Active Stocks
Wed Sep 27 2023 11:31:16
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 127.5 -1.05%
  1. HDFC Bank share price
  2. 1,522.1 -1.01%
  1. NTPC share price
  2. 238.8 -0.58%
  1. Power Grid Corporation Of India share price
  2. 198.85 0.23%
  1. State Bank Of India share price
  2. 589.6 -0.79%
Business News/ Opinion / Online Views/  The art of standing in line

Will India become the next Japan, when it comes to civilized queuing?

Anyone who has ever taken a train in Japan will have noticed that the Japanese have turned queuing into an art form. Perfect one-person lines are happily formed at the platforms in front of the markings were the doors will open. The train will arrive exactly on time, and in a calm and orderly fashion everyone will board without a word or an indecent push. Japan is queue-topia.

Although few Europeans enjoy lines as much as the Japanese do, on our continent most people respect the first-come-first-serve-principle and the right of priority to those in front of them. And so the first time I visited an Indian hospital in 2010, I was in for a surprise.

Like anyone else, I queued up to get an appointment. At the exact moment when it was my turn, on both my left and right side, two people glided into my peripheral view and started talking to the cashier at the counter.

When I looked over my shoulder, I saw a line of around six people behind me. My hope that one of them would at least move a muscle or raise an eyebrow was dashed. I then expected the clerk to ask them to wait in line and turn to me instead. But he started to serve both these people, at the expense of the entire line. India, I concluded, is not Japan when it comes to waiting in line.

A few weeks later, I was queuing at the security check at Delhi’s new Terminal 3. A gentleman in front of me was standing in his socks—shoes, belt and jacket in hand—and did his best to find a tray for his laptop. Then a line jumper appeared.

As if no other travellers were there, he swung his bag onto the X-ray belt and slipped in before all of us, leaving our gentleman in socks staring for a second. I was biting my tongue, but being new, I held my breath as I expected someone to take up the matter in a locally acceptable way. To my surprise, nobody seemed to care or have the courage to politely remind the queue skipper that there was such a thing as a line. I began to wonder why this self-correcting social mechanism that rules most of Europe was not working in India. Why did no one object?

As we were not dealing with someone who was in an insane rush to catch his flight, I decided to ask the gentleman in socks in front of me why he did not object. “We do not want to cause a scene, you know," he said. “Some people are really offended when you tell them to wait in line".

Indians have often told me about their reservations about what they consider the “individualistic" societies of Europe and the US. People there, these critics say, only think of themselves and their material gain, at the expense of others. Livable societies are characterized by basic levels of decency to strangers. India’s professional five-star hotels are great at this. In fact, if you are used to Indian service standards, a stay in a five-star hotel in Amsterdam can feel like a bit of a no-frills experience.

But as a crisscrosser of the subcontinent, I spend more time in India’s public queues than is pleasant and there I observe a pervasive line blindness—pretending not to see the queue—and lack of corrective action. Would the country benefit if all frequent flyers would politely raise their voices in concert to cure this peculiar impairment, at least at airports?

It would reinforce a positive change that can already be detected, to my equal amazement. At the same hospital, but now three years later, I witnessed a heated debate when someone again blatantly ignored the line. A woman in the queue made a polite remark to the queue jumper, who began trying out a range of brilliant excuses on us. The queuers stared him down and eventually he went back in line.

To her credit, the woman also reprimanded the cashier for entertaining the queue jumper instead of the person at the front of the line. And my sense is this is increasingly happening in cafés, restaurants and supermarkets across Delhi, where I live.

The lines at the security check at the Delhi Metro are regularly of nearly Japan-like orderliness, where queues run around corners and can be a hundred metres long at rush hour. Queue jumpers are quite consistently asked to stand in line. It seems that security checks and retail concepts such as Starbucks—where visitors are gently coaxed to queue up—impact social behaviour in a way that transcends to other situations.

If this is a structural change that took place in only two or three years, perhaps an urban civil society is coming of age in India as we watch.

It took Europe around two centuries to develop an engaged middle class. It may take India only a few decades, or less, to acquire such “cultural capital". This could have profound cultural, business and political implications—for the better.

Tjaco Walvis is the managing director of brand consulting and advertising agency THEY India, and a speaker at the Outstanding Speakers’ Bureau. He writes an occasional column on the softer cultural aspects of marketing that often tend to be ignored by marketers.

"Exciting news! Mint is now on WhatsApp Channels 🚀 Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest financial insights!" Click here!

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Updated: 02 Jul 2013, 12:36 AM IST
Next Story
Recommended For You
Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App