On the Continent, people wait at a bus stop and loiter in a seemingly vague way; while in the UK, the Brits, without exception, form an orderly queue.
There is no specific historical data tracking how queuing has been shaped and inherited from British history, but a number of key events in could lead to some explanation.
In the early 19th Century, the orderly queue fostered a recognised social form.
Dr Joe Moran, a social historian and author of Queuing for Beginners explains that queuing is a “product of more urbanised, industrial societies which brought masses of people together”.
At that time, people were moving in huge numbers from the countryside into towns as a result of urbanisation.
Their ways of daily living had changed, including shopping. Before, when they were still living in the countryside, they made a purchase at the local markets which adopted more of a barter system.
However, with more of the population moving into towns, traders too followed the trend and started moving from market stalls into shops.
The quite formal setting of a shop (compared to market stalls) meant that shoppers had to start to queue up in a more structured manner.
But what really shaped queuing as a part British character was in World War II, when queuing effectively meant whether you would get a plate filled with eggs and leaden bread or an empty plate.
Following this idea, some people even joined the end of a queue without an idea of what it was for, just hoping that at the end of the queue, there would be something useful.
Government propaganda about 'doing your duty' and 'taking your turn', loaded the notion of the queue with loads of meanings.
According to Moran, these included the notions of decency, fair play and democracy.
Whether you turn up at a railway station, a supermarket, or a post office, you’re sure to spot an orderly queue.
Not every Brit is a patient queuer, but all of them respect the convention and loathe anyone who tries to break it.
Queues ensure that whoever has been waiting the longest is served first, as we often hear from the Brits: “first come first served”.
In public places such as shops, banks and restaurants, signs indicate where to queue; while in pubs, which are pretty dark and not easy to see queues, the bar staff are usually pay attention to who has been waiting longest to be served before others.
The quickest way to upset a Brit is to push your way in front of him while he is queuing.
For foreigners not used to queuing or behaving in such a strict manner, when coming to the UK for the first time, it is always a good idea to ask: “Is this the back of the queue?” and avoid offending the locals.
Headerimage: Flickr/Xiaojun Deng; Section image: Flickr/GarryKnight