Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Art of Queuing - or why we'll never be good Europeans

It is a well known fact that we British people love to queue. Not because of some strange Soviet-esque nostalgia for the breadlines, just that it is perfectly fair and civilised t wait ones turn patiently. Queues are spontaneous too, and need little management as I discovered to my amusement on Sunday morning.

I landed at Malaga airport you see at the same time as about three other flights from the UK. They had only two "passport control" people working. I put that in quotes simple because they were controlling nothing, looking at nothing, and just waving people through as long as they had a maroon book in their hand.

Incidentally, as a slight digression, when I left Luton Airport there was no border control at all. I walked airside with no check for a passport or bordering card. The only thing I had to do was go through the scanner. This made me chuckle given that there was talk of "e-borders" and a need to protect the nation, clearly they were all in bed.

Anyhow, back to the queues at Malaga. I would say that around 99% of the people getting off the buses was British, and the results, in this tiny little hall, was a snaking queue that seemed to follow invisible barriers. Occasionally a break would occur in the queue where someone would just walk through, tuts arose, and then you heard the person speak in what was clearly Spanish.

Now don't get me wrong here, I'm not actually complaining or making a stereotype that the Spanish are rude. Far from it, they're very polite and friendly people, they just don't pathologically queue like we do. They go about their lives differently because they're different. The joy of Western diversity huh?

This then reminded me however of our other problem in Britain. We love to follow rules, and if a rule exists we fear the social embarrassment of breaking it. So many of the rules we get from the EU are ones that cause consternation in the press, and yet don't often get commented upon in the rest of the EU.

Is this because the rest of the EU nations are happy with the rules though? Or is it more likely, as experience suggests, that the rest of the EU nations, not being such anally retentive rule followers like ourselves, simply legislate the necessary the rules but make it clearly, tacitly of course, that no one is going to be punished if they break them?

We already see at the highest levels, France and Germany have regularly broken the rules on national budgets, they've been told they have to pay a fine, and what happens? Zilch. They flick the bird and carry on anyway. The EU huffs a bit, and then everyone stops and goes back to normal. You can bet any pressure we come under from the EU on budgets will see us eventually keel over to them.

Now, I myself am actually signed up to "Better Off Out" as I don't see why we should pay so much into the coffers and get so much little back in return. I also don't accept that to leave the EU would destroy trade and jobs because, in its most simple terms, the idea that someone like Volkswagen, BMW or Mercedes-Benz will stop selling us cars is absurd.

However, is it not fair to say that the reason we have such big problems with EU when it comes to certain things is not really because everything the EU does is bad - I can actually see for example a sane reason to have a supra-national strategy on the environment rather than national on - but more because we're just not "European" and never will be?

Culturally we're just too different to most of the EU nations, especially the early members. The Mediterranean culture is far more relaxed and less rigid than ours, look at the art of the queue to get the point. They don't have the relationship with the EU that we do because they just cherry-pick the bits they like and ignore the bits they don't.

And when I say they ignore whilst we follow, I mean we and they do it at a cultural level that transcends the petty ideological difference of politics. Take for example how the Daily Mail reacts to an EU law that is clearly a silly one. They rant about it being insane and rail against the injustice against sovereignty, but I no point do they advocate we should just ignore it.

Instead we have a "look what they're making us do and we can't do anything about it we must obey". A few years ago I made this point to the leader of UKIP Nigel Farage over a smoke in Charing Cross station (those were the days). He largely, if I recall correctly, agreed with me that yes, other countries did just implement Eu regulations and then not bother enforcing them.

However, he also said that you if went into a British boardroom and suggested that "you know what, we could just ignore these rules, its not like they can invade us to force us to follow them" the reaction would be one of absolute fear. That stems, I think, from a British attitude that laws are "that which can not be otherwise". Its almost as if we have started to consider laws of man the same as laws of nature, something other nations culturally don't.

Again I come back to the queue at Malaga airport. Only a group of Brits would create on their own a perfectly winding queue like an amusement park without having barriers to guide them first. The person behind me said, it makes us civilised. Actually I'm afraid it doesn't. What it actually makes us is bloody stupid and it perfectly exemplifies why we just don't seem to be able to get with the EU programme and probably never will.

Our culturally instinctive sense of following rules, like queueing, means that all we can ever hope to do whilst members of the Eu is moan about it and then do what we're told anyway. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that queuing is a bad thing, just that if you understand why we do it you can also understand why we'll never really be "good Europeans".

No doubt some tit will say this post is xenophobic and is saying other countries are instinctive rule breakers. Far from it, they just have a different attitude to what rules ought to be followed and what rules they know they really just have to go through the motions on. It's not a bad thing, its just the way it is.


kinglear said...

The point is they follow rules that suit them and help them and ignore the ones that don't. We slavishly follow all rules. In particular the elfnsafety ones. In France there isn't even such a thing as an elfnsafety executive.
But if you are an employer and one of your bods gets hurt you are liable to end up inside - so you make dead sure it doesn't happen. Same with architects - not many rules, but if your building falls down, you are it, and no box ticking will get you out.
And if your an individual and you fall over a paving stone, its not the council that pays - its noone - its your own silly fault.

Forlornehope said...

Have you ever been to Sweden?

Anonymous said...

Germans are 100 times more rule obsessed than us.

Tarquin said...

