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The queueing situation in the UAE

  |  August 30, 2013

There are a lot of things you forget about a place when you’ve been away long enough.

One particular grievance I had forgotten about was the inconsistent queueing culture in this country. To be fair it has gotten better and better since I was born. The vast majority of people, from all ages, creeds and cultures, do queue.

But in the UK, where I went to university, queueing is so universally ingrained in common etiquette it’s impossible not to notice the difference.

Over there, you almost never see someone get away with cutting in line – whether it be Bob Geldof or Bob the Builder. The crowd utter noises of discontent until the perpetrator, as instructed, goes to the back of the line.

And when drivers flash their blinders at you, it’s usually a gesture of “no, I insist - after you”.

Over here it’s a little different.

I spoke to psychologist and consultant Dr Lavina Ahuja this week about the psychology of driving; how behavioural patterns are reflected in the way people drive. We also touched upon queueing and what inspires some people to cut in line.

Dr Ahuja said a lot of people’s social interactions relate to their estimation of their own social standings, or those of others. Alternatively, she said, some were concerned with the consequences of their actions. If the potential cost of doing something was affordable, or low, people were more likely to do it.

She related this to speeding fines. We often underestimate our own mortality, and some people only take speeding fines into consideration. If they can afford to pay them, they’ll speed.

Dr Ahuja also studied in the UK; and she, too, noticed the difference in queueing cultures. A lot of people here, we agreed, will push in if they can get away with it and think “well, it’s not my fault they didn’t think of it first”.

But I'm a little less forgiving than the empathetic Dr Ahuja when it comes to manners.

Some stories, such as a recent trip to Fujairah, required me to drive across the country. This obviously, in turn, required me to stop for petrol.

Queueing for petrol in the UAE sometimes becomes a heated battleground. Pawan Singh / The National

While there, I went into the shop to buy a bottle of water. Some guy left an ocean of drinks and sweets strewn across the entire counter and the attendant refused to serve me until this man returned. I had the correct change and didn’t need a receipt. Too bad.

The man returned. Devouring a donut. All make way for Mr Donut.

This may be a bad example. Mr Donut was indeed there first. But he actually wasn’t there. He, in fact, reserved the right to pay first and make everyone wait by throwing his stuff all over the counter and walking off. No apologies, no "after you" and certainly no "excuse the mess". And the staff validated this by refusing to serve anyone else.

I’m sometimes told queueing isn’t important in many cultures, that those who cut in line and make people wait aren’t trying to offend anyone.

But I bet they wouldn’t like it if it happened to them. If they were in a rush and some person inconvenienced them in the same way, they’d be just as frustrated.

I know people from all cultures, and every single culture I’ve ever encountered places a significant emphasis on being empathetic, respectful and kind. Keeping people waiting because you’ve pushed in and can’t get your act together is rude, not cultural, not relativist. Rude.

That isn’t a lack of empathy, it’s hypocrisy: A sub-culture of self-entitlism within a culture of queueing.

A week before the Mr Donut incident, I went to another petrol station shop. This time, people actually tried pushing in front of me while I had already paid and was waiting for my change. The attendant panicked and asked me to hold on while he served other customers. I informed him that was not how it worked and children threw sweet packets at me, unreprimanded.

And don’t get me started on taxi “queues”.

A little courtesy never hurts. Queueing is a pretty good system, first-come, first-served. It’s diplomatic, civil and fair. The queue is the ultimate equiliser of social status.

I believe the lack of queueing over here goes hand in hand with inconsiderate driving, another one of my pet peeves as you will soon learn.

And that’s where the problem really comes in. Everyone’s always in a hurry, not to be punctual, but to be there first, to overtake everybody and assert their dominance.

They’re in such a rush that they’re willing to risk their lives, and much more importantly, mine.

Some people do just like driving fast, I get that. But I don’t usually see them running down the streets, paying, or guzzling down their donuts that with the same urgency.

Pushing in queues, illegal overtaking and erratic use of blinders usually seem to stem from innocent ignorance, enigmatic lack of empathy, insecure aggression or worst of all, flagrant self-entitlement.

Take your pick, sort yourself out and get to the back of the line!

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