Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Opinion

Expert strata, facilities & building management services

Canberra’s queuing culture: How do we line up?

By Kim Huynh - 26 May 2016 11

Noodle Markets queuing

Canberrans are instinctive queuers. Recently, I have witnessed this at the Westside Shipping Container Village; on the mornings of ALDI’s special deals days; at a bicycle and fleecy clothes sale; and in front of a football registration sausage sizzle. Where there is much demand, somewhat uncertain supply and in the absence of guide ropes and invigilators, Canberrans tend to find a clear space and line up.

This is not to say that we are always good at waiting. Reports suggest that the bitter memory of lengthy queues at the 2015 Noodle Market drove some people to avoid the event altogether in 2016. And at a supermarket in the inner north that’s notorious for not putting on enough checkout staff, I have seen exasperated shoppers abandon their baskets full of groceries on the ground.

Fundamentally, people will form a line and comfortably stand in it when they believe that the queuing system is fair and feel duty bound to those around them. Land sales in the ACT are an instructive example. It seems that Canberrans are more comfortable sleeping out to purchase a block of land than relying upon the vagaries of a first-email-in-best-dressed process in which it is impossible to know who pressed “send” when. And the shuffling and jockeying at bus stops and train stations is explained by the uncertainty over where the doors will open.

Culture and history counts too. The Australian queuing instinct is in large part inherited from mother England. English people regard their propensity to queue as a reflection of their civility and stiff upper lips. They started to stand in line en masse during the Industrial Revolution when people stopped bargaining and bartering in countryside markets and started shopping and working in shops and factories. Most importantly, a mythos around queuing was established during World War II when to stand in line for rations and take one’s turn was to fulfil one’s duty in the fight against fascism.

Travellers to parts of Asia are sometimes struck by the absence of queuing. It’s also a concern for many Asians. In Vietnam I commonly came across people – not always elderly – who were frustrated with rapid development and who yearned for a bygone communist era when comrades were entitled to far less but were content to wait for it. In 2007 the Chinese government launched a campaign to eradicate queue-jumping with the slogan: “It is civilised to queue. It is glorious to be polite. The 11th of every month was designated, “National Queuing Day” (note the parallel “1s”).

Despite this, there is nothing inherently good about queuing or barbaric about its absence. From the outside what might be viewed as a chaotic throng can, upon close observation, be most humane. In Hanoi where I often found myself in congested traffic and hordes of shoppers, I observed great deference and compassion towards old people and children, the sort of deference and compassion that might be less likely to occur in rigid queues.

Moreover, standing in line is not always celebrated. It depends on who we regard as deserving and reasonable. For instance, since the 1980s people who stand in dole queues have been stigmatised as bludgers. Those who wait for days to get the latest sneaker or gadget are sometimes derided as callow and impressionable.

Canberrans queue outside the Apple store to buy a new iPad in November 2012.

And with respect to “queue-jumping” asylum seekers our unyielding insistence that they wait in line inhibits both our understanding of the global forced migration crisis and our empathy for victims of conflict, persecution and severe deprivation.

We should thus be mindful rather than mindless when it comes to queuing. Reflecting upon his time in Auschwitz, Primo Levi said that he was always happy to wait and could do so for hours on end with “the complete obtuse inertia of spiders in old webs.”

By this account, queuing can be a chance to think, dream, rest and stretch. Waiting is a welcome punctuation … in an otherwise arduous day.

What do you think about standing in line in Canberra? Where have you seen good and not so good queuing practices around the city, country and world?

Kim Huynh lectures international relations at the ANU. He has recently published a collection of novellas entitled Vietnam as if… Tales of youth, love and destiny. https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/huynh-kt

Pictured top is the queue earlier this year for ice-cream at the Noodle Markets during Enlighten, and above, Canberrans queue outside the Apple Store to buy iPads in 2012. Photos: CHARLOTTE HARPER 

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
11 Responses to
Canberra’s queuing culture: How do we line up?
HenryBG 11:40 am 04 Jun 16

Masquara said :

Prior to the fall of the union, our family used to wait in line for hours, not knowing if they would be receiving vodka, caviar, beets or boots. If anyone got anything good, it was their obligation to invite the neighbours to share, on the basis that the favour would be reciprocated. It was an early form of social insurance in a failing state. Waiting in line was also a good opportunity to hear about any jobs that might be going.

Ooh, can’t wait for Roz Ward to get her red flag on our parliament so we can have some more fo that.

