To queue or not to queue – that’s not a question; that’s cultural habit.

Queuing is special in Sweden. If you feel Swedes are being distant and you want some physical closeness – join the lines for the ATMs. There you will find it. Even when it is your turn to withdraw the money you can be sure of having someone behind you, just an inch away. I have never seen the painted lines on the ground here, marking the private zone. Not sure it would help though. Why? I keep thinking it’s because in Sweden queuing might not have been practiced enough. In our culture there is usually always queue numbers. You can use this system for buying the softest prosciutto and tasty cheddar, for getting tampons and ibuprofen, for that annoying bank and post matters, for the weekly white tulips, for the cardamom laden cinnamon rolls, for that hot new too expensive dress and for inquiring about the cost of traveling to a far away resort. Not long ago it was also used for buying chardonnay. There is simply a system telling you when it is your turn.

What happens when another check out counter opens up in the grocery store in Sweden? Usually the last person in line for the already open one runs to the newly opened counter. This is apparently not a question of who has been waiting the longest, but of who is the fastest runner. I have to admit I never really thought about this until I expatriated to the US. There it was always the next in the existing waiting line that was served by the new counter. No exceptions. Once a man behind me darted out of the line and went for the new check out. The sales girl said with an icy, stern voice (think about immigrant control at an American airport and you get the picture) “Sir, I said NEXT IN LINE pls.” Don’t think he ever dared to shop there again.

On the other hand I have seen yet other systems. Let me mention to you when I tried to get lunch at a much known hamburger/fast food chain in Turin, Italy. It was like going to a rock concert where the counter would be the stage. Oh, did I mention I had a toddler and a giant (robust thank God) Swedish stroller with a hungry baby in it? Imagine trying to squeeze the stroller and the kids through the masses of hungry teenagers shouting their orders in loud, beautiful Italian. And then back out again after what seemed an eternity. I wish I could say it was the best burger I’ve had. At least it was the most memorable.


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