Tuesday, May 02, 2006
But it wasn't until I moved to Israel that I truly understood just how diabolical some of the more advanced queueing strategies are, the ones no one ever tells you about.
The Zionist Queueing Conspiracies.
But before I get into that, I really should digress a bit in the interest of greater post length. I have to confess that I'm using the word queueing in this post when in fact, as an American English speaker I really mean "waiting in line." But I have good reasons. First, it sounds kind of British to say "queueing" and I've seen how much mileage Madonna gets with her new accent, so I figured what the heck, it couldn't hurt. Also, I come from a computer background, in which you can actually use the word queueing without anyone rolling their eyes. And finally, I love the idea of writing a word that has five consecutive vowels and isn't the name of a Hawaiian volcano or an obscure Mauritanian location (Aoueoua).
Anyway, I'd grown up in Southern California, and was quite comfortable even with Disney-magnitude serpentine lines. But I wasn't prepared for what I've found here. The sheer diversity of Israeli queue management and self-advancement techniques, and the vigor with which they are pursued simply boggles the mind.
Of course, you may know that we Israelis are responsible for the "me acharon" -- or "who's last" -- queueing strategy. Technically, "me acharon" isn't actually a queue, but I don't know the Latin word for "amorphous blob of roiling impatience" so I'll just stick with queue. The "me acharon" was engineered specifically for medical offices to ensure that average Israeli blood pressure -- measured immediately after a half hour fight just to get through the door -- would be 10 to 20 points higher than in the rest of the world.
But I've seen a lot of other lesser-known queueing strategies here too. Consider, for instance, "The Straddle." My grandmother's Divide-And-Conquer might have worked against the old ladies in a Duluth Woolworth's, but against something like The Straddle it doesn't even stand a chance. The Straddle works by assuming a position midway between two lines and maintaining a posture of aggressive ambiguity until one or the other candidate lines emerges the clear winner. When practiced en-masse it is a sight to behold. You can divide against it, but you cannot conquer.
Then there is a strategy called "The World Is My Shopping Cart." While I haven't lived here long enough to practice it yet myself, I've seen that this works by immediately selecting a pack of gum upon entry to the store, and placing it on or near the register, anywhere that the conveyor belt won't pick it up prematurely. Then you are free to shop at your leisure. Every few minutes, as the acquisitions pile up, you just make a quick stop at the front of the line to drop them off next to that seed pack of gum -- ignore any hostile stares and explain you're just dropping something off. Finally, half an hour later, push to the front of the line where your tottering pile of stuff is waiting and you're good to go. And, like "The Straddle," when practiced en-masse, this is an amazing sight -- oh the fist fights!
For the more socially inclined, there is always the ever-popular "Friend of a Friend" technique. Pioneered in amusement parks to restrict the use of popular rides to a rapidly cycling group of friends, it can also be applied in grocery stores by fraternities and other large groups whose members are willing to help each other out. Start by infiltrating one member of your group into the store the moment it opens. Once the first infiltrator is safely ensconced at the front of a line, the remaining members of your fraternity, trade union or global religious conspiracy can shop freely for the rest of the day without need to wait in line. Each member merely "joins" the friend of a friend at the front of the line, and the cycle continues. Sure, there may be a few angry patrons who find they can never pay for their purchases, but they will quickly learn to shop elsewhere and therefore merit little concern.
Then there is a whole sub-genre of queue management reserved for the more reserved: simply asking, demanding, begging, tricking or threatening one's way in front of others. Done properly, it can be an Israeli artform. Here are just a few of the techniques commonly used to explain why one is permitted to hop, skip, or jump to the front of a line:
- You don't mind do you?
- I was shopping here earlier or yesterday and I just forgot something.
- I've only got a few things, or you've only got a few things, either way...
- I went to school with the cashier, or at least she looks like somebody I went to school with, and I'm sure it's ok with her.
- I was ahead of you. Yes I was. I was. Was so.
- I just want a price on this item...and this item...ok I'll take the first one...do you take checks...I forgot my ID...and I need to go back for another milk, just a second...
While I'm sure this treatment of Zionist Queueing Conspiracies has been far from comprehensive, I hope that is has served to stir up your creative juices just a bit for your next trip to the grocery store. Oh, and by the way, when they're calling for the store manager remember to tell them AbbaGav sent you!