Friday, September 14, 2007

Whose Line Is it Anyway?

I used to hate waiting in line. You shift your feet. You wish for a place to sit, or something to lean against. You wonder why the goofball at the front of the line is taking so long. You avoid eye contact with the other people in line. You make small talk with the other people in line when the goofball at the front takes another ten minutes. You rage at the cashier/teller/ticket taker and every other person in the vicinity for wasting your time, for being so slow, for not opening a brand-new line just for you.

But after living in the Philippines, I've decided that lines are my friend. I miss them. I want them back. I crave orderly conduct and respect for personal space.

I went to the bank today. For an hour and a half.

They don't have lines here so much as blobs. Blobs of people who swarm around a counter until they catch someone's eye. But if there is a line, you never make the mistake of leaving a few inches between you and the next person. That's like standing on a chair and screaming into a megaphone: "Wow! Unoccupied space, here for the taking! Act now! I'm not really in line; I'm just here to raise my blood pressure!"

You get used to it eventually. After you move past the disbelief, the shock of violation to your sense of fair play, you swap your good manners for pure survival instinct. No more polite, "After you." No more hanging back until you can distinguish a clear pattern among the blob. Charge right into the fray. Snuggle up to the person in front of you and get cozy for the duration. Demand the attention of the customer service individual.

Walk right into that bank, shoulder your way past the milling crowd, and plop yourself down at the service desk to process your twice monthly transfers.

And bring a book. Because getting to the front of the line is only Lesson One.

Lesson Two: Waiting patiently while something that should take five minutes actually takes an hour and a half.


Helena said...

That sounds tough! (Do you read in line? I'd think it would be hard to read and keep an eye on your place in line at the same time.) Korea was like that sometimes, but for the most part I didn't have to do stuff like that in places where there were tons of people. Usually. It was funny, though, seeing the difference between movie theaters in Seoul, where there are millions of people, and in Chonan, a much smaller city where Doug and I taught English. In Seoul you'd buy a ticket not just for a specific showing but for a specific seat. In Chonan you'd just buy a ticket and go in whenever you felt like (even if it was in the middle of a showing) and stay as long as you wanted. I remember when we went to see Hercules (the Disney one) we enjoyed it so much we stayed and watched it twice.

Angela said...

Sounds dreadful! Its like the grocery store deli where they have a ticket # you can take but no one ever does. Instead we all eye each other and make sure that the orderly first come first serve is adhered to. I used to bartend in a crazy, busy bar and when I watched someone shout out or edge another person away, I always called them on it..."Like wasn't this person there before you?" and I would purposely ignore them for a good while. Do they not believe in lines for some reason in the Philippines?

Chris said...

It's irritating, but it's been good for me, too. Makes me stand up for myself. When I do say something to people who cut, they're usually very apologetic. In a city of 12 million, they grab opportunities when they see them. I don't think they see it as rude at all.

Helena, the movie theaters here are amazing. $2 US for assigned seating, and you can often catch a popular show on opening day without lines. (Though advance seats for the big movies like Harry Potter are a good idea.) Plus the theaters are so heavily air conditioned, it's like our own little version of winter!

Dreama said...

Good words.