I Want to Queue…

• July 25, 2011 • Comments (2)

queuing1 I Want to Queue...It’s a long-standing stereotype that British people love to queue.

It’s not so much that we love it – we moan about it as much as anyone else – more that we accept the polite conventions of queuing, such as maintaining a healthy distance from the person in front of you, tutting quietly (while inwardly seething) over queue-jumpers, and staring blankly ahead without any attempt to engage other queuers (is that even a word) in conversation.

I don’t enjoy queuing and will happily avoid it wherever possible.  This morning, however, I was reminded that there are some circumstances where I would enthusiastically welcome some form of queuing system.  And by enthusiastically welcome, I mean join it with an awkward stance and a blank gaze while my mind ponders why we have to spell the word “queue” using letters that suggest a pronunciation of KWEE-WEE.

I’m actually amazed that the US wordsmiths, with their love for sensible spelling that manages to enrage their UK counterparts, haven’t come up with a more suitable alternative.  I know they haven’t accomplished this yet because I Googled “american version of the word queue” and the top result was a video considering the age-old question of whether or not Jesus gave us the name of the antichrist.

GoogleFail I Want to Queue...GOOGLE FAIL!

But I digress.

You see, queuing might suck, but it’s nowhere near as painful as being thrust into a “first-come, first-served” scenario that lacks any sensible system of organisation.

For example, whenever I visit the barbers to get my customary “blade 7 on top, blade 2 on the sides, and a tapered neck”, a “first-come, first-served” system is in operation, but there is no comforting queue to join.

If everyone waiting to be, erm, seen (what is the future-continuous verb for a haircut?  Trimmed?  Buzzed?  Haircutted?  Serviced?) sat on the first seat nearest the door, then a seated queue would be formed; the person nearest the door would be next in line, and everyone could shuffle down as their turn approaches.

Unfortunately, the seating in my barbers is made up of one long bench, and to prevent any risk of accidentally touching a stranger, every newcomer sits in the exact centre of the largest available gap on the bench.  This means that everyone is personally required to keep track of who is already present in the barbers when they got there, and who arrives afterwards.

This is harder to accomplish than it sounds, especially when you consider that staring at strangers to memorise their appearance is almost as socially unacceptable as lightly brushing elbows with someone because you misjudged the size of the gap on the bench.

My system is to ignore everyone who is already present and, instead, to count the newcomers.  If three people arrive after me, then I merely need to wait until there are only three other people in the barbers to know that my turn is next.

This system functions perfectly until someone decides they’re tired of waiting and leaves.  Then I have to figure out if the person that left arrived before me or after me.

Other times I notice some oddball with a gigantic mop of hair and/or a flourishing beard who clearly hasn’t visited a barbershop since 1987 and I panic over their position in the queue.  If they were already there when I arrived, then surely I would have noticed them.  But I’m equally sure I would have noticed if they’d arrived through the door after me.

beardedman I Want to Queue...DON’T TOUCH ME!

I could just ask him, but I don’t know what system he’s using to remember his place in the queue and I don’t want to confuse him.  I’ve been brought up better than that.

Even if no aberrations occur, sometimes I just psych myself out by questioning the precision of my own system.  If, for example, I’ve been keeping the number five in my head, I suddenly can’t remember if that means I have to wait until there are five people left in the queue including me, or in addition to me.

Inevitably I create enough internal doubt that when the moment comes when I’m pretty sure it’s my turn, I have to pause for a moment to see if anyone else is going to step up.  If someone does step up then I have until the next slot arrives to figure out if my turn is next, or if I just missed my turn through a combination of my own indecision and the other person’s miscalculation.

But by far the worst-case scenario is when I pause for a moment, gain enough confidence that I’m next to stand up, and then proceed to do so in perfect unison with someone else.  We turn towards each other and our eyes meet, reflecting a shared horror that we’re actually going to have to talk to each other.  The silence grows as we each ponder whether we should speak up first, or let the other person speak first, or run from the premises in sobs.

