Noun: A line or sequence of people or vehicles awaiting their turn to be attended to or to proceed.
Large crowds irritate me, so I didn’t go to see the Valletta 2018 European City of Culture launch on Saturday. Because I stayed home, I did not have first hand experience of the crowds climbing over each other to get the first available bus back home. I just heard about it. Many pointed an accusing finger at the bus service (they’re not exactly virginal when it comes to organisation), but many talked of unruly crowds who were totally incapable of keeping a line. And I believe the latter.
Once a week I go to my favourite Qormi bakery to buy bread. It’s a popular bakery and there’s usually a crowd there waiting to be served. That’s right. A crowd. Not a queue. Definitely not, as the Oxford English Dictionary would have it, “a line or sequence of people… awaiting their turn to be attended…”.
I, stupidly, stay in my place behind the person who came in ahead of me. But the people who come in after me spread out, and when the shop assistants say the magic word “next”, three or four voices pipe up. From directly behind me, behind me to my left, behind me to my right, even two or three thick behind me, not to mention the little voice from below me (we teach them when they’re young).
And the shop attendants do not really care, or have not been told or instructed to care, and they serve the one with the loudest voice, the owner of which then pushes through to the front of the line.
Idiotically I stay in place. I look angry and irritated, yes, and often try to figure out how to (literally) put the offenders in their place as I (ineffectually) scowl at them, but they’re usually served and gone before I can put my anger and irritation into words. And if I wait a split second too long, the next one behind me will be served before I can elbow my way into the scrum.
Why are we like this? No, it’s not just us Maltese, I know. I’ve suffered the same indemnities in Greece and southern Italy (to name just a couple of many). But that does not make it any better.
It’s rudeness, selfishness and that horrendous sense of entitlement that is so ruinous of who we are as a people of a tiny, overcrowded country who should know better than to trample all over each other. Because we’re so overcrowded, we should value organisation before all else, so things fall into place and each person’s small space is not encroached upon. But we go for the opposite. Me first, me second, me third, and so on.
I often mention Scandinavia in these blogs, because it’s my other home. And they’re far from perfect, but they have structures in place that actually work. They have a number system there that (at times, to the Mediterranean mind) almost turns them into automatons. Any shop you enter, if you require the attention of an attendant, will have a number machine at the door. You take a ticket with a number. You wait for the number to come up on screen. You get served. No pushing. No shoving. No shouting over the heads of others. No swearing and (at times) actual fighting. No jostling. No elbowing. No scrum. Just calm, civilised, effective. Impersonal, yes… but I’ll take impersonal over savage egoism any day.
We’re from the south. We’re Mediterranean. We do everything with passion. That’s what I’m told when I comment in this way. And in many of the things we do, those are traits that serve us in good stead. They enhance our product. They put life and verve in what we create. But not in this and in so many other things in which what comes out instead is how rude we are to each other. How self-serving and indifferent to the feelings of those with whom we share an extremely tiny patch of land.
This is symptomatic of a deeper trait that scares me.
But I’ll go into that in a future blog, because it’s my turn in the queue to be served.
Oh, wait a minute. No, it’s not… it’s the guy behind me whose turn it, apparently, is…!