Standing in queues: or how I learned to stop worrying and love wasting my time

Queue (Photo credit: hktang)

If you think moving to Europe means leaving all your worries behind and living out every scene from “Under the Tuscan Sun,” I have news for you: you are sadly mistaken, my friend.

If you’re sitting in your cubicle right now, pretending to be working on that very important project no one really cares about, if you’re secretly searching Google Images for pictures of that dream-like Europe you’ve seen in Fellini’s movies or on your friends’ Facebook page celebrating their honeymoon in Venice, if your long commute home is made bearable only by a self-induced coma in which you can fantasize the boring road ahead is actually a sandy beach in the south of France…well, let me burst your bubble with a big pop: you’re dreaming of a place that doesn’t exist! Don’t feel bad, you will get over it. The movies lie, and so does your Facebook friend with that awesome Italian tan.

If you want to live in Europe, prepare to stand in long queues. Lots of queues. Every day I stand in queues. Sometimes I’m close to the middle, sometimes I’m way in the back. I’m never right up front; there is no front to European queues. There’s just middle and back. The front is an unconfirmed rumor nobody ever gets to see.

Queues used to drive me insane. I used to be very impatient and rash. I’d arrive at the post office (where I pay all of my bills…another thing you didn’t see in the movies, did ya?) and there would already be a line about ten kilometers long, winding around the building, down the street, across town, all the way to the Hungarian border. Serbian people have no ability to visualize a straight line. Ask any Serbian to connect point A to point B on a piece of paper and you will see what I mean. At the post office (or anywhere else, for that matter) we simply cannot stand one behind another in an orderly manner. The guy on crutches stands a bit to the left, the old woman with a hacking cough a bit to the right, the teenager with explosive acne doesn’t know whether he’s in the right queue so he’s standing in two different ones at the same time, and the always present “I just have a quick question” guy manages to move from the back to the almost-front without actually being in line at all.

People used to shout at each other at the post office. It was all very traumatic for the uninitiated. Foreign tourists accidentally wandering into the post office (or looking to mail a postcard, when people still did that) used to run out of there screaming as if their hair was on fire. Mothers used to scare their children by saying, “Next month I’ll send you to pay the water bill!” Many wayward kids were completely reformed by this simple threat.

We’ve learned to be nice in recent years. Sort of. We still don’t know what a straight line is, but we do understand the concept of waiting behind one another without engaging in verbal conflict rivaling the recent Mount Etna eruption for best drama of the year. We now get the idea. You take you place, you keep your mouth shut, and most importantly, you never make eye contact with one of the clerks (they practice the “evil eye” magic which could make your hair fall out in hideous clumps).

Yes, queues used to drive me insane. I used to stand there for hours hating everyone ahead of me for managing to get out of bed and into the queue before I managed to realize I had two legs on which to stand. I hated the stupid ugly palm tree in the corner, which some fool brought from Africa or wherever and then never bothered to water it. I mean, seriously, who thought a giant palm tree in the middle of a small Serbian post office would be a good idea? I hated the old woman with the hacking cough (how is she still alive?). I hated the guy on those old crutches for pretending to be hurt so he could cut in front of me every single time. I hated the acne-faced teenager for not knowing how to properly care for his skin (heavens, seriously!). I hated the “Just one question” guy for always asking the same exact thing. No, damn it, you don’t stand here if you want to send an overseas parcel!

I used to be filled with hatred for queues. I imaged a million ways in which I could have been spending my time. I used to say to myself (or the person behind me, the only human I didn’t hate) “I could be at home right now, watching TV.” I missed a lot of really good crime scene drama by standing in those queues. I used to get so worked up over it, I’d think up a million insults to throw in the clerk’s face when she finally waved me to the front. I never did. I’m not really that brave.

So here’s the cold hard truth about living and paying bills in Europe. You will have to stand in hundreds of queues. You will get to know the postal workers in your town. You will get to know them, but they will never know you. Why? Because they just don’t care. And another thing. If, after standing hopelessly in one queue for two hours, you decide it might be better to move to another one that appears to be moving faster, I guarantee you the meaning of that age-old saying “a good spot in the back of the right queue is worth more than two spots ahead in the wrong one” will become perfectly clear to you.

I have long ago learned to appreciate waiting in queues as precious opportunities to meditate and rest my brain. At some point the human mind simply ceases to care. Besides, where am I hurrying to? The afterlife? I have a sneaking suspicion that place is run by a European bureaucrat too.

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9 Replies to “Standing in queues: or how I learned to stop worrying and love wasting my time”

  1. The first paragraph of your post reminded me of the first scene of the Descendants, when George Clooney said that people usually thinks he has a perfect life because he lives in paradisiac Hawaii, but that it’s not because he’s in Hawaii that he is immune to the problems life can bring.
    Then the rest of the post reminded me of Brazil where we also have gigantic line for everything and if we decide to do stuff online, then we need to have several different passwords, pins and codes to try to minimize hacking and identity theft and even so you’re still at risk… tough life!
    Love your blog! 😉

  2. british people love to queue, so I am used to it here in London. Luckily these days all my bills are paid direct by internet, so no queues at the post office to pay bills. But in Croatia? yes, we queue at the post office, at the electricity office, at the supermarket. It’s part of organized life.

  3. I lived overseas. I know exactly what you mean. Including the whole “paying your bills” at the post office (though in Israel, it was the bank, but the effect was identical) and the line, the endless lines. One line for everything, whether you had to buy one electric bill or convert six different kinds of currency to Japanese Yen. You had to take a whole day off to run an errand. ONE errand. But that was okay because no one really cared about work anyhow.

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