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The Problem with Queue-Jumping in Italy

The Problem with Queue-Jumping in Italy

Guys, I honestly can’t! A week ago I took the very difficult decision to never ever step foot again in my favourite coffee shop in Vicenza due to a seriously mismanaged issue of queue-jumping. And today (in a different shop) I found myself in the rather unpleasant position of having to tell a lady that her place in the queue was not in front of me, after all.

When we first moved to Italy in 2014, I loved that they had ticket machines to manage queues almost everywhere. For even the fresh food stalls at the local twice-a-week market in Vicenza have ticket machines placed right next to them. (For example, have a look at the market van above. You’ll notice a small red ticket machine on the left-hand side of the counter.)

This seemed like such a civilised thing. You take a ticket and then you wait for your number to be called on the electronic display. Fab! (See the electronic display on the right-hand side in the photo above.)

No more standing in a queue, as it had been my habit in England where people are actual pro’s at queueing and proper queue etiquette. Like, for example, the first and most important rule of queueing in England is that you don’t jump the queue. No matter what, you never ever jump the queue, lest you get called the biggest insult in the British English language which is:


I kid you not. You don’t want to be called a queue-jumper in England. With all the passive-aggressive sideways glances everyone around you will give you, you’ll be smarting for months. But then, again, the English are the masters of queueing. They would even quite happily form an orderly queue of one.

So, OK, ticket machines in Italy seemed great. Like an actual improvement on the English queue etiquette. That was until a friend who had lived in Italy for a while before we arrived explained that queues and queueing in Italy used to be such a problem that the ticket machines were introduced to help restore order and peace.

Otherwise, she said, queue-jumping had been endemic and epidemic. And there were even some terrible cases of frightful queue-rage when queue-jumpers would refuse to budge and people would physically fight over whose place in the queue it was.

At the time, I, personally, felt very happy that we had managed to move to Italy just after the

queue-managing ticket machines

had been introduced.

Yet, unfortunately, there are still places here where these clever ticket machines are still not being used. Like cafes and retail shops.

Usually, it is not much of a problem. There are much fewer shoppers in Vicenza than in London, for example. Yet, old habits die hard and some people can’t resist jumping the queue even if said queue consists of just them and me.

Honestly! Do I have a face that says: ‘Queue-jumpers, go ahead and jump the queue in front of me?!’ My husband assures me that this is not the case.

Or, perhaps, I look very meek and unable to stand up for myself? If this is so, don’t take your chance, as I have absolutely no qualms to tell you to go back behind me if you try to jump the queue in front of me. I don’t feel that I am losing face by speaking up.

Or, perhaps, I am sort of invisible and

the poor queue-jumper simply didn’t see me

waiting there to pay for my coffee or something else?! This is also not true, as I am tall and rather imposing. You cannot miss me even if you tried. Especially in a queue.

Yet, I have come to realise over these four years here in Vicenza that if someone is to jump the queue it would be the best-dressed person in it, the one with pearls and real furs around their neck.

I don’t know, perhaps affluence gives you also the wrong impression that you are more important than other people. Or, perhaps, by being expensively dressed you feel like people should fall at your feet and simply let you pass and pay first. Another option is that queue-jumpers are simply brave chance-takers and take any opportunity to advance themselves in life, albeit in a queue of all places.

There is a lot to be said for

manners and respect

or for their lack thereof.

In any case, I realised pretty quickly why customers in shops without a ticket machine queue in an extreme proximity to one another. For even if you leave a small gap between yourself and the behind of the person in front of you, before you know it, there they will be – pearls and permed curls ablaze – the queue-jumpers taking their chance.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to a Christmas event where Father Christmas (or Babbo Natale, as he is known in Italy) made an appearance. Immediately, all parents rushed forward to queue so that their little ones could hand their letters to the Christmas man himself. Having learned something about the rules of queueing (or lack of) in Italy, we rushed forward, too.

Yet, we were not quick enough (after all, we have had only four years to practice as opposed to a lifetime). We found ourselves

squished right at the end of the queue.

Still the lady behind me had me sandwiched tightly against the lady in front of me, even though there was no-one behind the lady behind me. Such was her innate fear that a queue-jumper would appear suddenly and claim any space that she could have potentially left between us.

Then, a week or so ago, I was in my favourite coffee shop in Vicenza. A place I had gladly and happily supported as a client over several years. And where I knew the staff. Yet, when it was time to pay,

someone jumped the queue in front of me.

You see, in Italy, when you are served your coffee at the table you are also given a bill which you then take to the till to pay.

I was in front of the till and it was my turn, when a lady simply walked in front of me, handed her bill to the coffee shop owner behind the till and started to pay.

I was so stunned, I mumbled in my best broken Italian that it was actually my turn. I was ignored. This ruffled me quite a bit. I repeated yet again that it was my turn. At which point, the owner whose coffee shop I had supported devotedly for four years said: ‘Signora, how am I supposed to know whose turn it is?’.

