How to Queue
There are rumours that British people are really good at queuing. This may be so – but the Swedes especially take it to a whole different level.
People in Scandinavia generally like order in things. Things should have rules and rules should be followed. This is, of course, why the rules were made in the first place and it keeps people happy. Except when it comes to queuing. Here, the Norwegians and the Danes take a side step and let the Swedes proceed at full, organised speed.
Danes and Norwegians, with all the good intentions, know the queues are for the greater good. They will stand and follow the queue, whilst simultaneously trying to work out how to beat it in a nice, fair (undetectable) way. This is the same in England: People know the queues work, they know they should follow them, but still want to try and get ahead (although nobody would ever attempt cheating). Not so in Sweden, where the underlying belief is that if one person should suffer in a queue, everyone should suffer and we must stand together – and queue. Fair wins.
People in Sweden do not spend more time queuing than anywhere else, it is just very organised and everybody have to do their bit.
The biggest queue you will ever encounter in Sweden is the queue at the state run alcohol shops, Systembolaget. These, especially at high seasons, can run extremely long – and there are no ticket machines. If you are ever planning to buy alcohol for Christmas, it is highly recommend you plan your purchases far in advance and get there as soon as the shop opens. Like several weeks before.
Upon entering a Swedish shop, Government office or any other place where queues might potentially form, one must take a number from a little machine. These are the same numbering machines that were used in the UK in the eighties, but by and large disappeared a few years later and replaced by old fashioned honest queuing. These tickets machines are actually a Swedish invention. They are found in every sort of shop, from the cheese monger to the butchers to the pharmacy and the local government office or even your rental car place. Anywhere that potential queues might form, there will be a machine. Even if you are the only person there, you take a number because nobody will see you until your number flashes and they call it out, like Bingo.
If you go to a place and see a massive line, you are allowed to take a number and leave the shop, planning your return later – if you time it to perfection, you win the game. If you are 15 seconds late, you miss your window and you get to take a new number and start again. There is no mercy if you play the Russian Roulette of Swedish Queuing.
One area where ticket machines have avoided being installed is at bus stops. Here, the Swedes are on their own in the nature, without the safety of little pieces of paper with a number on it.
In this situation, an orderly queue will form, but you will not know it is a queue because there is an unwritten law that you must keep a space of at least 1,5 metres to the next person, as to avoid any possible conversation or interaction or – god forbid – small talk about the weather. This spacing of people causes extremely long queues along the train platforms or bus stops, sometimes stretching entire platforms. They do not look like queues, but do not be fooled: They are. You must follow the system as to avoid the angry cough or “The Stare”.
Once the bus arrives, people huddle closer and try to remember the place in the queue. If you go wrong, you will hear the angry cough. Nobody will say anything, but you will know they know – and that you know they know. So you try to will fit in, because it matters. This is Sweden, after all: It’s for the greater good of all. Destruction of society could well start with a bad queue – don’t risk it.
Like this kind of stuff? Read more like it in Bronte’s book Nørth – out now. Get it signed from us.