2 Mar 2021

How to Queue

Turn up at a British railway station, or a supermarket, or a post office and you will see an orderly queue. It all dates back to the days of rationing in the long years during and after the world wars of the last century. In such dark days, the queue was an opportunity to catch up with the community, check that your friends were still alive and moan about the privations.

Even today, grumbling in a queue is one of the great British joys – there is a liberating anonymity in conversing with someone whose back is turned; you can avoid eye contact and hence actual personal interaction and the intimacy that might entail.

For visitors to the UK, the art of queuing must seem esoteric at best and infuriating at worst, but queue-barging is a serious offence; even the reticent English will feel justified in sharply pointing out the back of the line to any errant queue-jumpers.

Queuing does require participation, however, and anyone who isn’t fully committed to moving forward an inch for every inch that opens up will earn almost as much disapproval from the crowd queuing behind as the shameless barger.

If you’re with family or a group of friends, nominate one person to join a queue if possible, rather than clogging it up with unnecessary people and luggage.

But we can absorb such wrinkles into our queuing science: for nothing can sully the joy of being in the queue that is operating in tandem (say, at passport control or at the supermarket) that beats another queue.

Now we have discovered a further delight: the virtual queue. The biggest British queue at the moment is for the Covid 19 vaccine. It operates in much the same way as queues in real life: essentially fair and orderly; occasionally transgressed by queue-jumpers or beset by organisational glitches; the subject of moaning and grudging respect. As with all British queues, we acknowledge that not everyone can be given top priority and that a system must be observed. On the whole, we take a pragmatic view, accepting that reasonable criteria are applied when administering the system.

Whether it’s queuing outside a supermarket or anticipating the next tier of vaccination, we recognise there’s a good reason for waiting and remind ourselves that patience is a virtue…

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