I learnt a great deal during my half dozen or so years living and working in the UK: I learnt to enjoy warm beer; I learnt that the Cornish Pasty is not only something you eat when you are either drink or hungover; I learnt that a Kebab is not always a stick with meat that you put on a braai, but what we would call a Shawarma. I learnt that the human being’s capacity for carrying things extends way beyond what we would ever imagine. (I once carried a laptop, 3 large bags of groceries and a new TV from the centre of town to my North London apartment using a combination of buses, trains and my feet) and I learnt the great British art of queuing.
Now we do not queue well in South Africa. We are just not wired for it. This is because queuing well involves patience (not one of the great South African virtues) and an unfailing faith in the fact that the system – whatever that may mean in terms of the type of queue you are standing in – will work when you finally get to the front. Now, our history does not provide us with sufficient evidence of the system working for us to have such faith. So, even when systems do work – and they work more often than we are willing to admit – we still protest vehemently. We also have a curious belief that we are above queuing. So if there is a “priority” queue or an “express” queue or any way – legitimate or otherwise – to cut a queue, it would not be out of order to sell an aging member of our family to avail ourselves of such.
Now based on time spent in bank queues, I have calculated that 2.5 minutes is about our average breaking point in terms of length of time spent queueing. At this point someone will invariably pipe up and say words to the effect of: “Ridiculous! Why are there only two tellers? Two tellers and eight empty cubicles. What are we paying for? No wonder this country is going to the dogs!” Then all the rest of us nod and tut tut in agreement. Some of us – on arrival at the front of the queue – even berate the poor teller, as if they have any say over how many tellers are employed at their branch.
On a particularly glorious summers day in London, I learnt that queuing is not so much a necessity in Britain as an actual pastime; even a hobby to some. I was standing in the queue outside Wimbledon chancing my luck for one of those rare day passes that they issue to a few eager fans. The atmosphere is festive and the time spent together with other fans is always great fun.
However, one lady had taken this experience to a whole new level. She was not a tennis fan per se, but went to Wimbledon each year simply so that she could stand in this queue. She so loved the atmosphere, camaraderie and laughter that she would go year after year and just, you know, queue. She didn’t ever actually go in to watch the tennis.
Now of course this does rather epitomise stereotypical British eccentricity and whilst Brits do love a good queue, this lady may be a bit extreme or to use a good British expression “potty”. But that said, there are many benefits to learning the art of queuing well, amongst them maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Casting our minds forward to Wednesday and our Local Government Elections, we will have a great opportunity to practise our queuing skills. Here are a couple of tips to help you make the most of the election queue. You can of course apply the thinking behind these tips after election day too:
The day is a public holiday given to us to vote. Take your time; soak up the atmosphere. Remember what it took for us all to be here together. The process of voting (not just casting your ballot) should be a rich experience for all citizens of a vibrant democracy;
A voting queue places us in a position to meet and interact with other citizens who may not look and sound like we do. Don’t miss this opportunity to expand your boundaries. Greet people; shake hands; strike up conversation. A queue can always be a bridge.
You think the queue is long? Try manning a polling station for a day to see what long feels like. Express gratitude to those assisting us to exercise our right to vote.
We have a long way to go until we can call our democracy mature; it will take us citizens doing democracy with respect and dignity. Let us embrace this is as we go to the polls on Wednesday.
Enjoy the queue!
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.