The Joys of Modern Life

56: THE GREAT BRITISH QUEUE
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The Independent Culture
AS AN American newly arrived in London, I was truly excited to experience the sheer joy of the British "queue". The name alone sounded much more civilised than the savage "lines" we Americans are forced to wait in back home. Along with rewarding trips to both Leicester and Trafalgar Squares, the queue was at the top of my list of things to do during my stay here. And I am happy to report that, in the last six weeks, I have had truly prosaic results, passing minutes, hours, days, and weeks in the British queue.

My first experience was at Victoria Station. Being a virgin queuer, I naively walked into one of London's larger line-ups much as Little Red Riding Hood walked into the forest. As I entered the station, I remember wondering whether, in keeping with the civilised British tradition, cocktails, hors-d'oeuvre or at least a cup of tea would be served while I waited to get my new travelcard. What sort of intellectual conversation would I enjoy with the professors, cricket-playing businessmen and artists I would be waiting with? I was full of anticipation.

I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a relatively long queue - mostly backpackers and other foreigners. I became even more excited when the two people standing in front of me, fellow courteous Americans no less, swung around quickly, smacking me in the face with their backpacks, and then acted as if totally oblivious to what had happened. It was truly a star-spangled moment. One CD change in my Discman later, I was holding my treasured travelcard. No sweat.After my first experience I was ready to go, a true queue veteran.

A month later, I was off to Ibiza for a debauchery-filled weekend; life couldn't be better. I opted to take the Stansted Express, so surely I would be racing towards Balearic excess in no time. As I exited the Underground into Liverpool Street, I learnt that it was necessary to purchase my ticket at one of the windows. With 15 minutes before departure, I knew I'd have time to spare. The Liverpool Street station queue is even better than Victoria's - a sizzling oasis amid the sea of fast-paced suits. Since the queue is enclosed in this relatively small room without any sort of fan or air-conditioning, everyone immediately becomes very friendly and outgoing. The first friendly queuers I met were footballers, who emitted a pleasant aroma of alcoholic beverages and, as I learnt through many slurred words, were going to Belfast to play a match (if they could make it on to the plane). A middle-aged woman was polite enough to tell me, in a loud, expletive-filled sentence, that the line was taking too long because of people such as me, and I should move forward to the next window as she was late for an appointment. Even in New York, where I am from, you just don't meet so many friendly unarmed people in one place.

With my ticket in hand, I sprinted through the station. It was great; the queue not only encouraged one to be outgoing, but also to be in shape! As the conductor blew the whistle, I leapt on to my train drenched in sweat. I really do love those forward-thinking British queues.

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