Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Queue anxiety - when you play outside the rules

I like the sleek new post offices. Australia Post has been thoughtful in aligning the design of their retail outlets to the focus of their offerings to customers. There's an efficient but friendly vibe, even if the queuing direction is a little unstructured.

Personally, I'm happy without structure, but yesterday when I went to the post office to buy a parcel satchel, I met a fellow customer who craves structure.

It was about 5:15pm, and there were three service spots open at the counter. The staff there were all attending to customers; there were two people waiting when I joined the queue behind them. Soon there were other people behind me. The staff were dealing with people smoothly and soon I was at the front of the queue. Because of the loose organisation of furniture to give structure to the queue, I stayed standing where I was because I was right in front of the staff providing service and would only need to take two steps forward when called.

I could feel the anxiety of the person behind me rise, when I did not move the way she thought I should. She moved in front of me and stood where she thought the head of the queue was. The other people behind me remained where they were. I said nothing, intending to step forward when called. I had no reason to assume she was actually (gasp) pushing in.

A staff member called the next person forward and the anxious woman stepped forward.

"Hello. I'm next," I said to her and the staff member.

"Oh, yes, yes, I know. Yes, but you weren't in the queue," she contradicted herself in a flurry of nervousness.

"Yes I am. You were behind me in the queue," I replied.

"Yes. I know. But you hadn't moved up and I just thought..." she trailed off. I imagine she heard the contradiction of her argument in her own ears and decided it was best to be quiet.

I paid for my satchel and as I left, the woman was being served.

I wonder what was going on for her? I've noticed the same level of anxiety in queues at places like the airport. Everyone is standing too closely and so when the person and their luggage in front moves forward, I tend to stay where I am, only moving forward when it's "worth it". I'm the same when I'm driving. What's the point of moving a millimetre forward? I thought I was going to be rear-ended on the weekend when I made the decision not to go through an orange light when I saw the number of cars queued on the other side of the intersection. I actually locked the doors of my car when I saw the anger of the male driver behind me. He swore. He punched the steering wheel. He thrashed his head. He continued to call me everything under the sun.

I sat and shrugged inwardly (after I'd made sure my doors were locked). When the light turned green I took off at a safe pace with him sitting right on my tail. At his first opportunity he flung his vehicle into another lane and glared at me as he drove past in a blur.

I'm glad I'm not that wound up. How do people live like that?

What have you noticed about queue behaviour? What are your rules of engagement?

1 comment:

  1. When you can't see the front of the queue and you have the opportunity to move the 30cm or so because the person in front has been served, its comforting to know that yes the queue is actually moving, that people are being served and eventually I will be too,

    Wow what a long run on sentence. Probably about as long as the queue at the post office this afternoon, where the queue was threatening to go out the door.