Germany, tell me something. I am on my knees, here, draped at your sensible shoe-clad feet. Why, for the love of God, do you struggle so fundamentally, so profoundly, with the notion of a tidy, fair queue? What is it about lining up for coffee, for bread, for the bloody bus, that sends you all into a primal spin, prepared to trample on each other, betray one another, shove and sidestep until all sense of civility, of humanity, has been sucked out of the air?
I saw James Bond last night. Two screenings were occurring within 15 minutes of each other; the OV and the German version. We arrived thirty minutes early to collect our reserved tickets, to find an enormous crowd milling about in the foyer. Because this is what Germans do, they mill. They mill on footpaths, they mill on train stations, they mill in bakeries and coffee shops. In situations upon where, in England, or Australia, you would find a snake of people, with a clear leader who shall rightly receive service first, in Germany you find a crowd of hard, set faces, all quick to thrust a hand in the air and shriek, ‘zwei normale Brötchen’ before the server has had time to ask ‘wer bekommt?’ So the Germans were milling in the foyer, waiting for their cinema to open, like a swarm of beetles clutching plastic trays of corn chips and toxic cheese sauce. Upon purchasing our own corn chips and toxic cheese sauce, we asked if cinema 2 had opened yet, and were told it had. The beetles were waiting for cinema 1 to open.
Now, at this juncture, I ask you to imagine what could have been, had the cinema management requested all people join the appropriate queue for cinema 1 or cinema 2, thus leaving a thoroughfare between queues for general breathing space, and thus allowing people to not only know when their theatre had opened, but then be able to proceed in an orderly manner into the theatre upon doors opening. As it stood, the millers were blocking every inch of space from the entrance to the bar, and we had to brace and then push through seventy bodies, saying ‘entschuldigung’ ad nauseum because nobody moves. How hard is it? How hard is it to stand in a line, that enables everyone to move, breathe, and access where they have to go? Why do you all have to stand as some sort of giant, impenetrable human structure, which moves and acts as one? Are you all going to then begin a slow, en masse crawl into the cinema together? Do all seventy of you plan on easing through the doors, as one? What’s the plan here, Germany?
And it isn’t just at the movies. Have you ever seen what happens at a bus stop? With a couple of minutes before the bus pulls in, you step out and stand at approximately where it will brake and open its doors, and it’s just you. Only you. Perhaps you are the only one alighting this bus, you think. Super. You see it coming over the horizon, so you reach for your purse. Suddenly someone is at your right shoulder, and then someone else at their right shoulder. As the bus nears, a few people crawl out from the shadows and begin the patented German mill. Before you know it, as the bus pulls in, you are about ten people along in a two person deep crush, and everyone moves as one to the doors. Ditto with the trains. Everyone gets on and off at the same time, which means for a harrowing three seconds, you are locked in a weird sort of human chain before you all press past each other and in some miracle of science, twenty peple simultaneously disembark and board.
When I was a child, some school lunches came from the tuckshop, a handy little shop at school from which one could order hot or cold lunches, drinks, and snacks at designated times. Come recess or lunch, students would swarm to the tuckshop and immediately form a line. A line monitored by the teacher on tuckshop duty, to ensure orderliness and, above all, a modicum of fairness. You see, it was – and is – the gravest of insults to jump the queue. To push in. Pushing in was loudly called out, the perpetrator thoroughly shamed and moved to the back of the queue. Oh sure, people tried; there is the classic joining a friend who is near the front of the queue and ordering with them. Or the completely shamless going to the front of the queue to check the sandwich display and then seamlessly segueing into the queue and hoping no one will notice. Both of these things are appalling things to do to other people, who have been patiently and fairly waiting their turn. It just isn’t cricket. You don’t do it.
Queueing, at its very heart, is about fairness. You put in the waiting time, you take your turn, the service is fairly, evenly distributed and there is a sense of order and civil procession. I know, that if I am behind someone in a queue, it is because they got their before me, have thus been waiting longer, and should thus be served before me. Arriving at a busy cafe or a busy bakery isn’t an invitation to try and outsmart some poor dolt who has been waiting ten minutes longer than me, by methodically pushing forward until you are at the frontline, and then raising your hand like a whip, when asked ‘who is next’. Or sidling up to ‘check out the sandwiches’ and then just happening to be the ‘first in line’ and shamelessly placing your order head of the ten people waiting behind you. That is called being rude, and frankly, mean. It is one thing to form an impenetrable human structure and block an entrance, quite another to manoeuvre yourself into a position than enables you getting served before someone who has been waiting for twenty minutes behind you. The former is bloody irritating and senseless, the latter is wildly impolite. And Germans, you do both.
And here is the kicker; you are a nation known for your love of order. You even SAY ‘all is in order’ when English speakers would say ‘all is well.’ ‘Ordnung’ is the most used German word after ‘wurst‘. You love a process. You love efficiency. And yet you cannot form a line of people to save yourselves. It beggars belief. Sometimes I wonder if you are taking the piss; how is it possible you are so motivated by order and efficiency, but as a race, lose your collective shit when it comes to the most basic form of those very virtues?
So tell me, please. Why? Why. Can’t. You. Queue?