I wrote this story eight years ago as an assignment for a writing class. I had just been to England twice in two years. While there I stayed in actual homes, amidst the indigenous humans there. I got a good earful of what the USA looks like to them, and I thought it’d be fun to try to sound like they sounded to me. Plus I had an ending…
I Am a Queuer
I am a queuer. (Not a queer, old chap. How your American mind so quickly stoops!) We ‘queue,’ in London, at the bank or on the motorway, as you would ‘line up,’ in New York. And I’ll say it, having been to the states, that the Brits are superior at queueing, and distinctly more pleasant about it.
(I am sorry, but do forgive a tangent on spelling, and meddling. I am untroubled by “colour” as “color,” and I am not in the least bit put off by “programme” spelled as “program.” After all, who is better qualified than the Americans to be in such a hurry as to wantonly remove letters from long-established words? But those words, and others like them, are equally common on either side of the ocean. We therefore share a prerogative to do with them, locally, as we please. Not so with the word “queueing.” Here is a perfectly English word, one that obeys the rules of spelling, has an eloquent near-symmetry, and happens to contain the longest string of vowels in the language. That is, in the UK it does. This word, a word our nations do not commonly share, in meaning or in frequency, is one for which you have troubled yourselves to remove one of the e’s, and spell it ‘queuing.’ And may I inquire, to what end?)
(There is a professor at Oxford of some note — and I should mention that he is properly noted among my friends as a spineless subjectivist — who claims that as a civilization spreads, the greatest cultural and political innovations will spawn at the farthest reaches, and then propagate, grudgingly, toward the capital, which for the English speaking world, is, of course, London. What some would call innovation, I would call adolescent irreverence, and jolly good by me if California would indeed break off and fall into the Pacific Ocean and take the man who dropped an e from queueing along.)
So, now, back to queueing, a functional cooperation – quite like the herds of the grazing beasts — one in which a society ultimately gains, collectively and individually, when one knows, and spends time in, one’s place.
Do not think that I cannot laugh at my own stodginess. Just Thursday last, at a cafeteria at a museum, I cut in front of two ladies, unintentionally of course, and then, alerted by their terse glances that something was amiss, I shuffled back to my proper place, and I dubbed this incident a “misqueue.”
(I recall a cluttered morning on the M4 motorway, and the American tourists. For two weeks it has been clearly posted, some two miles before the road construction, that the three lanes would become two, and in particular, that the rightmost lane will be closed ahead. Now if we call those motorists Cooperators who would queue in two lines at the first notification, and we call Defectors those who would skirt the slow traffic using the nearly-empty third lane, then, by and large, from what I’ve seen on this motorway each morning, Americans are a race of Defectors.)
And yes I can spot them with no trouble. The baseball caps, the pigeon-pivot necks. But the surest way to know that an American is in the wrong lane is simply that that there is a car in the wrong lane. And when I say wrong I mean wrong. Defection is unjust and should therefore carry with it a risk sufficient to deter.
(On the M4 that morning, a defective American motorist in the third lane passed the mile-long queue of cars and happened to reach the bottleneck alongside me. I tried to block him but he risked the paint on his hired car to force himself into my lane. I followed him (and his woman passenger) during several miles of slow traffic, and I watched beer bottles empty. I watched laughing and gesturing. Eventually the third lane was open again and we enjoyed open road and normal speed. I pulled alongside the Americans, just to get a look. I glanced over, and I was met with harsh faces, so, for no good reason, I accelerated. The American saw a challenge and accepted. Mind you, I have not willfully exceeded the speed limit since before Emily was born, and here I found myself at nearly 160 kilometres per hour on the M4, inches away from others in similar circumstance. I was in the middle lane and my opponent was in the right lane as we approached a huge sycamore tree barely off the road on the right. On a whim, I steered slightly right, and nudged the Americans, ever so slightly, before stabilizing and slowing back into my own lane, in time to watch the Americans smash headlong into the tree. Perhaps the airbags deployed and saved them. I didn’t bother to check the papers.)
Oh yes. Now where were we? Right. I am a queuer.