Q is for jumping the queue

Imagine a city with a land area slightly smaller than New Orleans.

Now, fill New Orleans with about 13 million people.

That’s Mumbai.

Editor’s note: 13 million is the official estimate. Most unofficial estimates are closer to 20 million.

With a population density of about 56,000 people per square mile, Mumbai has 28 times as many people in a single square mile as New Orleans. Twenty-eight times!

Now, imagine waiting in line at the movie theater. It looks something like this:

A friend's husband waiting to buy a movie ticket. Notice how close the guy behind him is standing.

A friend’s husband waiting to buy a movie ticket. Notice how close the guy behind him is standing.

Why is he so close? So that no one cuts in front of him or jumps the queue, as we say here.

Queue: Noun. British origin. A line of people waiting for something. Usually used in relation to grocery stores, government offices, and movie theaters.
American translation: Line

Jumping the queue: British slang for stealing someone else’s place in the queue.
American translation: Cutting in line

Cricket might be the Indian national obsession, but sometimes, queue jumping feels like the national sport. Jumping the queue is an art. If done with finesse, no one notices you even jumped ahead. Well, maybe they notice; they just don’t say anything. Every expat has at least one exasperating queue-jumping experience to recount.

When you first arrive, you become flustered by the experience, or at least I did. You don’t know what to say. You let people jump in front of you. Gradually, you learn to speak up, “Excuse me, It’s my turn.” Usually, they will concede defeat and move back. Gradually, you begin to close the gap between yourself and the person in front of you. You close the gap tighter and tighter the longer you live here. You use any object available to close the gap: feet, knees, elbows, purses, the poodle. Well, OK. Not the poodle. He’s not much help. But, you get the idea.

Eventually, you learn to jump the queue, too. The other day, while waiting for my badge at my husband’s office, I could tell I had gotten into the wrong queue. I was at the front of the line near where the barricade between the queues ended. First, I placed my foot on the other side of the barricade. Then, my purse followed. Finally, when no objection was made, I slid my whole body over to the other side of the barricade.

My favorite queue jumping tale takes place in Chandigarh. Chandigarh is one of India’s best organized cities. If your only experience in India is flying into Chandigarh airport and driving to Shimla, you will have a very high opinion of Indian efficiency. We were passing through Chandigarh, and had a limited time to visit its famous sites. The most famous is its rock garden.

Example of the many sculptures in the rock garden.

Example of the many sculptures in the rock garden.

We arrived less than an hour before closing. We queued up in a nice little line like everyone else. But, I could see a second shorter line forming to the right. A couple of women were going to try to jump the queue. When we reached the gate, a woman cut in front of Brian. He called her out. “Excuse me. It’s my turn,” he said.

She responded, “But, this is the women’s queue.” In India, many queues, like security at airports, are segregated by gender. So, her argument was plausible, but we did not see a sign over the entrance gate indicating that.

From behind us came a booming male voice, “There’s no women’s queue! Get in the back of the line! Behave like a civilized person! Don’t embarrass us in front of the foreigners!”

Sure enough, embarrassed, the woman went to the back of the line. We thanked our defender and said, “Thank you. We live here. We understand.”

Do you have a queue-jumping story to share?

8 thoughts on “Q is for jumping the queue

  1. I love this blog…one of the things I hated the most about India until I mastered the craft myself. Now, I have to unlearn it, so I don’t get beat down at Target when we move back home this summer….great Blog, Jean. I’m really enjoying every letter!


  2. It,s the same everywhere ATMs , rail stations, bus stands…and we always put in ‘ This is ladies’ queue’…:)…nice take on queue.. i,m still looking for my Q


  3. Totally true!!! My biggest pet peeve here in India, I hate line cutters. Someone hacked Rick off in line the other day and he put his hand on his shoulder and said “my turn” and he moved.


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