News, humour and information for Brits worldwide!

British Expat Newsletter:
15 August 2007

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week:Queueing
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

We visited Kuala Lumpur recently and had a rather unpleasant experience in the immigration area, where the queue was an absolute nightmare. People were queueing four or five abreast and then sub-queues seemed to form where people were queueing to get in the queue – and to cap it all, the lanes were so wide that two parallel queues seemed to have formed in each of them… Impossible to explain, really, but you can probably imagine the chaos.

It got me thinking about queues and I wondered if the orderly line is a particularly British thing. Certainly it’s a big part of the stereotype we fondly imagine the rest of the world has of the British, together with drinking tea, eating big fried breakfasts and revering the Royal Family. It was interesting to see while researching this edition of the newsletter that several universities have provided info for international students which mention that it is the norm to queue for things in UK and that queue-jumping is frowned upon. The implication is that they don’t believe that queueing is part of the cultural norm for their students from elsewhere in the world.

I suppose it varies from place to place. Certainly it seems to be accepted practice in the US – despite their reputation for pushiness in other aspects of life – and Canada, at least in certain situations. (As in so many instances, though, the terminology is different; in US English you stand in a “line”, whereas Canadians “line up”.) And it probably wouldn’t come as a great surprise to anyone to hear that the Japanese are avid queuers, often forming queues that snake all the way round a block to wait patiently for their favoured fast food treats – although apparently their queues are weirdly silent, with none of the casual chit-chat that characterises queues elsewhere.

Queues used to be a defining feature of everyday life in the Soviet bloc, of course – caused by the frequent shortage of particular consumer goods in a command economy. The East German government even came up with a word for people in a queue – “Wartegemeinschaft”, or “waiting community” – in an attempt to dress up queueing as a social bonding activity. But in the end the main bonding activity that resulted from all the interminable queueing was the creation of a whole new set of fatalistic jokes. (You can see one of them at the end of this newsletter.)

Unsurprisingly, where queueing is a part of the culture there are all sorts of unwritten rules about what behaviours are acceptable and what aren’t. Pushing in is particularly frowned on, although exceptions can be made where the people concerned are clearly together (this tends to be much more acceptable if the addition to the queue isn’t likely to make a significant difference to the time that the people further back have to wait). Shuffling to the front of the queue while pretending you’re not (associated particularly with little old ladies) seems to get most people’s goat. There seems to be more of a grey area around couples who stake out a place in two separate queues and then reunite once one of them’s reached the front. I don’t have any problem with that myself, though whenever Dave and I have tried it it’s never produced any significant advantage.

One thing which really does annoy me, though, is a loathsome behaviour which I’ve heard termed “glueing up” – when you’re stuck in a queue and the person behind decides to stand unnecessarily close, right inside my personal space. I’ve always hated it if someone decides to stick themself to my back. It seems to be especially prevalent at airports, while checking in (complete with trolley bashing into my heels every time the queue moves forward) or going through immigration. My usual ploy in these circumstances is to give them a sharp elbow in the ribs or “accidentally” give them a good whap with my bag in an effort to detach them.

There have been all sorts of studies done on the queueing process in an effort to make it more efficient. The results have included innovations such as the “virtual queue” – the system where you take a number from a dispenser and wait until your number comes up. This seems to be particularly popular at places like deli counters in supermarkets, where there are plenty of other things for you to go and look at (and, the shop owners hope, buy) while you wait for your turn to come up.

But perhaps the most popular innovation in recent years is the single-queue, multiple service-point arrangement, such as you find in many larger Post Offices in the UK, often with an electronic call-forward (the voice which brightly tells you to go to “Cashier Number Four, please!”). The queues often look daunting, but vanish much more quickly; and they remove the slow-motion race (and attendant antagonism) that often goes on when each service-point has its own queue. It doesn’t always work as it should, though – the immigration queue I mentioned right at the beginning was a prime example of how it can go wrong…

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and  tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

[Obsolete content and links deleted]

Standinaqueue is an interesting blog all about the queueing experience worldwide.

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • mosquito geranium
  • cadge a smoke cigarette
  • topless saleswomen legal in liverpool
  • with a choking voice the old abbot
  • where can i learn how to ride a dick?
  • lakme flower duet innuendo
  • clarks lugger
  • dog howling forlorn thorn
  • lobster jokes
  • false teeth forum

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine


“An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.”

– George Mikes, Hungarian-born British author (1912-1987)


A customer finally reaches the end of a long queue outside a Soviet shop, only to find it empty. Exasperated, he shouts, “What’s this? You’ve got no meat again?!”

“Nonsense!” the shopkeeper retorts. “They’ve got no meat at the shop over the road. We’ve got no fish.”

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