Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stand in Line, Get Your Game On

On Monday, I went to the downtown branch of the Indianapolis Public Library and checked out a stack of books about China. I was on the history-travel-biography floor (by far my favorite of the 6 floors, if only the cafe was on that floor instead of the first floor) and I didn't make it any farther than the Chinese history and travel sections before I had as many books as I could carry. I figure I need to get in as much "fun" reading as I can before I start school next month, after which I'm sure my reading time will be fully consumed by dense, inscrutable scholarly discourses which I will be expected not only to read but also to give intelligent opinions and criticisms about. Anyways, here's an amusing excerpt from one of the books I picked up about standing in lines in China. I've tried to explain Chinese lines (or the lack thereof) before, but this author gives a humorous and accurate description of the sport of Chinese Line Standing.

"Lining up in China, I soon discovered, was played as a contact sport. Men and women, young and old, cigarettes dangling from their lips, used their elbows and shoulders to muscle their way to the cabs. With knobby elbows in my ribs, strange hands on my arms, and my back feeling the amassing weight of the hundreds who had not yet slinked ahead of me, I began to ponder the idea of personal space, and after being shimmied aside by a grandmother who could not have been more than three and a half feet tall, concluded that no, such a concept is evidently alien to the Chinese. And so I, too, began to dig in against the line hoppers, flinging my shoulders to contest the passage of three businessmen behind me. A shoulder here, a foot there, soon I was moving like a heaving linebacker. Some fifty people had managed to bypass me in the scrum, but now that I knew that lining up and getting bruised were intertwined, I was determined not to let this troika of businessmen pass me by. If I hadn't begun to regard the queue as a forum for physical sport, it is quite likely that I would still be there today, for lining up in China is not for the meek. " --Lost on Planet China, by J. Maarten Troost

It might be hard to comprehend if you've never experienced it, but this really is exactly what you have to do. Katie and I would work as a team--one of us would "box out" while the other pushed up to the front (I remember doing that especially at train stations) all the while shouting warnings to each other: "Watch out for Grandma over there! Hey, they're trying to send their kid up to the front since he's smaller! Don't let that guy behind you stick his money on the counter and order first!"

The other day I was eating at Chick-fil-a with dad and mom and was amazed to see dozens of people waiting to be served but no one pushing. A line like "Oh, were you here first? You go ahead." would never be heard in China. Before the Olympics, there were "Practice standing in line" days on the 11th of every month. I've come to learn that I can accept and forgive a lot in the name of culture, but standing in lines (and not hacking and spitting) is something that I think should be a common courtesy no matter where you're from.

1 comment:

Teresa said...

When we arrived back in the good ole USA from China, a Chinese man shoved ahead of the line to get his baggage. A security guard stepped up and escorted him back to the now longer line and told him gruffly to wait his turn. The poor man looked confused. Drew and I, I am ashamed to admit, laughed at his confusion and felt vindicated.