Countries & Queueing

Gadling is a blog for frequent travellers that I peruse from time to time. In between the tips and tricks for getting through security a littler faster and aircraft takeoff/landing trivia, they occasionally post travel observations from different countries. This one compares / contrasts queueing culture and asks readers for theories on why some places are so much more orderly than others -

If you’ve tried to buy a train ticket in a place like Morocco or Indonesia, you know that this seemingly simple task is actually a full-contact sport. Rather than forming an orderly, single-file line, people are forced to scratch, claw, elbow, and gouge their way to the ticket window, in a process that even an Ultimate Fighting champion would describe as unnecessarily painful and violent.

So why does this happen? Why can’t people in certain, usually less-developed countries form neat, single-file lines? Here are a couple possible explanations:

<

p>India is NOT one of the countries mentioned but I’m guessing most folks would toss it into the “lining up is a UFC match” camp.

<

p>Gadling proposes a few hypotheses for why folks behave this way and I thought mutineers would find ‘em interesting. To their set, I’ll also toss in my own pet hypothesis derived from broader research by folks like Francis Fukuyama and Robert Putnam: orderly queueing is a sign of interpersonal trust.

Queueing up in India could be a zoo because low levels of interpersonal trust mean that it’s rarely worth your while to “wait your turn”. Why? Because queueing requires believing that everyone else will correspondingly wait their turn and that the ticket window will behave appropriately. However, the more you worry about the new guy cutting in line & getting served before you, the more likely you are to nudge next to rather than stay comfortably behind the guy ahead of you. Repeat. Toss in a few non-linearities. Add a ticket window that’s as likely to serve the first, most annoying hand in its face as any other…. and voila, you quickly end up with a mob rather than a line…. Sans some pretty strong, exogenous cultural reinforcement, the whole thing is a self-reinforcing prisoner’s dilemma.

(Yes. I’ve been the poor schmuck trying to wait in line once or twice )

Same thing happens at lines for clubs in downtown SF. Or buffet lines at Indian weddings. Sometimes with even less interpersonal trust.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by vinod. Bookmark the permalink.

55 thoughts on “Countries & Queueing

  1. Shopping at the grocery store right before Onam in Kerala – horrible, horrible! I could not get over how chaotic the “lines” were – there was no beginning, just winded around columns of food into an ameoba shaped jam around the cash registers!

    Partially this is because the grocery store is too small for the amount of people who come there to shop – but I’d imagine the larger part is culture. People aren’t even angry about this – no real angry pushes — they talk sweetly as they slip, slyly push and prod in front of you. I get so angry about that…just thinking about it makes my blood pressure go up.

  2. My gora boss went to India a few years ago and commented on how everytime the the railroad crossing arms went down on the road crossing, both sides would not form a line. On both sides, the traffic would fall into oncoming lane and it would take more time to sort it all out than if they’d stay in their lanes.

    He probably concluded that Indians are a stupid and hopeless people. Most foreign visitors to India are shocked not only by the filth, poverty and crowds but also by the chaotic craziness on the roads, railways and bazaars. There is no doubt that there are many fundamental flaws in desi culture.

  3. Partially this is because the grocery store is too small for the amount of people who come there to shop – but I’d imagine the larger part is culture.
    There is no doubt that there are many fundamental flaws in desi culture.
    And really it’s not a the system that’s the problem, it’s the culture of the passengers.

    So you have a resource, and more people want to access it than it’s equipped to serve. People get used to that, and this is explained as “culture” (i.e. I can’t be bothered to try to understand or explain this, so I’m going to give an essentialized explanation without any backup ;) When it happens in Japan with people being pushed onto the train or in London at rush hour when British passiveaggressiveness gives way to aggressiveaggressiveness or in New York, is that culture as well? Deepseated tendencies of the people of the place explained through bizarre and overly complicated mechanisms? People are complicated, but not that complicated.

  4. When it happens in Japan with people being pushed onto the train or in London at rush hour when British passiveaggressiveness gives way to aggressiveaggressiveness or in New York, is that culture as well? Deepseated tendencies of the people of the place explained through bizarre and overly complicated mechanisms? People are complicated, but not that complicated.

    Is it rush hour in New York City? I sense a disturbance in the trust-force.

  5. And then started the spooning. To me that was worse than elbowing your way to the front, maybe cuz I am big enough to do that, but be felt up by the guy behind you until your turn comes requires a level of patience that I dont possess. At one point I turned around and told the guy behind to quit humpin me and he looked incredulous rather than sheepish. So, trust/shmust. Jus don hump me. My experience too!!! Thank god they have separate lines for women.

    Yeah but those ladeezh only lines soon morph into mixed gender lines and spoon fed feel ups after about, oh, 6:00 AM.

    In mixed lines, I find that women can control the ‘tone’ of the line much better than men, because no one wants to pick a fight with a woman

    No, they just want to rub up against us.

    Try getting off the Delhi Metro…not only is everyone else trying to get off along with you, but you have to push against all the people trying to get in at the same time

    The men look forward to that.

    Crowded train stations in India are something that we women never look forward to. Never.