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?
Good for you for persevering! Most of us would have given up and slunk off.
I’m sorry people were mean to you for being American.
I found queueing in my bit of America remarkably civilised, and not unlike Britain – except the queue would be straggly and maybe a few people abreast, rather than a neat line. Just more relaxed. But I can imagine that the experience in New York would be very different. We Mid-Westerners are pretty relaxed (oooh, I just wrote “we Mid-Westerners… that’s interesing!)
I always found queueing for a bus in London very confusing. You’d be in a line of people on the pavement. The bus would come, but the door wouldn’t necessarily be right by the person in the front of the queue. So what to do then? If the door was right by you, but you knew you were 5th or 6th in the queue, should you get on? Obviously, yes, because otherwise you slow down the whole process, but it just felt wrong. I always felt I had to acknowledge, with some exaggerated charade of looking up the queue, and shrugging my shoulders in a “what can I do about this?” way, that I understood that I wasn’t rightfully getting on the bus first.
With a London bus, it can mean the crucial difference between getting on the bus, and having to wait for the next one. I never understand why people get so antsy (love that American word) at airports. I mean, you’re on the plane, whether you have to sit and wait in the departure lounge, or whether you have to sit and wait on the plane.
Virginia A Smith said:
Hi, thanks for your comments, especially about London busses! What a great observation of English culture!
I don’t think people were being mean to me because I have an American accent, but because I was queue-jumping while American (QJWA)!
And yes, I totally agree with you that you Midwesterners (just kidding) are a much more relaxed bunch than, say, New Yorkers and other dwellers of major cities, when it comes to queuing! That was my experience during my years in Chicago and Minneapolis, too. Thanks for writing! I always enjoy reading your thought-provoking comments.
I think they were meaner to you when you were Q-jumping, than they would have been to a Brit. They would have been thinking “Bl***dy American. Doesn’t she understand the queueing system?”
Virginia A Smith said:
You’re probably right! And here I was thinking they might give me a little break, what with looking like an ignorant American!
Not being from England I have learned to appreciate the english love of an orderly queue. In spain, I understand the queue as a visible line is nonsense. What looks like an melee is simply a bunch of people knowing who is the person immediately in front of them.
WELCOME TO ENGLAND QUEUES LIKELY……
Virginia A Smith said:
John, thanks for writing! It’s very interesting to read what you said about queuing among the Spaniards!