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?’.
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.
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.
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!
More Helpful Links
- 35 Existential Differences Between the English and the Italians
- 18 Differences Between My English and My Italian Homes
- 10 Differences Between Shopping in an Italian and a British Supermarkets
- 101 Tips for Italy to Know Before You Travel to Italy
- Cultural and Uncultured Shocks of Our First Month in Italy
- Ten Things Which Remind Me That I Am in Italy – first and second parts
- Three Things Which Shocked Me in Italy
- Three More Things Which Shocked Me in Italy
- Riposo in Italy – 6 Ways to Make the Extended Lunch Break Work for You
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