Thursday, September 01, 2011

The British and queuing

I saw something odd this morning during the rush hour, just outside Gunnersbury station in west London. At the bus stop there was a queue of people, a genuine queue, maybe thirty or forty feet long.
I confess I found it an arresting sight, having realised around a decade ago that somehow or other, at least in London, imperceptibly, the British practice of queueing at the bus stop had evaporated and had been replaced by nebulous groups of people who would wait until the arrival of the bus before converging on the entrance door like bees around a hive. I recall, those many years back, realising that things had changed, trying for a bit to hold out against it, resentful of it, then caving in at the futility of my lone protest.
So what was different this morning at this bus stop outside Gunnersbury station? Well, the answer seems to be that the queuers were waiting for a company bus to take them to one of the nearby mega-offices. I say "seems to be", because my bus arrived before I saw this, but it was because no one, not a soul, stirred from the queue to get onto my red double-decker that I remembered having seen these company buses - there's one I think for Sky, which has offices or studios close by - stop there before, although never with sufficient numbers of customers waiting to warrant a queue. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe these people were waiting for another red double-decker, in which case my working hypothesis falls flat.
And that working hypothesis? It is that a necessary and perhaps sufficient condition for queueing is the prior existence of potential queuers who recognise something common in each other, even if they don't actually recognise each other.
In other words, queueing as good behaviour (which I take it to be) only matters where bad behaviour - jostling - would be noticed by peers.
Thinking about it, this can be no more than a necessary condition. Were it a sufficient condition then denizens of small Italian villages would also queue.


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