Jan 12, 2008

Clumping

In my previous post, I mentioned the antithesis to British queueing: The Norwegian clumping.

Norwegians never form a line unless forced to, like at the ATM because they finally got the message about security, or at the grocery store because of the shopping carts. In every other aspect of life, a pedestrian Norwegian will clump. Amazingly, one nevertheless gets served in order. Here's how it works:

Let's say we are in a shop that has a 6 foot counter with a cash register at one end; we'll say the right end. The shop is busy. There is a customer at the cash register (let's call her A), three customers to that person's left, one person behind the customer at the register, and another customer to the left of that person. Sort of like this:

--------CR-
x  x  x  A
      x  x

Who's next in line to be served? And where should we, the newly arrived, stand to be the last in line?

Let's tackle the first question first:

Very likely, the order of customers is this:

--------CR-
3  2  1  A
      5  4

The rule is this: Get as close to the shop clerk as possible. It's not, as you may think, to get as close to the next person in line as possible. However, do not change the order! What happens after the first customer has been served, and leaves (sometimes having to force her way through the clump), is this:

--------CR-
5  3  2  1
         4

Did you notice who moved up next to the counter? The idea is not to move up ahead in line, but to move the whole clump closer to the cash register. Now, in this scenario, we are number 6 in this, er, line. Where do we stand? Well, let's assume we make our move as A leaves, leaving room for one more. We position ourselves thusly as number 6:

--------CR-
6 3  2  1
      5  4

We do not line up. We clump. One reason for that is that we don't know who arrived first of 4 and 5. It could be the other way around than what I've outlined here, you see. It's hard to tell with Norwegians. So, how do people get waited on in turn (remember that second question)?

Easy: Pay attention to who was there first. You are not responsible for any later arrivals; you are only responsible for keeping track of who was in the clump already when you joined it. Basically, this is a casual committing to memory the various backs you see ahead of you. Should the shop clerk lose track of who is next to be served (it has been known to happen), she'll pan her audience with her eyes and ask someone's left shoulder "Who's next?" And here's where all that paying attention comes in: Everyone knows who's ahead of them and respects that. It can get a little tricky if you and someone else clump at about the same split second, but usually someone will just nod the other ahead or a third member of the clump who has been keeping track of arrivals will sort things out.

Norwegians have this clumping queueing down to a fine art, and it works wonderfully in Norway. Anywhere else, and you get scenarios like this one I experienced on vacation:

I was travelling with over 40 other Norwegians on a bus tour of Italy. At one point, we stopped at a "rest stop", with a gas station and convenience store, last chance to use our lira (that's how long ago I've been in Italy) before crossing the border into Switzerland. So the busload invaded this little store with one girl on duty, and queued up four abreast because that's how wide the counter with the one cash register was. The girl was thoroughly confused and had no clue who to serve first. The Norwegians complained about her bad service afterwards, "but what can you expect from Italians"?

Those of us who were well-traveled, and therefore no longer had the habit of using "civilized country" in the same sentence as "Norway", thought the girl handled the Viking hoard quite nicely, once those first four people told her who to wait on first. By the time she was serving her third line of four, that Italian girl was handling the clump like a - Norwegian.

4 comments:

Sravana said...

Very funny, Keera. I can't imagine what frustration you must go through when you want to queue, and have to clump!

Keera Ann Fox said...

Drove me crazy when they'd clump at the teller window, fer crissakes. Changes in society and banking have put an end to that, fortunately. For the rest of it, I've gotten pretty good at memorizing backs. ;-)

Miz UV said...

Great post! Here people don't clump cuz they're too afraid someone might think they're cutting in and shoot them.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Thanks! And sheesh. What happened to the America I used to live in?