Swiss Customs: What’s up with lining up?

People have asked, “hey, Switzerland seems great, I see your posts and it’s just all good stuff.” Well not always, I did mention the prevalence of smoking. But I feel compelled to speak about an oddity of Switzerland (inasmuch as we have spent time in a few towns and Zurich, so of course we’re experts).

The Swiss are friendly. They let people into gaps in traffic. They greet you in stores and usually when out walking. Friendly. Also neat. Organized. All the stuff you read about, yadda yadda yadda, it really is nice here. But here’s the thing…. they cannot stand to line up. Imagine a line for a cash register. You get in line. You figure everyone waits his or her turn, it’s all fair. Now I know there are parts of the world where a queue just never happens. But given the organization, the politeness… but no, the Swiss cannot stand to just line up. You need to cut in line.

I was at Ikea the other day. I was in line. Clearly in line with a large shopping cart. I stepped out of line to look at batteries, but note that the shopping cart stayed in line. Some old guy and his wife, nicely dressed, I am sure they are pillars of their community, stepped into my place. Now normally I would excuse this; maybe he is old and didn’t see. But here is the thing, I know he was Swiss! So I jammed the cart between him and stood my ground. This wasn’t the first time, no… not at all. Any time you are in line, Swiss folk will just walk around you. At least Italians have the grace to smile at you when they overwhelm you in line, sort of a “ha ha, I am so clever and you are clearly so not clever and let’s face it I’m Italian so I am more handsome/beautiful anyway so life is just more fair for me anyway,” sort of a look.

We had another old guy, his son and his daughter (or maybe the son’s girlfriend, tough to tell really) skate on by an entire line at the gondola Sunday. Oh he gloated blowing by tourists, a Chinese tour group, and us. Nothing I could do, I never saw him moving by. But as Bill Bryson would do, I burned him to the ground with Thunderbolt Vision. May his skiing be on ice all season.

Forthwith my tips for dealing with queues in Switzerland:

  1. Be aware, be ready.
  2. Be wide. No one actually shoves (so far!) so being wide is good. We find that skis, ski poles, and small children are effective barriers.
  3. Carry a backpack and swing it a bit. Look a little crazy and mumble too.
  4. You are a tool user, use them. If you have a shopping cart, it is effectively a movable wall. Skis swing both ways, so to speak. Nothing says “get the f*** behind me” more effectively than a sack of wine bottles in the shins.
  5. Did I mention being wide? Do this, hold hands a lot. It’s romantic in some cases, it shows love for your children, it shows friendship. And it completely blocks the aisles:-)

So there you go, that is the deep, dark secret of Swiss living. Bad queues.