Queueing lessons in Lausanne

January 19, 2011, 9 Comments

Last weekend I went to Lausanne and discovered something rather revolutionary. Someone somewhere in the city transport department has clearly had enough with the lack of Swiss queues and decided to do something about it – as the photo shows. Now passengers waiting to get on the Metro (which by the way is the only one in Switzerland) must stand behind the yellow lines and leave enough space for passengers wanting to get off. This is a novel concept for most Swiss people.

As I wrote in this post last year, queues are not something the Swiss do naturally, despite most of them being patient and polite in all other aspects of life. In Britain, people stand in line at the drop of a hat; it’s almost like a public security blanket, not least because it’s much easier to talk to strangers in a queue, even if that is nothing more than a communal grumble. A student at a local gymnasium (for non-Swiss readers = High School, not a gym) recently told me that this was the cultural difference she noticed most of all when visiting Britain: queues everywhere.

But the Swiss only queue when they are forced to by ticketing systems, checkouts or yellow lines. This was very apparent to me last year in Gran Canaria. After a week of R&R in the November sun, Gregor and I were at Las Palmas airport waiting to check in for our Edelweiss flight back to Zürich. There was no queue as such, more a straggling mass of bodies vaguely in front of the two check-in desks for our flight: two people, then three, then one behind another, then a gaggle altogether, all shuffling forward whilst trying not to be too obvious at edging out those around you. To our left was the check-in for a flight to Manchester. Now that was a queue: orderly, straight, and at 90 degrees to the desk, with nice clear corners and gaps for other people to pass through. I almost felt like singing the National Anthem at such an overt yet subtle display of Britishness. Gregor simply turned and said ‘You can tell we’re waiting for a Swiss flight.’

This morning I made the mistake of catching the tram to work during rush hour. Usually I walk but I was running late, as was the rest of the world if the way they pushed to get on the tram was anything to go by. I merely wanted to get off at the Bahnhof, but it was apparently the last tram of the day – why else was everyone jostling to get on board?  All sense of decorum gone, and I’m not yet Swiss enough to push back, especially if it’s an old lady who is getting in. But they are the worst: head down, handbag out, and woe betide anyone who stands in the way.

I do so hope the Lausanne line experiment works. At the moment I go there mainly to enjoy the lake views; in future I may go just so I can get on and off public transport all day without feeling hassled. How pleasant that would be.

9 Comments on "Queueing lessons in Lausanne"

  1. Wolfgang Wednesday January 19th, 2011 at 08:06 PM · Reply

    Oh my god! Queues in Switzerland! That’s the end of civilisation as we know it!!!

  2. berlinoise Thursday January 20th, 2011 at 09:32 AM · Reply

    Hi Diccon, I had to laugh when I read this 🙂 Actually, the yellow lines are completely ignored – people just don’t know what to do with them – so they just stand in front of the doors and it’s the devil take the hindmost. Business as usual really 🙂 Liz

    • swisswatching Thursday January 20th, 2011 at 09:37 AM · Reply

      How disappointing! As you can see I was there mid-afternoon so no other people. At the time I wondered what it was like at rush-hour; now I know.

  3. Swiss Simon (with English roots) Thursday January 20th, 2011 at 09:40 AM · Reply

    My confessional comes now. The most hated thing is when I am trying to get off the tram and someone pushes their way on.

    Are they mad? If they let us off first there is room for them to get on. Simple logic to most of the world, even 5 year olds.

    Well when this happens now I just drop my shoulder as I get off and am not responsible for the consequences. They were pushing past me after all.

    It transpires my work colleague is of similar mind and you can imagine the delight a few weeks ago when he was bragging around the office that his latest shoulder treatment was on a guy who was on his iPhone. I think the guy dropped the phone and it was last sen in pieces on the pavement.

  4. Elisabeth Fannin Thursday January 20th, 2011 at 01:51 PM · Reply

    Haha, Diccon, you had me laughing out loud on the train. This is one of the funniest things about this orderly and tidy country. 
    I guess I’m not anglo-saxon enough to realy get angry about it, yet not swiss enough not to laugh at our bad manners. 
    The funniest thing happened, when I took an retired British couple to the Tonhalle in Zürich.
    The elderly, elegantly dressed audience was sitting around the lobby, drinking either tea or champagne being extremely elite about everything. The concert was beautiful and my guests and I felt relaxed and full of music.
    After the concert people moved towards the cloakroom and things roughed up a bit – realy it was simple chaos. 
    Little old ladies sneaking in in front of us, using their ellbows and high-heels strategicaly to defend their new place. Distinguished elder men broadened their shoulders and  suddenly looked like ice-hockey players before a particularly evil tackle. 
    From now on I will take all my guests from the UK to Tonhalle, just to see the fear in their eyes when facing the battlefield in front of the cloak-room.

  5. Rahel Sunday January 23rd, 2011 at 03:21 PM · Reply

    And I always think about Switzerland, where (mostly) people wait politely for you to get out of a train and you have some kind of “queue” wherever you need to wait for something. I admit- there is still space for improvement. But compared to here, Switzerland is heaven!

  6. Frank Sunday January 23rd, 2011 at 08:33 PM · Reply

    Just came across your site Diccon, and good to see that you are spending a bit more time in Romandie, which might as well be another country, nothing to do with Switzerland, apart from a bit of order which the Swiss Germans have tried to bestow upon this lazy lot! I know, I have been here for a decade.

    Your book is great, and taught me a lot about Switzerland – the country
    I occasionally visit! I think you should spend a lot more time in Romandie, and you could then write a whole book dedicated to it! We have many friends here, but they are really very rich French people, and I am even surprised they thought of building a metro in Lausanne, it’s completely out of place for a small city full of rich folk driving around in their Bentleys and Maserattis. Hmmm, but perhaps not, I guess it must be mass transit for all their immigrant servants, au pairs, gardners etc 🙂

    Or here is another theory, perhaps it is really a secret extension to Cern just down the road and they use it as a particle accelerator after midnight when the trains stop! Perhaps those yellow lines on the ground which you photographed is the danger zone where the newly discovered sauccisson particles rush out?

    Looking forward to reading more from you.
    Wishing you all the best.

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