Monday, June 22, 2009

I'm British. I know how to queue.

"Ok. Leave this to me. I'm British. I know how to queue."

However, today I discovered that had Arthur Dent been in a line in Japan rather than Vogon, his disorderly behaviour would have cause Trillian and no doubt himself, Zaphod, Ford and Marvin to be fed to the ravenous bug-blatter beast of Traal. (The demise of last one on that list probably coming as a relief to all concerned).

I was standing at the end of a line of people at the bus shelter when the vehicle in question rolled up and stopped just in front of me. Its front and rear doors swung open and people poured out of the second door. I looked at the front entrance to the bus, open and inviting mere feet away. Then I turned to view the queue of people in front of me. No one moved. Were they all waiting for a different number? I couldn't see from my position whether multiple buses used this stop.  I hesitated, debating whether to move. Was it really likely that all these people were waiting for the bus to pull forward three feet to the front of the line?

Yes. Yes they were.

A minute later, the bus doors swung shut and the bus inched forward to where it stopped again and people began embarking. I blinked. No matter how good the British are at queuing, there is no way a group of people would wait just because the bus had pulled up at the back of the queue rather than at its front. There is also no way the bus driver would give a hoot whether he had stopped at exactly the right place or be prepared to stop twice, meters apart, to give the exiting passengers room to disembark before letting new people on. It was an awe-inspiring example of orderly efficiency and I was deeply glad I had not moved for fear of confirming what everyone in that line probably suspected of me anyway.

This calm patience even extends to the trains which can be painfully over-packed. Although I've yet to experience 'pushers' (people employed to push people into the carriages to ensure as many can travel as possible), a train trip last weekend saw me pinned upright in the middle of a carriage by the people stuffed in around me. Yet, no one yelled or cursed (except me, and then only silently) or even looked particularly harassed. In a nation where everyone bows rather than make physical contact, it is amazing that such crowded conditions don't cause aneurysms. A similarly packed London tube carriage causes at least half the occupants to require psychiatric counseling.

So sorry Arthur. You thought you could queue but, quite frankly, you can't. 

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