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19 Oct 12

The Line Forms HERE

Chris Farmer

It all appears very civilised.

It happens in front of cinemas, at bank counters, at the airport, in shopping centres and grocery stores. Wherever tickets must be bought or presented, where items are to be purchased, where official stamps are to be stamped you will find this unwritten social contrivance which allows us to remain for long periods in confined spaces without killing each other indiscriminately. It is the queue.

But it is a common misconception that a queue must remain orderly, especially in Serbia.

Waiting as we were to take an autumnal boat ride on the Sava, the scene began as rather idyllic. The time had not yet come and we all stood in a semblance of a line. I witnessed smiling and even some laughing.

When, at the appointed hour, the ticket collector announced that she was ready, the long line of people exploded. Everyone rushed at once to be as close to the entrance as they could squeeze, bump and elbow. The hushed tones became loud voices.

EVERYONE, at that point, had to be first. A family standing behind me shoved past without hesitation, leaving a little girl crying in the confusion. The elderly tipped backwards and lost their balance in the melee.

The smiles were gone, the tickets thrust forward and the only objective was to be the first one on the boat. The neat, single-file line that once stood waiting patiently had become a teeming and seething semicircle around the ticket collector.

The frightening part for me, however, was that this did not seem out of place or unusual. Having just returned from England, where the queue is taken as sacrosanct and inviolable, where queue jumping is on a par with murderers and sex offenders, I suddenly realised that this violent struggle to be first – even after having stood for twenty minutes in a line – was not the Only Way.

While in England the queue would click through one person and one ticket at a time until all were boarded, here the line seems just to be a place to wait before the real fighting begins. It is like a holding area where we warm up and sharpen our knives until we finally lunge to the fore.

Once the struggle is finished and everyone is on the boat, all of which takes far more time than a normal progression of a line, the placid and pleasant faces return. People are again smiling, laughing and waiting patiently for the boat tour to get underway.

 Standing in line is a mark of our civility and social cohesion. Moving quietly through the line, however, appears to be optional.

Christen Bradley Farmer is founder and president of MACH IV Consulting. Farmer also regularly shares his observations on life Serbia in Politika daily, LivingIn Belgrade.com, and in his B92.net VIP blog.

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