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Queuing up: Book examines the history and cultural differences of standing in line

The orderly queue seems to have been an established social form in the early 19th Century and tells more about the culture and behaviour of societies than you may think

Despite what you might think, standing in line is not just an every day experience. It’s a seemingly minor event that can tell you a lot about human society. That’s why David Andrews went in search of answers and found out that not only science but cultural norms are also associated with the reasons that led to queues. The history of queues go back to primitive man.

The orderly queue seems to have been an established social form in the early 19th Century. Queuing up was always associated with more urbanised, industrial societies that brought people together.

He collected his observations and those of others in a new book, “Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster?” It is scheduled to be out this month and comes from Workman Publishing.

Andrews was in the Navy and he spent most of his time queuing up for chow, checkups or various other things. In the early 1990s in post-Communist Romania when he was a child, he remembers his parents standing in lines for life’s basics.

“There were long lines for everything. Milk, eggs, gasoline,” he said in a recent interview. “You always carried around a bag just in case there was something for sale.”

Andrews, 33, stated that the United States is not a country of line standers. He stated that Agrarian-based societies do not have much use of lines. Chaos was prevalent a lot in the earlier times and eventually, Americans were trained to respect the queue.

Lines, Andrews finishes up, in some set ups, are “vital to the machinery of present day life,” yet some rail against them as proof of the “machine-made man,” ever-faithful and lacking fresh imagination.

The present day idea likely advanced from progressive France to English shores around 1837, Andrews composes. He attributes the spread to Thomas Carlyle, a Victorian student of history, comedian and social analyst who wrote history of the French Revolution.

There were also political overtones of the queue.

“The slogan of the French Revolution was ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,’ Andrews writes, so to “patiently wait one’s turn was to hold everyone as equals.” Or as Carlyle put it: “Patriotism stands in queue.”

In America, “we believe that all are created equal. So, too, do we stand in line,” Andrews adds.

There were lines formed during shortages and rationing to give equal opportunity to people and it was then taken as a cultural norm. Willingness and patience are also associated with queuing up.

Queues were often related to tense and politically charged affairs that had to be addressed by the police in case of riots.