What follows is like a game of barber shop, queue confusion, chicken.  The loser is the person who can bare the silence no longer and blurts out, “Are you next?” allowing the other person to gratefully reply, “Yes, I think so,” and shuffle over to the awaiting barber, leaving the other person to sink, shame-faced, back onto the bench, taking care not to brush elbows with anyone.

I hate going to the barbers.

But this isn’t actually what reminded me of the importance of an intelligent queuing system.

What reminded me was today’s occurrence of what my local doctor’s surgery have termed, “book on the day”.

“Book on the day” means that one of the two resident GPs is on holiday, and to cope with the accompanying turmoil the surgery stops taking advance bookings.  The only way to get an appointment is to ring on the day and hope that there are some slots remaining.  If not, then the only options that remain are to try again tomorrow or die.

Assuming that you opt for the former, your best chance of getting to see your GP is to call, the moment the surgery opens at 8am.  In fact the procedure recommended to me by the receptionist is to sit by the phone at 8am and hit redial until I get through.  It’s like trying to get tickets for a Take That concert, except that the prize that everyone is battling for is health.

This proposed strategy might sound extreme, but consider that I once didn’t get through until 8:20am and, incredibly, every single one of the 30 or so slots for that day had already been taken.

Again, this is a “first-come, first-served” system that fails for want of a method of queuing.  You’re playing a lottery in which, in order to win, you need to be fortunate enough to call immediately after the previous call ends, and before someone else beats you to it.

I’ve developed a technique that enables the maximum possible number of phone call attempts in the shortest possible time.  On my mobile phone I press “green” to bring up the last number called, “green” again to actually call it, and then, once I hear the “number busy” signal, I hit the “red” button to hang up.

Rinse and repeat.

Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

It’s like a game of Guitar Hero for mentally deficient chimpanzees.

boyplayingguitar I Want to Queue...Man, this is much harder without buttons.

Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

What I hate most about this process, aside from the randomness of the process, is that I can’t do anything else while I’m stabbing the buttons on my phone.

Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

If I’m stuck in a queue at traffic lights, I can at least listen to some relaxing music.  Or find a Talk Radio station.  Or, well, that’s about it.  But at least I can do something.

Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

Despite how simple it is to hit Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

it requires my full concentration to make sure that I don’t miss the moment when the busy signal is replaced with the ringing of a connected call.  Once you’ve pressed Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

a few dozen times, you start to develop muscle memory.  The result is that horrible moment when the phone call connects, but you reflexively hit the “Red” button and disconnect the call.

Of course, you now have the skills to ring back instantly, but it’s always too late.  For the briefest of moments you had the winning lottery ticket, but now it’s back to Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

Green – Green – Red

It’s times like these that I should remember when I’ve rung a customer service helpline and I’m waiting in a queue.  The “hold” music might be awful, and I might be running up a huge telephone bill, but at least the queue provides me with some sense of order.

Without the fear of social awkwardness.

Or the possibility of another day going by without getting to see my GP.

Moan about queuing – or “doing lines” if you’re American (I’m sure I heard it referred to in that way on TV) – but at least it brings order to chaos.

Maybe I do love queuing after all.

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Category: Articles, Just For Fun

About the Author

David Congreave began working online in 2001. He is now an SEO and Internet marketing consultant, a writer, and an editor. He lives and works in Leeds, UK with his wife, Leanne.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Beth Rudkin says:

    This was really funny, I actually LOLed. It’s like a cross between David Mitchell’s Soapbox and a Cracked.com article. You do realise that “doing lines” means something else, right? When you’re trying to get through to the GP, you should try calling for 2 phones at the same time and double your chances.

  2. James Nolan says:

    It’s like that episode of South Park where Cartman hates lines at theme parks. He inherits a million dollars and buys a theme park to himself

    ‘I love theme parks. But the lines! Everywhere you go, people,crowds,The rides are great, but… All the lines, lines, LINES! If there’s one thing I hate, all the lines, lines, lines, LINES!! And then there get to be so many people that they make FastPass. So then there’s lines for FastPass. You stand in line to get a ticket to stand in line later. Then there’s lines for the bathrooms , lines for the drinks , lines for cantakuras and rare Kartankulas Plinks! …And, so you see, this park is for me. Nobody else will be allowed in it.

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