Switching Queues Is A Waste Of Time: Stay Where You Are And Get Served Faster:

Which is the better place to live: London or Geneva? This is a question that some companies, financial institutions and individuals currently based in the UK are beginning to ask themselves as the Brexit deadline of March 29th 2019 approaches.There are of course a wide range of other options available– Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris among them. The Swiss city, however, has a particularly alluring global image, due to (so its main English-language newspaper, “The Local” has pointed out), its strategic location in the middle of western Europe, its proximity to France and the nearby Jura mountains, its “high standard of living, great museums, restaurants and art galleries” and the cosmopolitan atmosphere engendered by the presence of so many international organisations.“

“The Local”, however, also acknowledges that Geneva has acquired a reputation for being noisy, very expensive and even “a bit boring”. Furthermore, Geneva’s transport minister, Luc Barthassat, has recently lamented what he considers to be the lack of “British-like” civilised behaviour on the city’s public transport system. As the Sunday Times reported on April 8th, Barthassat has implemented a “GE-Respecte” initiative, whereby actors dressed as “typical British characters such as the Queen, a Coldstream Guard and a City gent, complete with top hat” have been positioned at bus and tram stops to encourage Genevans to queue, not push each other. By contrast, according to a former visitor to the UK quoted by the Sunday Times, “In London, they let people get off the train first, instead of pushing their way on without looking, they don’t shout and they compete to give up seats to the elderly”.

An extreme example of this “polite British stereotype” was highlighted by The Sun journalist, Olivia Loveridge-Greene, on March 10th. Commuters on their way to work or school were filmed clutching their umbrellas in the rain and queuing up to cross a giant puddle which had formed in Tooting High Street, South London, as a result of a burst water pipe. Research conducted by Professor Adrian Furnham of University College London and cited by both the Daily Express and Daily Mail, nevertheless indicates that “although the British have always been renowned for their love of queuing, this may no longer be the case”. These days, it seems, they will only queue for five minutes and 54 seconds before giving up in exasperation; they are “unlikely to join a queue with more than six people and like to have a six-inch radius of personal space”. Taboos apparently include engaging in conversation with others around them while waiting and accepting an offer by someone to go ahead of them in the queue.

The survey, notes The Sun, claims that the British spend 52 days of their lives waiting in queues, seven out of ten get especially annoyed when someone pushes in and one in six get anxious if the queue is not in a straight line. Esquire Magazine has published a “Definitive Guide” to the UK’s nine worst queues. At No. 1 is the Airport Security Queue. The Guardian columnist, Patrick Collinson, agrees with this assessment: On 14th April, he queried why 87% of men, when they reach the security control “still ask if they have to remove their belt, while 47% are somehow unaware that iPads can’t be left in their bags”. At No 2, the Bar Queue: You’re relying on the ability of the overworked and underpaid employees to know precisely the chronological order in which customers arrived at the counter. No.3: The Post Office Queue: The person in front of you “ has a dozen parcels to send and the staff have pulled down the shutter on the only lane that seems to be moving”; No 4: The Telephone Queue: “You have to wait for so long on the automated system that you eventually forget why you phoned in the first place. That’s before they need to transfer you the correct department”. The other “most heinous” queues on the Esquire list are those in doctor’s waiting rooms, on the motorway (especially infuriating: drivers who keep changing lanes and cut in front of other motorists), at bus stops, outside nightclubs where access is controlled by “bouncers” and waiting to get into Wimbledon Tennis Stadium during the Championship fortnight in July.

Meanwhile: The Harvard Business School, under the direction of Ryan Buell, an expert in service management, has investigated the phenomenon of “Last Place Aversion in Queues”. The stress of waiting is “intensified not only by how long the line is in front of us, but also how short it is behind us – in particular, whether we’re in the last place, which raises the question as to whether staying in that queue worthwhile”. This reaction “doubles the probability of someone switching queues or even abandoning the queues altogether”.

In its analysis of the study, The Guardian noted that “About one in five people grew impatient at the back and switched to the other line. But on average, those who switched waited 10% longer than if they’d stayed put. Those who switched twice ended up waiting 67% longer”. In Buell’s opinion, this doesn’t make any sense: “The number of people behind you (he told The Guardian) has nothing to do with how long you are going to wait, but it shapes our behaviour”. If we see a line moving faster, we might switch without having enough extra information and we can often get it wrong”. He advises us all to remember that the person in front of us was last until we arrived and so we are only in that situation ourselves until someone else joins the queue.

Filed under: Society | Posted on April 17th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon

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