The shock!

I mean, I was right there in front of her till before the other lady walked in front of me. That’s why shops have lanes and even movable barriers to manage queues and ensure safe and orderly customer flow. And if your shop is small, then you keep an eye on the queue as it forms so that you can:

  • help each person as they come along; and
  • help preserve the dignity of your customers.

That was it. You disregard my queueing principles, I stop coming to your shop. I was sad but it had to be done! And, anyway, I have already found a new favourite coffee shop where they remember my order and bring me peanut butter cookies for my coffee so it’s not all bad.

About today.

Today, I was queuing in the local store of a Europe-wide brand. There was one till serving a queue of about ten shoppers and then a second till opened, too. It was my turn but before I could walk to the newly opened till the lady (pearls et al) behind me had already jumped the queue.

No way!

I didn’t bother speaking Italian this time. In a very restrained English, I made my point and explained that it was my turn. The lady declared defeat, walked back to her original spot but then turned to another lady in the queue and loudly explained in Italian what I had said, namely: Excuse me, please, don’t jump the queue.

It is one queue for both tills and it is my turn.

If this was an attempt to make me feel awkward, it didn’t work. It hadn’t been me who jumped the queue, after all. So, I simply said: That’s right. Just don’t pretend you didn’t see me. Which was a bit belligerent perhaps but, after all, people, don’t jump the queue! We all want to simply pay, get our stuff and leave as quick as possible.

Why spoil the experience by trying to outsmart each other?! And what are you losing when you are gaining a forward spot in the queue?!

In any case, don’t let queue-jumpers stop you from visiting and enjoying the beauty of Vicenza and Italy.

As an Italian acquaintance explained to me, queue-jumpers lack educazione so it is accepted to discreetly tut-tut at them. Or, as I found out for myself, you can explain the rules of queuing in polite but firm English. I don’t guarantee results. But it’s good to get it off your chest.


How do you feel when someone jumps the queue in front of you? And what do you do? Let me know in the Comments below!


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Cate Ledda

Thursday 29th of August 2019

Oh I feel your pain. Queue jumping is the one thing I will NEVER get used to in Italy. I'm British but have lived in Cagliari for 6 years. It drives me completely crazy. I too appear to be invisible. The cashiers never 'police' their queue as they would in the UK, all I want is as "actually this lady was in front of you" out of one of them but their attitude is "eh not my problem". I just can't push and shove, it's not in my DNA. I think queuing makes us civilised. The really odd thing about it is that Italy is a conservative society full of social rules and social norms but when queuing (and driving, don't get me started on that) these rules of the bella figura go completely out the window. I thought it was just the Sards but no. I was very politely and in my best formal Italian placing an order at the cafe counter in Pisa airport when an older Italian man (you know the usual immaculately turned out, perfumed, well pressed) man actually physically pushed me out the way and started to ask for what he wanted! As I was mid order the lady did actually stand up for me as her current customer, she also muttered about 'male educazione'. Lots of fantastic things about Italy but this one drives me nuts on a daily basis.


Thursday 5th of September 2019

Dear Cate,

Thank you for stopping and for sharing your experiences and thoughts about the issue of queuing in Italy. I so wish that the rules of bella figura extended to queuing, too. It would make things so much easier and nicer at times. Still, I can't complain too much as the Veneto has introduced ticket machines in all sorts of public offices and even some market stalls have them. :) The main platforms for transgressions now seem to be the retail shops where it would be lovely if the sales assistants could keep an eye on the queue but... this is not how it works. I have to tell you that the last time someone jumped the queue in front of me was at (out of all places) the passport check queue at Luton Airport in England this summer! Several flights had arrived within a short amount of time of each other and the queue was huge. Here comes a young gentleman bypassing the queue and inserting himself in front of us. He was promptly apprehended by the airport's security personnel. I don't know what happened to him. But it came to show that queue-jumping really is the ultimate sin in England. Thank you again for stopping. Enjoy your Italian adventure!

Best wishes,

Rossi :)

Mary Jo

Monday 17th of December 2018

I laughed when I read your blog about queue-jumpers. I first encountered them when I lived in Germany (which is so orderly otherwise) and learned assertiveness for when I moved to Italy. I've experienced everything you described, plus a fellow in Germany who nearly knocked me over at a fest while I stood in a mass of people who wanted beer. I learned to be pushy and wave my hand around to make sure everyone knew I was next, which didn't always work, of course. I've walked out of businesses exactly the way you did, especially coffee bars. I applaud you for standing up for yourself when a new till opened. The grocery stores in Italy can certainly make one seethe when a new till opens and the last person in line jumps over. That happened to me too often! I agree that the English are professionals at queuing. Loved the line that said they'd happily create a queue of one! It's so much more relaxing with queuing rules that everyone follows.