There is nothing more British as queueing up, as I learned to my peril two weeks ago when I took my 10-year-old daughter and her two cousins to Alton Towers, the UK’s “best theme park.”
First, it must be said, I am a born-and-bred “queuer.” As the product of English parents, and as someone who spent my formative years in England, I quickly learned to stand in line and wait my turn at shops, busses, and rail stations, and to scorn those who didn’t.
When I moved to Manhattan much later on, one of the many things that sent me into culture shock was the ethos of the survival of the fittest and pushiest when it came to lining up for store check-outs, the subway, and theatre lines. Somehow, although I might have begun at the front of the line, I always found myself shoved to the back of what can only be described as a bustling, lawless mob.
But back here in England, I know how to behave when it comes to queues. But apparently not at Alton Towers.
Alton Towers is a massive theme park. It’s got the “Smiler,” billed as the world’s first 14 looping roller coaster with its “plunging 30-metre drops” (this is a good thing, I have to ask?), the Nemesis, in which you “fly over rivers of blood and rock, reaching G-forces greater than a space shuttle launch!” and many other heart attack-inducing rides.
I stayed far away from these and sat by the exit to the various rides while my daughter and her cousins underwent this torture, which they inexplicably seemed to find intensely enjoyable.
At the Congo River Rapids, I idly scanned the notice board at the start of the line, and saw that “Queue jumping may lead to dismissal from the park.” Quite harsh, I thought, but no doubt necessary for all the foreigners visiting Alton Towers who don’t understand about queuing.
The ride looked like fun, but I’d been on it before and had emerged at the end with a spinning head and queasy stomach, so I declined to join my daughter and young cousins. I’d wait for them at the exit, as I had with the other six rides they’d been on.
But there was a longish queue, and as it was the last ride they’d be going on, I belatedly decided to join them in line.
The space provided for the queue was about five feet wide, and it wound all along the course of the rapids. Although my three kids had only a two-minute start on me, they were already well into the line, with at least a hundred people between me and them.
“Excuse me,” I said to the people at the back, as I would if I were joining someone in line in the US, “can I come through, please?”
No one moved. “I’m just going to join my daughter,” I explained.
In fact, not only didn’t they move, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, blocking my passage. There was no way they were going to let me move ahead of them. The sound of muttering started growing.
At that point, a young boy called out, “Queue-jumper!”
I addressed my comments to him, knowing full-well that the entire line was listening to this brazen American.
“I’m not going on the ride,” I said. “I just want to join my daughter.”
The family in front of me partly slightly to let me squeeze through, but the next family in line spread across the way, blocking me. “Excuse me, can I come through? I’m not going on the ride, I just want to walk with my daughter,” I said to them.
Then a man’s voice: “Suuuuurrrrreeeee,” heavy on the sarcasm and a pseudo-American accent.
“No really,” I said. “I’m not going on the ride.”
“Riiiiggggghhhhhtttt,” said another person.
“Really,” I repeated, “I’m not going on the ride. You can watch me.” I knew I was sounding very, very, defensive, and very much like a pushy American.
“Just having you on,” he said, and allowed me to pass. And so I made my way through the line in stops and starts as the line stood firm against me, then allowed me to pass. God, this was hard, miserable work!
When I got to the place where everyone gets on the river boats, I conspicuously stood by the side while the kids clambered on.
As I was leaving the park, I saw a sign that I hadn’t taken in before, which explained everything.
Whew! I guess I got off easy flouting the English rules about queues. I can’t imagine this happening to the same extent in America! What is your experience?