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OM in the News: Canada’s Psychology of Queuing

August 1, 2014
Queuing in Canada

Queuing in Canada


When Israeli-born author Ayelet Tsabari first immigrated to Canada in 1998, a strange sight caught her eye on the sidewalks of Vancouver. Beneath every Canadian bus stop sign, as if commanded by an invisible drill sergeant, citizens young and old automatically formed into neat, ordered lines. “I was wondering, ‘Why are people standing like that?’” she said. And the phenomenon is not only baffling to Israelis, writes Canada’s National Post (July 25, 2014). Ms. Tsabari described bonding with an Iraqi friend over the “foreign and strange” practice.

But from Russia to China to Italy to the entire Middle East, there are billions of people around the world who are genuinely confused by the penchant of English-speaking people to constantly form into queues. At the Canadian School of Protocol and Etiquette, lineup training comes on the same day students are taught about North American-style introductions. Students are taught where to line up, how to maintain one’s proper place in the lineup and — most importantly — how close to stand. “In certain cultures, queue etiquette is just not on the radar,” said the school director. Particularly among students from China and the Middle East, Canadian queuing norms simply would not jibe with the crowded train stations and marketplaces of their home countries.

Non-queuing in China

Non-queuing in China

In China, queue-jumping is so widespread that in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese Communist Party began posting queue monitors to city streets and establishing “Queuing Days” each month in which citizens were asked to “voluntarily wait in line” at shops and transit stations. Similar anti-queuing norms hold in India, where the simple act of boarding a train can become the scene of a miniature stampede. “We live in a hugely-populated, resource-constrained country … in this environment, he who hesitates is lost for sure,” wrote a New Delhi writer in a 2012 piece for the Wall Street Journal.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What is the US culture with regard to queues?

2. Why is the psychology of queuing so different across the globe?

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