Lining up

Shelton Bumgarner at the Marmot’s Hole blog quotes from a recent NYT article about how Disneyland Hong Kong has been redesigned to accomodate Chinese culture’s lack of waiting online.

There are, in fact, cultural differences in how people behave while in line, according to social scientists and park designers. Those differences have even led to physical changes in so-called queuing areas at some parks.

Rongrong Zhou, an assistant professor of marketing at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the differences went beyond a Hong Kong-mainland split. Ms. Zhou, who has studied the psychology of queuing in Hong Kong, although not at theme parks, said there was a tendency among Asians and others in more collective cultures to compare their situation with those around them. This may make it more likely that they will remain in a line even if it is excessively long.

(The NYT article is old enough to only be avaliable to Times Select subscribers, which I am not, hence no link.)

When I was traveling in China, my fellow backpacker stumbled across a book, written in English by a Chinese man for a presumably Chinese audience, entitled something like “An introduction to English culture.” This book contained a sentence, now forever emblazoned across my mind, that almost perfectly defined the experience of being a foreigner in China, and perhaps of being a Chinese abroad.

“In England there is a phenomenon known as queueing.”

What more needs to be said?

Shelton also notes that Koreans seem to have no trouble with waiting on line. I can attest that the same is true of Taiwan, one of the many cultural differences between this island state and its parent continental nation. Perhaps waiting on line is, like removing ones shoes when entering a private home, a habit picked up from the Japanese during the 50 year rule?

10 thoughts on “Lining up”

  1. The whole removing shoe thing isn’t a particularly Japanese affectation, I would qualify that it’s fairly universal. The idea is simply to not track mud and dirt into the interiors of your home, something housewives the world over appreciate. As for the lines, I have no certain explanation. I would have thought 3 decades under a communist system would have acculturated mainlanders to waiting for things.

  2. Jing, you’re right that removing ones shoes at the door is pretty universal, but the system of always trading ones outdoor shoes for special indoor slippers seems to be a near-copy of the Japanese habit.

    Don’t just take my word for it though, my Taiwan-produced Chinese language textbook has this note:

    “Most people living in Taiwan have adapted this Japanese custom of leaving one’s shoes at the doorway in order to keep the interior of the house clean.”

  3. Are you from New York? Waiting “on line” as opposed to “in line” is a phrase I generally associate with New Yorkers.

  4. Wow! Actually I grew up in northern New Jersey, just outside of New York- and my parents and grandparents all grew up in Brooklyn. I’d never noticed that ‘on line’ was a regional dialect thing! Where are you from?

  5. I’m from North Carolina, studing math in graduate school at Cornell right now. I have an amateur interest in dialects (which dovetails with my study of Japanese), so I’ve read a few articles about it. I find it really fascinating. As you can imagine, I see a lot of New Yorkers up here in Ithaca, so I encountered phrase and then ended up searching for articles on it.

  6. I spent less than a week in Seoul, so I wasn’t able to regularly observe the behavior of lines there. However, I do remember being somewhat taken aback when an older Korean woman (maybe in her 60s) elbowed me out of the way (hey, she had a lower center of gravity than me!) to get in front of me to buy a ticket. Only thing is, aside from me and her, there was only one other person in line behind me!

  7. Yes, waiting on line IS a New York/Tristate thing and I can testify to this as someone from Northern Connecticut which is a kind of buffer zone between stark, unflinching, Red Sox-loving New Englandism and obnoxious Yankee-fan New Yawkas. There are people who say both depending on whether you grew up in the northern (in line) or southern (on line) part of the state. Naturally, I identify myself as a proud New Englander and say on line.

    There are some phrases considered regional dialect in my area as well. For example, we call the junk sales people have in their garages “tag sales,” the men talk about “wicked hot chicks” when they see beautiful women, and we call those annoying traffic circles that are all over Massachusetts “rotaries.”

  8. Do you know if there are standard principals for “queuing” people with out pysical barriers?

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