22 June 2009

Right On Queue

By this point in my life, I have spent approximately three-eighths of it (or roughly twenty-one years) waiting in line. (The other five-eighths or so has consisted largely of other sedentary activities such as watching TV, writing, browsing the Web, eating, and the occasional mid-afternoon nap.) I feel pretty confident that I understand the basic techniques and courtesies involved in being an on-queue member. I've had a lot of practice and some stern but effective teachers (as evidenced by the fact that I always move to the right side of the hallway, use the right-side door, and occasionally hold my hand up to my mouth to be quiet as we walk through the napping Kindergarten part of the school).

Evidently I am one of a few members of society who has passed the "Waiting in Line" course (though my certificate must have been lost in the mail). Not only that, but it is apparent that, unbeknownst to myself until recently, I have been thrust into a major part of the uncertified society as an unwilling ambassador to hold high the torch of line-waiting excellence. This I do nonverbally and quietly, of course; this blog serves as my verbal reminder, I suppose, to those who do not see through the subtlety.

The most common type of line I find myself in is a cashier's line. Whether it is in Wal-Mart, a grocery store, or a gas station, the rules of line etiquette still exist but are so often ignored or even trampled underfoot like an altruistic ant trying to carry its downtrodden comrade to safety during a parade. I think these rules can regain a foothold in society, and I am here to help. Here is a short list of habits I urge you to practice to become or maintain your place as a courteous member of the community of line-standers:

  • Keep an empty space between you and the person in front of you. It may help to judge how much space you need to leave by looking at the floor and visualizing your shoe-length plus a half between your toes and the heels of the person ahead of you. If you cannot look down and see your shoes, then visualize the same distance, only from the farthest point of your body in front of you (e.g. stomach, nose, beard). This should be adequate space to make you and the people around you comfortable.

  • Far too many times do people wait gawkily like a moose in a whirlwind until the very second the cashier reminds them (typically with a polite sneer or eye roll) that payment is required. Then, the frantic search begins. Have your method of payment planned ahead of time. If you plan to pay with credit card, have it in your hand ready to swipe or give to the cashier. You tend to have plenty of time while the cashier is scanning and bagging your items to reach into that preplanned part of your pocket, wallet, or purse and retrieve your currency.

  • Make sure you have everything you plan to buy before you get in line. I cannot count how many times I have seen someone lay their planned purchases on the counter, only to realize they forgot to get the hygiene product they originally came in for, along with a presumptive, "Would it be okay if I leave these here; I'll just be a second?" I am sorry: your place in line has become void upon the removal of yourself from that line.

  • By no means should you ever reach behind you to get your wallet and, instead, reach into the back pocket of the person behind you. I know this seems like common sense to most of you out there; but believe me, there are some for whom common sense is no more familiar than the postulates of non-Euclidean geometry.

  • If you are buying lottery tickets, cigarettes, or any other of the unsavory items that must hide behind the counter, do not (a) scratch off your numbers while you are still in line, making the people behind you increasingly willing to sacrifice a little composure--and if necessary, the heel of a shoe--to end your turn in line; (b) complain that they never have your favorite brand of cancer-causing, smoke-inhalation agent; (c) require the cashier to leave from behind the counter to go find you something he or she already told you they do not have in stock. If you simply must do any of these things, it is your penalty and duty to pay everyone in line behind you either half of your winnings (ha! 'cause you will ever win the Super Lotto Mondo Espresso Jackpot) or to add each person in line to your will as you will not be needing your money for very long.

  • With the inclusion of technological advances such as cell phones with text messaging and web browsing capabilities, a new element of line courtesy has been added. If you are texting in line, be sure to look up from time to time to keep up with the line or, more importantly, to not run into the person in front of you.

  • Finally, keep your cell phone conversation to a minimum while in line, particularly if you happen to be one of the following people in line: (a) the person at the head of the line at the register; (b) the concurrent caretaker of a rambunctious, inattentive toddler who is throwing things off the shelves and/or kicking other patrons in line; (c) incapable of speaking below the volume of an exploding steam engine; or (d) the cashier.

It is my earnest hope that citizens read and apply simple rules like those above, along with some common sense, to their daily routine of standing in line. We as a contemporary and interacting public society who come together frequently to participate in this long-standing, standing-for-long-periods-of-time activity should make it as comfortable and easy as possible. Take time to educate the unlearned and steps to penalize the unwilling.

I must now close as the line ahead of me is finally moving. If I can get this toddler off my foot and my wallet out of her dad's hand, I might get to buy my soda by the time he finishes cashing in his lotto ticket.

No comments: