March 3rd, 2004


I messed with some people’s heads last night at Best Buy. There were only two registers open, and they were facing each other, so it was kind of one big open area in-between them. I stood in the middle of the two, waiting to see which one would open up first. They do this in England all the time – it’s called “queuing up.” Basically everyone gets in one line, which then feeds to the next available slot. This is opposed to the 4 or 5 short lines, and none of them are ever “the quickest.”

Queuing up is the most logical, most efficient way to handle the checkout procedure. Which means, of course, that we Americans don’t use it. I’ve only seen it a few times in America, at fast food places and in a lot of stores (Best Buy included) on the day after Thanksgiving. See? Even there people realize it’s the most efficient. So why aren’t we doing it all the time?!?

I have a theory. I think it’s because Americans like to claim things: land, parking spaces, dibs. Choosing a line is an American’s way of saying, “This is mine! I chose it! I will rise or fall based on my choice!”

There are other factors, of course. If there’s a cute girl at one particular checkout, you might see a slightly longer line of geeky guys at that checkout.

So I’m standing there in my own private queue, staunchly set against all manner of unwritten American guidelines, when a couple comes up behind me to get in line. I hear furtive muttering. I am very obviously not in either line, but I am also very obviously intending to purchase something. I wait. Finally, the man in the couple asks. “Which line are you in?” I smile and say, “I’m queuing up!” and go on to explain why. The man smiles and nods and says, “I’ll go along with that. I’ve got nothing better to do.” The woman looks as if we’re both crazy. She wants a line. “Nothing doing,” I think.

Finally, one of the lines opens up, and I take my place. I turn and thank my fellow queuers and ask them to help start the revolution.

See, the problem is the interim. Once it was standard, we’d all be happier. But for now, if that couple hadn’t acquiesced, they could have cut in one of the lines and ruined the whole thing. It’s the same reason America couldn’t make the switch to the metric system. How do you raise a generation to use metric when the previous generation is using standard? Can’t be done. Again, metric is more logical and could be considered the better choice. You won’t catch me using it, though.

And that’s exactly the problem.

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