Waiting in Line

Probably the thing that irritates, frustrates, annoys and drives foreigners to distraction is the concept of politely standing in line while waiting your turn to be served!

However, just writing that sentence reminds me that getting to the heart of this blog page is actually necessitates a complete cultural paradigm shift:

When we view something from our own cultural perspective, there is always the assumption that the way I do it, is the correct way, therefore anyone else doing something in a different way has got to be incorrect.


Now for many of us, this is obvious. However when doing “research” for this blog with some of my friends, asking them how to explain the protocol, the system, the procedure for standing in “line”, I begun to realise that there are many innate rules, in fact some that people have never thought about: it is like it is in the DNA!

But what I have discovered is that there are basically 4 types of “waiting in line” scenarios here (but even using the word “line” is incorrect!)


At present, there are many banks, Data providers, cell-phone companies and even some government departments that have the computer-generated ticket system. Generally this works fairly well, as long as the computer, the speakers (usually on the highest volume possible) and the screens displaying the numbers of the ticket and the corresponding counter…. are all working harmoniously. This is a system which many foreigners are used to, and are quite comfortable with, until this system dissolves into the 3rd type listed below!


Again, this would seem to be something that foreigners might instantly recognize: where there is some sort of door or counter, and people seem to standing in a some-what straight line, leading from the door or counter away (though at times it may be in a curved shape as in waiting to check in at an airport). However, this again can easily dissolve into type 3, listed below.


This is generally in smaller, traditional type shops: selling local bread, vegetable barrows, meat and chicken vendors, grocery counters with cheese, olives, cold meats (a favorite in this country!) What happens is that people just crowd around the vendor or sales person, and gather together in a clump, trying to get as close to the vendor as possible. As the numbers increase, so does the loudness of the voices (sir, excuse me, please….), the waving of orders or money, the firm but insistent pushing by the person behind you, trying to get their shoulder or arm into the gap between you.

However, there is the inevitable time when someone seems to merely glide to the front of this clump, which somehow opens for him/her, and they get greeted by the vendor and then served straight away. This had left me perplexed for many a year, until I began to join these “semi-circle bunches” just to see if I could work out an understanding of what the requirements are there that allow others to effectively “jump the queue” (or cut the bunch?). This is what I have observed over the years:

How to push in front…

  1. Look more sick than anyone else waiting to see the eg: doctor 
  2. Appear to be more busy and in a far more of a hurry than all the others waiting
  3. Behave like you have more money than anyone else
  4. Be in a major crisis, which of course necessitates you going to the front
  5. Pay a “small gift” to the receptionist
  6. Be known by the vendor (usually because you give really good tips for their service)
  7. Look important (sunglasses and a suit)
  8. Be a young lady, pretty, well made up and beautifully dressed!! (if the vendor is a man, which usually they are!)
  9. Being tall (usually so that your arm is waving higher, or your head is visible, or you can get your arm over the rest of the people, right into the face of the vendor!)
  10. Carrying an impressive looking briefcase (which satisfies numbers 2 – 4, 7 above)

In fact, I have heard from a few sources, that if people know they might have to wait in a line or a bunch, they “dress up”, so that by fulfilling as many of the criteria above as possible, they will be willingly let into the front.

SO…. how to get served as a foreigner:

Firstly, get rid of your preconceived ideas about waiting in line (unless of course it is a modern office as mentioned above). Don’t get angry! Try and work out which of the types of line it is, and then behave accordingly. If you stand in what you think is a “polite manner”, standing in a type 2 classic line, when it is indeed a type 3 semi-circle bunch, you will not get served. And in fact people will not look at you and think: now there is a polite, well disciplined and sensible person. No… they will look at you a bit perplexed, wondering why you aren’t joining the bunch and getting served. In fact after a little while, whoever can speak english will be sent to see if they can help you, as you obviously don’t understand how things work!!!

So don’t be scared, look and learn and get familiar and comfortable with the semi-circle bunch! And don’t despair if a classic line or semi-circle bunch disintegrates into:

4. THE DREADED HYBRID: which is more of a “line-bunch”! It may have started out as a classic line, but then due to the fact that a lot of “important looking people” had arrived, they all go to the front and form their own semi-circle bunch!!!

But again, stay calm, breathe and enjoy the experience: All I can say is there NOTHING as sweet as a hot falafel sandwich, successful bought from a busy shop, where you have triumphed over the semicircle bunch.

If you can do this, you will know you have arrived!