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The Ignominy of the Queue-Jumper

Place: Liberty Island, New York
Time: Around noon in the Northern Hemisphere Summer.
Backdrop: The Queue on the Quay for the ferry to Manhattan.
Dramatis Personae: HankShe, his companion. Me, reading a book.  All in the queue.  Rest of the queue.

Statue of Liberty

A female voice directly behind me.  It’s She.
She: (in an extremely nasal, high-pitched voice with rising inflexion towards the end of sentences): “Heyaaank.  He-yank!  Say, He-yank, wasn’t this guy in front of us behind us in the li-hine?  Ah mean, Ah cudda sworn he was behind us in the li-hine, and now he’s in fru-hunt.”
Hank (in a baritone sotto voce, very matter-of-factly): “Uh, yes uh – I guess uh-ha, yeah, he was.”
She: “Ah thought he wa-has.  In fact, I’m damned sure he was behind us in the li-hine.  He’s now pushed in ahead of uh-us.  Ah mean that’s rude.  He can’t have any manners… That’s just not du-hun.”

We stood six abreast.  I glanced laterally to add my sneer to the queue-jumper but couldn’t single anyone out for opprobrium.

Queue at Libety Ferry

She again“That’s really rude He-yank, rude.”

Hank“Well ah, you know, it sortda happens these days I gu-hess.  Dropping social standards and all that”.
She (still nasal, inflexion now fed-up and staccato) : ”D’ya know what Heyank, He can’t be American.  He just can’t be American.  An American wouldn’t do that.”

Looking up from my book again for the foreigner target of these barbs, nobody obvious stood out, and then, with a start, I realised that they were intended for me.  Horrors.  Me, a hated queue-jumper?  A form of life lower than a swindler!  How did this come about?  Easily.  In the funnel effect where the chains directing people to the ferry widened from two to six abreast, by chaotic action and unintended consequence I had indeed landed up ahead of them in the queue.  My habit of reading in queues did me no favours at that critical juncture.  In reading auto-pilot mode, my legs had simply wafted forward, disengaging the navigation required to preserve relative positions in the queue.  Hence the situation…

She (carrying on…): “Dy’a know what He-yank?  He just can’t be American…”

Penetrating observation.  I am not American.  I have never been an American.  I have never wanted to be an American.  I could never survive in such an irony-free zone.  And I hated the implication that solely Americans observed queuing etiquette.

Hank (trying to be reasonable): “Well, you know, in some cultures, it’s seen as a good thing being pushy, sort of seen as macho-affirmative if you know whad I mean –

She: “Well, whadever.  He was behind us in the li-hine.  And it’s rude to jump the li-hine He-yank.  He just can’t be American.  Can’t be American.”

Hank: (in the ultimate voice of reason, almost academic) “Well, as I was saying, in some cultures it’s seen as a good thing to be pushy.  I mean, when I was working in Greece – I was there for two years, people there are pushy you know – there not much queuing – I mean it’s seen as a good thing to push your way ahead.  It’s seen as a culturally superior thing in a Mediterranean context – Greeks and the like – to simply push your way through.  Look, I was completely inferior there.

Me: (instantaneously thinking). Here too you #%!#-head.

Hank: (Continuing)  He probably doesn’t even know he’s doing anything wrong, he probably thinks he’s being smart in a get-ahead sort of way.  He’s also kinda got that swarthy Mediterranean complexion.  So, he could be from Greece or thereabouts.  And yep, he’s swarthy, he’s got that specific Latin/Greek/Turkish type of foreign look about him…  It’s one of those situations where I suppose we’ve gotta be cultural relativists right here.
Me: (thinking…) Thank you Hank.  How drippingly unctuous of you…

She: (pushing in closer behind me so I can hear her r-e-a-l good.)  “Whadever.  D’ya know He-yank, Ah feel like telling him off.  If it wasn’t such a beaudiful day, and if Ah weren’t feeling so good except that Ah’m  starting to feel ba-had, Ah’d tell him off, Ah swear to God honestly Ah wo-hould.  In fact, Ah’ve got a good mind to tell him off right now.  Ah have, Ah really have.  But it’s such a beaudiful day y’and all, but if it wasn’t Ah’d tell him off.  Ah swe-ar.”

Me: (silently fuming and thinking…) Do I reply in my best colonial accent or do I let it drop?  Nah – don’t have the energy to get involved.  But if it weren’t a beautiful day and all, I wouldn’t be restraining myself this hard against giving them both a stiff klap, I sw-ear.  (So instead bury myself further in my book, but it’s difficult, as they speak right into the hairs at the back of my neck…)

Hank: Yeah well let’s leave it at that.

She: “Ah mean he can’t just be American, he just can’t.” 

She was uncharming what residual charm I had for Americans out of me.  Eventually the ferry appeared and we could move forward.

She: “He-yank, the darned ferry’s finally, finally arrived.  I guess your Greek can barge right ahead and walk right in and gain a few seconds on us huh.  For what?  Ah me-hean!”

The gall.  Her nasal accent, her dress sense, her whole unction was wearing thin.  Biting parting shots came to mind, but restraint won the day.

Playing to their suspicions, I barged ahead as was expected of “a Greek”, and sat down in a foul mood, irritated.  But I decided to get them back.  I stalked them, and while they weren’t looking, stole a snap of them.  Every time I review my New York slides, I get a huge thrill darting scowls and pulling faces at them.  It is hugely satisfying.

Notes 1. 

1.  Apart from resenting being elbowed out, people hate queue-jumpers because there is an economic loss incurred when displaced in a queue.  In New York this cost has been quantified.  At the Empire State Building, paying $16 dollars extraallows you to jump the queue, thereby gaining around 45 minutes, absolutely worth it if your time in New York is limited.  (See appended slides “Empire State Queue” and “Empire State Express Card Cost”).  The queue-jumper literally robs those he displaces in the queue of an economic benefit.  It’s like stealing from them. [This is the sort of problem that gets economists going!]

Empire State Queue

2.  In case you’re ever in front of the Statue of Liberty, or any statue on a plinth for that mater, there is an optimal distance from which to view it.  The appended link to an MS PowerPoint slide (“Statue of Liberty Photographing problem”) sets out the problem and gives two mathematical solutions to it.  The optimal distance from which to view the Statue of Liberty comes to just over 65 metres in case you’re wondering.

Statue of Liberty Photographing Problem – June 2005