The art of queuing

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When I arrived here in Sweden, I was warned about a number of things. To be punctual, for example (which, for me, is a total nightmare). To take off my shoes whenever I was visiting someone at their home. To be “lagom”, i.e. not to try to be better than anybody else. Last February, The Local, a Swedish news site in English, published a list of 20 things any foreigner should know before moving to Sweden, and I found myself smiling and nodding over more than one thing.

There was one phenomenon, however, I hadn’t really experienced: the Swedish art of queuing.

I was told the Swedes are patient, and usually await their turn calmly, in a queue. To get on the bus, for example, they form a queue along the bus, waiting to get on. Anywhere else, however, there were only very little queues to be spotted. The reason is very simple: there are numbers everywhere.

You go to the bank? You take a number. You want to buy a train ticket? You take a number. You go to the butcher’s? You take a number. You call a help line? You get a number!

But last Saturday, I was finally able to witness the queuing in its glorious perfection.

Picknick tables on the street at Malmöfestivalen.

Currently, in Malmö, there is the Malmöfestivalen, a free open-air music festival. Apart from the big stages on almost every square, lining the streets are of course stalls with jewelry, clothes, and naturally – food. Now it happens, especially around dinner time, there’s a lot of people wanting to take something out at the same time. We have a similar (although obviously bigger and better) festival in my home town each summer, and it is always a challenge to get the attention of whoever is running the food stall and actually get your food.

Not in Sweden.

In Sweden, people queue.

There’s a gazillion people on the street, pushing to get through, but when it comes to getting the food, they all queue.

And they don’t just queue. Oh no. They queue parallel. Like such:

(Forgive my drawing skills – they have not yet reached the costume making-level…)

I tried to take a pretty picture of it, but it didn’t work out on camera at all, so you’ll have to do with the drawing. Believe me when I say it looked amazingly funny.

I later mentioned this to some Swedes at work, and they nodded seriously in response: “It is sometimes hard, though, when there are only 3 or 4 people, do you already start a queue, or not? And which direction? But there seems to be a common intelligence, and fortunately, it always works out.”

Most fortunately, indeed. Because what on earth would they do if no queue were formed, right?

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2 responses »

  1. I wish it was like that in the US. Instead we have a bunch of obnoxious, loud mouthed people who feel that they are waiting too long and are special enough to have first dibs on whatever everyone else is waiting for, Then you have those people who don’t care if everyone else has been waiting and will just cut on in which pisses everyone off.

    Second thought, maybe I’ll just move to Sweden!

    • Back in Belgium, they’re not (yet) that loud-mouthed, but there’s no way they’ll let anyone go first if they can help it, either!

      But don’t consider a cross-Atlantic move too soon… the number of written and unwritten rules here can be quite daunting for Americans, I’ve been told ;).

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