Elevator etiqutte is another one – Australians tend to hold the door open if they see somebody coming. In China they do the exact opposite.

tim_c 12:44 pm 03 Jun 16

Not so good at queuing once they get in their cars – just watch those tradies in their utes at the “form one lane”

devils_advocate 4:41 pm 31 May 16

Prior to the fall of the union, our family used to wait in line for hours, not knowing if they would be receiving vodka, caviar, beets or boots. If anyone got anything good, it was their obligation to invite the neighbours to share, on the basis that the favour would be reciprocated. It was an early form of social insurance in a failing state. Waiting in line was also a good opportunity to hear about any jobs that might be going.

wildturkeycanoe 6:35 am 30 May 16

My only concern about queuing is that some queuers know little about personal space. When there is ample room for people to line up, they more often than not end up so close behind you that you accidentally elbow them from making simple hand gestures in conversation or you feel their shopping bag or trolley hitting you in the back, with no apologies whatsoever, just avoided eye contact.
At the footy yesterday, queuing was very civilized for a bunch of enthusiastic sporting fans. Plenty of personal space, no shoving or pushing into line. That also applied to walking around in general, no nasty bumps from anyone causing buckets of chips or coffee to be spilled. If there was an accidental near-miss or collision, apologies were forthcoming. All in all, a very pleasant crowd. Well done Canberra!

dungfungus 6:24 pm 29 May 16

Mordd said :

I got into trouble once in the UK re queuing. There were about three people waiting along the counter of a shop. I walked in and stood next to them to wait my turn to be served. They were there first, so I expected to be served after them, and in fact, I am the sort of person who points out those waiting before me if the sales assistant mistakenly goes to serve me first. Anyway, one of them turned to me and said in a loud voice, “This is a queue you know.” and pointed to a spot. Well, I didn’t know, as it just looked like people waiting in front of a counter to me. I had heard of the famous British queuing, but that came across to me as ridiculous and silly.

Was the spot called the far queue?

Maya123 5:45 pm 29 May 16

bulldog600 said :

I found this, it seems like a very sensible and civilised way to do it, who needs tickets from a machine when you got shoes! https://au.pinterest.com/pin/379991287280140120/

🙂 But it’s easier when the shoes slip off. There doesn’t appear to be any shoes with laces there.

Mordd 4:33 pm 29 May 16

I found this, it seems like a very sensible and civilised way to do it, who needs tickets from a machine when you got shoes! https://au.pinterest.com/pin/379991287280140120/

Maya123 9:49 am 28 May 16

I got into trouble once in the UK re queuing. There were about three people waiting along the counter of a shop. I walked in and stood next to them to wait my turn to be served. They were there first, so I expected to be served after them, and in fact, I am the sort of person who points out those waiting before me if the sales assistant mistakenly goes to serve me first. Anyway, one of them turned to me and said in a loud voice, “This is a queue you know.” and pointed to a spot. Well, I didn’t know, as it just looked like people waiting in front of a counter to me. I had heard of the famous British queuing, but that came across to me as ridiculous and silly.

miz 9:20 am 28 May 16

There are definitely rules about queuing. People who do not queue and ‘push in’ are collectively considered rude. People feel they ‘own’ their place in the queue, and therefore they may ‘allow’ someone else to get in front of them if they wish (e.g. in a supermarket queue when the person behind you has only one or two items).
And it is considered good manners to ask ‘is this the queue?’ or ‘are you in the queue?’ if you are uncertain.

Ryoma 8:21 am 28 May 16

Hi Kim

I notice our queuing culture the most in relation to our bus network. Some of our international students seem to have no idea of what it means to queue, and I’ve seen them trying to get onto the bus before others have alighted from the bus.

There are days when this annoys me, but to be fair, I remember staying with a Korean friend in Seoul about a decade ago. Her advice to me was not to queue politely as we’d done in Australia, but to move fast, or I’d get left behind. When we caught her local bus to the train station the next morning, I discovered she was right – it was like a rugby scrum, complete with elbows! 🙂

But of course this is not all international students, and many no doubt learn how to behave after living here a while. Likewise, not all local people are great at queuing politely either.

I guess over time these things find their own equilibrium.

Mordd 12:25 am 28 May 16

No comments on this! Interesting, not only are we good at queuing but we got nothing to say about it either, very civilised of us all. Cup of tea anyone?

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
www.the-riotact.com | www.b2bmagazine.com.au | www.thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site