience she will never forget.

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