We are brilliant queuers, try standing in a poorly set out establishment and watch about 3 people lurk behind you before they realise you aren't actually waiting for anything

I've never noticed any other culture do this, not even the Anglo ones in the US/Australia etc

Why do we accept the rules so much? God knows, but I also believe we, rather than ignore them, like to appreciate our rules, which are made in good sense, which is why we're so angsty about both government and EU laws that are idiotic

Oldrightie said...

A debate that is as old as me! Very good observations but we may be stirring to follow French style protests ere long!

ukipwebmaster said...

When Gordon met Nigel:

Julia Smith said...

Dizzy, if you haven't already, you should read:

which fully explains the whole queuing phenomena.

On your other points, time was when we were probably the other way around, when the UK was the only country in Europe without ID cards or armed police on the streets and law enforcement here probably did follow a more "common sense" line, of turning a blind eye over petty infringements.

As Orwell wrote: "The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil.
It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers" and
"The English electoral system, for instance, is an all but open fraud. In a dozen obvious ways it is gerrymandered in the interest of the moneyed class. But until some deep change has occurred in the public mind, it cannot become COMPLETELY corrupt. You do not arrive at the polling booth to find men with revolvers telling you which way to vote, nor are the votes miscounted, nor is there any direct bribery."

If only we could forget all the nonsense about polite queuing and return to that...

Ed the Shred said...


I'm getting worried about you Mr Thinks. Several times over the recent past you have made reference to your smoking habits. Based on my experience people who go on about how much they enjoy smoking usually give up soon.

So the best of British luck with that Mr Thinks. Console yourself with the fact you do not have to queue up to give up that habit, you can do it all by yourself. :-)

13th Spitfire said...

I like this very much. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Could explain a lot, if the English are a bit up tight about following rules, could be why get more uninhibited (i.e. p1ssed up) and the plastic funiture starts flying at football competitions.

Anonymous said...

The Germans aren't exactly massive rules breakers though are they!? And they're a founding members without a hint of Mediterranean culture about them. Not sure your argument stands up there.

Darwen Reporter said...

Two people in a queue is one-to-many!

Pogo said...

That's the problem... The "Townhall Hitler" mentality of the executive in the UK makes "just ignoring rules" an expensive hobby. I live half the year in Spain - which has smoking rules in bars very similar to those in the UK. The difference is, if you light up in a pub at home you run the very real risk of getting a heavy fixed penalty and worse for the proprietor. In my "local" in Barcelona it's frequently hard to see the no smoking signs through the smoke, and seeing a group of Guardia Civil stroll in for a drink and lighting up a fag to go with it is something of a culture shock.

Crust Of The Grouch said...

It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation given the government enforces the rules of the EU, for example people being prosecuted over stupid things like measurement and weights*. Which just makes people hostile and worried of every EU law as they're enforced. Though are the government enforcing them because we're a nation of rule followers?

I'm not so sure, I think normal British reaction without the government setting the precedent that all rules are equal would be to laugh and mock. In the way people do with silly health and safety rules.It's hard to laugh it off though, if you can be prosecuted and fined.

On the queuing note, there is a interview with a researcher that thinks, more British passengers on the Titanic died than Americans because they queued!


Aaron Murin-Heath said...

Well, Dizzy, I'm a tit and I don't think it's a xenophobic post.

In fact it's a very interesting read. Thoughtful.

I think that Spain, and the other Latin countries, are not the best comparison, with regard to queuing and rules. Scandinavian and Germanic countries are organised and generally follow the rules - but then they also know when something's daft, and best ignored.

Queuing makes sense. Speed limits make sense. The correct shape for a piece of fruit? Not so much.

Europe? In? Out?

Well, if we're not going to engage and be a serious player, we probably should leave. Personally I think we'd be better to engage and lead. But that's just me. said...

You'd think that the English with their cultural oddities like queuing - and I mean English rather than British - would be intensely political, but they're by far the most politically apathetic in Europe. I wonder why that is.

Wallenstein said...

The same attitude that makes certain nations ignore EU rules etc also makes them ignore planning rules, drink-drive rules, safety-at-work rules etc etc.

Driving in France is taking your life into your hands, Italy's "white death" (industrial accidents) are causing serious concern for the Italian govt, and there are plenty of British pensioners who've discovered their lovely retirement villa is being buldozed 'cos the town mayor didn't fancy following planning rules.

Yes, we have a pathlogical love of queuing... but "following the rules" means we don't have to pay bribes as a normal part of doing business with the state*, we can be reasonably sure our hospitals won't collapse in a storm (cf. chinese schools), and your next-door-neighbour can't put up a three-story extension in his back garden.**

Swings and roundabouts innit.

* insert cheap jibe about cash for whatever here ;-)

** yes you can come up with examples otherwise, but they are exceptions rather than then norm (IMO)

dizzy said...

@ cctvstar

You're still not getting this are you. Posting a comment that is linked to the post and then linking to an unrelated thing is not that much different from what you were doing before. Stop it.

Serf said...

Traditionally we have been a country where the law reflected the will of the majority. By default, that law was treated with a great deal of respect.

Many of our continental neighbours have been subject to oppressive regimes, where the law was nothing more than a tool of the government. Respect for the law is unsurprisingly weak.

We are now in a state where the law has become a tool of government, but we still maintain our old respect for it.