We were in a queue, me and my daughter. It was cold and it was getting dark. We had missed out on the express passes, which would have entitled us to jump the line. So, there I was, with an estimated waiting time of 200 minutes and a daughter who said she couldn’t leave without taking the ride. She has been a Harry Potter fan since childhood and although she is now past 30, she is still my child.
We were feeling colder and more tired with each passing minute. My phone battery had died and the option of remaining secluded in my bubble died with it. I could no longer avail of the boon of technology, which would have helped me stay connected to places where I was not, so that I could escape being 'present' in the place I was. With no alternative and thinning patience, I looked around to see if others felt likewise. Surprisingly, everyone else seemed quite content waiting. There were children reined in by their parents, people carrying small kids, shopping bags and backpacks. Some were tired enough to occasionally sit on the ground but no one was complaining or grudging the delay. No one tried to jump the queue. People let the few, who did, amicably pass understanding that there must be a valid reason for the hurry.
Instead of getting impatient, people accepted the situation and were making the most of the time they had. Most were busy on their phones, messaging, talking or watching videos. But a few had broken free from electronic media. There were families playing word games, a father-daughter duo practising the salsa, a couple indulging in some very public display of affection. A child behind me complained that it was taking too long and her father explained that it seemed that everyone liked the ride as much as she did.
There were metal bars to demarcate rows but at regular intervals these were replaced by chains for easy evacuation in case of emergency. These chains were attached by magnets and fell if someone leaned against them. People would hang them back without trying to cross over to the other side. There was no one to monitor our behaviour, to restrain people from pushing, jostling and jumping the queue. In fact, we came across only two employees in the entire time and their purpose was to give directions to the lockers. It was intriguing, the honesty, the fair play, the patience!
I started noticing that Americans are attuned to waiting. It’s seen everywhere, even on the roads where motorists let pedestrians pass. They patiently wait for their turn to pay bills, use toilet, board bus. There is an unwritten understanding that no one will cut into the gap ahead of them, so people keep a comfortable distance. Personal space is paramount and respected. I could not help comparing it to my own country where I have been pushed and rammed into, not always accidentally. If there is ever a line it disintegrates the moment the gates open, the train arrives, the buffet is laid.
Americans seem to be in no hurry and still manage to be punctual. We Indians rush around, yet are usually late. Maybe the system has shaped us thus. We have learnt to get the job done hurriedly, by hook or by crook. Jumping the queue is in our blood. We can’t line up or wait. I apologise that was an overstatement. We are capable but we reserve such decent social behaviour for our foreign jaunts. We can’t wait in a line in our native land but don’t mind doing so on foreign soil. Which brings up the question, isn’t it strange that we can’t follow the rules we made for ourselves but have no problem in following someone else’s rules?
(The writer is a gynaecologist based at Gharaunda)