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How to survive a British queue

Article by Richard Jinman. Photograph by Alexandre Duret-lutz

Considering pushing to the front of the bus queue? Read this guide to queue etiquette first

The Great British queue... By Lars Plougmann.

Have you angered a Brit yet by not respecting our rules about queuing?  If not you will as us Brits are very particular about our queuing etiquette.  

Brits love forming an orderly queue for the bus, for the cash dispenser, for the theatre, for the art gallery and … well, just about anything really. It has been said that the British will join a queue then ask what it’s for.

Our patience has no boundaries and whilst you’re standing in a queue you’ll hear the odd expression of frustration, a bit of angry tongue clicking, but by and large queuing in an orderly fashion is as British as tea and scones.

To help you navigate this minefield we’ve listed the dos and don’ts for both your entertainment but also for serious consideration.

1. Don’t push in. There is nothing ruder than someone who “jumps” a queue. You might as well slap the faces of everyone else in the line.

2. Do go to the toilet before you join a long queue. Everyone hates it when someone has to leave the queue temporarily and asks the person next to them to save their place. The British consider this an imposition, or a “cheek”. Bladder control is almost as important as stiff upper lip.

3. Don’t join a queue on your own then invite six of your closest friends to join you in the line when you get near the front. If you do this you will hear rumbles of indignation from those behind you. In extreme cases someone might even complain (but that’s unlikely).

4. Do talk to the person next to you. The British can be rather reserved, but queues are one place where you can talk to a complete stranger. If the queue is very long you can say something like: “this is ridiculous” and click your tongue in disgust. Many Brits meet the person they end up marrying in a queue*.

5. Do make it quick when you get to the front of the queue. Sure, you’ve waited for 45 minutes and want to enjoy your brief moment with the cashier/bus driver/ticket collector. But if you can be heard engaging in small talk with them the 100 people behind you will begin to bristle with indignation.

6. Don’t forget to respect personal space. As Sting once said: “Don’t stand so close to me!” Queuing requires you to get up close and personal with other people, but don’t kick the backs of their shoes or drive your suitcase into their legs. 

OK, now go and form a queue…





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