There’s no Q in Switzerland

February 15, 2010, 1 Comment

For such a polite society, the Swiss can’t queue. They may shake hands at every possible opportunity but when it comes to waiting in line, the gloves are off, particularly when waiting for transport. At bus stops, train platforms and cable car stations, it’s a free-for-all. Scrum down, elbows out and every man, woman and child for themselves. Getting off a tram can be a battle against the tide of humanity getting in, even when there’s enough time and space for all. But when places are limited, such as in cable cars, the only ones waiting in an orderly fashion are the tourists, who’ll probably end up not getting in.

After five years in Switzerland, I’m still struggling to overcome my innate desire to form an orderly line. But I am not alone in this very British trait. It seems that learning how to queue is to become part of the British citizenship test, as reported by the Telegraph at the weekend. That would never work in Switzerland, as they’d have to start with almost all the Swiss themselves. Then again, most existing British citizens would probably fail that test as it requires you to answer all sorts of questions, such as what do estate agents do (still wondering what the right reply to that one is).

Some Swiss communities have, or want to have, citizenship tests for immigrants applying to be Swiss. It’s not a national requirement, mainly because these things are decided at a local level in Switzerland. For any German speakers reading this, here are ten sample questions: how Swiss are you? Suffice to say, they are much more practical questions than the art of (not)queueing, such as how long if the president’s term of office or how many signatures are required for a popular initiative.

I’m off to the main post office in Bern, one of the few places the queuer in me feels at home. It might look like chaos, with no sign of a line, but it’s organised chaos (a very Swiss idea) because it has a ticketed system of take a number, wait your turn. People still just mill around, waiting for their number to flash up, but it is essentially a queue. Just don’t tell the Swiss that.

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