Fwd: [karmayog] The art of standing in line
- From: karmayog - tanya <info@...>
The art of standing in line
If this change-of queuing up-takes place in two or three years in India,
perhaps an urban civil society is coming of age
First Published: Tue, Jul 02 2013. 12 36 AM IST
Will India become the next Japan, when it comes to civilized queuing?
Anyone who has ever taken a train in Japan will have noticed that the
Japanese have turned queuing into an art form. Perfect one-person lines are
happily formed at the platforms in front of the markings were the doors will
open. The train will arrive exactly on time, and in a calm and orderly
fashion everyone will board without a word or an indecent push. Japan is
Although few Europeans enjoy lines as much as the Japanese do, on our
continent most people respect the first-come-first-serve-principle and the
right of priority to those in front of them. And so the first time I visited
an Indian hospital in 2010, I was in for a surprise.
Like anyone else, I queued up to get an appointment. At the exact moment
when it was my turn, on both my left and right side, two people glided into
my peripheral view and started talking to the cashier at the counter.
When I looked over my shoulder, I saw a line of around six people behind me.
My hope that one of them would at least move a muscle or raise an eyebrow
was dashed. I then expected the clerk to ask them to wait in line and turn
to me instead. But he started to serve both these people, at the expense of
the entire line. India, I concluded, is not Japan when it comes to waiting
A few weeks later, I was queuing at the security check at Delhi's new
Terminal 3. A gentleman in front of me was standing in his socks-shoes, belt
and jacket in hand-and did his best to find a tray for his laptop. Then a
line jumper appeared.
As if no other travellers were there, he swung his bag onto the X-ray belt
and slipped in before all of us, leaving our gentleman in socks staring for
a second. I was biting my tongue, but being new, I held my breath as I
expected someone to take up the matter in a locally acceptable way. To my
surprise, nobody seemed to care or have the courage to politely remind the
queue skipper that there was such a thing as a line. I began to wonder why
this self-correcting social mechanism that rules most of Europe was not
working in India. Why did no one object?
As we were not dealing with someone who was in an insane rush to catch his
flight, I decided to ask the gentleman in socks in front of me why he did
not object. "We do not want to cause a scene, you know," he said. "Some
people are really offended when you tell them to wait in line".
Indians have often told me about their reservations about what they consider
the "individualistic" societies of Europe and the US. People there, these
critics say, only think of themselves and their material gain, at the
expense of others. Livable societies are characterized by basic levels of
decency to strangers. India's professional five-star hotels are great at
this. In fact, if you are used to Indian service standards, a stay in a
five-star hotel in Amsterdam can feel like a bit of a no-frills experience.
But as a crisscrosser of the subcontinent, I spend more time in India's
public queues than is pleasant and there I observe a pervasive line
blindness-pretending not to see the queue-and lack of corrective action.
Would the country benefit if all frequent flyers would politely raise their
voices in concert to cure this peculiar impairment, at least at airports?
It would reinforce a positive change that can already be detected, to my
equal amazement. At the same hospital, but now three years later, I
witnessed a heated debate when someone again blatantly ignored the line. A
woman in the queue made a polite remark to the queue jumper, who began
trying out a range of brilliant excuses on us. The queuers stared him down
and eventually he went back in line.
To her credit, the woman also reprimanded the cashier for entertaining the
queue jumper instead of the person at the front of the line. And my sense is
this is increasingly happening in cafés, restaurants and supermarkets across
Delhi, where I live.
The lines at the security check at the Delhi Metro are regularly of nearly
Japan-like orderliness, where queues run around corners and can be a hundred
metres long at rush hour. Queue jumpers are quite consistently asked to
stand in line. It seems that security checks and retail concepts such as
Starbucks-where visitors are gently coaxed to queue up-impact social
behaviour in a way that transcends to other situations.
If this is a structural change that took place in only two or three years,
perhaps an urban civil society is coming of age in India as we watch.
It took Europe around two centuries to develop an engaged middle class. It
may take India only a few decades, or less, to acquire such "cultural
capital". This could have profound cultural, business and political
implications-for the better.
Tjaco Walvis is the managing director of brand consulting and advertising
agency THEY India, and a speaker at the Outstanding Speakers' Bureau. He
writes an occasional column on the softer cultural aspects of marketing that
often tend to be ignored by marketers.