What Discipline? Of German Lines and Pythons

The concept of standing in line seems a simple one. But the Germans just don't seem to get it. Cool and disciplined elsewhere, queues are ruled by the laws of the jungle.

Take a quick glance into a German-English dictionary and you'll learn that the German word for line is Schlange. Not coincidentally, it's a word that also means "snake." And when it comes to German lines, we're not talking here about your cute little striped snake sunning itself passively on a garden path. A six-meter long python wrestling with its soon-to-be-devoured prey is a rather more fitting analogy.

For whatever reason, the famed German Ordnung -- that is "order" -- breaks down when it comes to waiting in line. Ruled as they are by some of the fattest law books in the world, Germans, rather than forming a nice orderly queue, instantly revert to the laws of the jungle. A jostling mob is often the result.

So what to do? Throwing a few elbow pads in your luggage before your trip is an option. Otherwise, pay close attention to the guide we have put together to make your German line experience a safe one. (Note to users: this guide excludes bus stops. Queuing at bus stops doesn't exist, so there's nothing to work with. Quickness and/or brute force are your best bets.)

  • Perhaps not alone in the world, Germans cannot stand the smell of garlic. Eat lots the night before and then breathe heavily while standing in line. Alternatively, look threatening and malevolent. It will discourage people from trying to get ahead of you.
  • Remain ALERT. Should you, for example, be next in line in the rail ticket office when a new counter opens up, make a dash for it. If you don't, you can be sure those behind you will. (And you were wondering why everyone walks around in Pumas and Adidas training shoes here….) DO NOT expect anyone to politely point out that a new counter has opened. The same holds true at the grocery store and post office.
  • Another little trick to watch out for is the tendency for people not to stand directly behind you in line, but slightly to your side. As the line progresses, they will gradually advance until they are beside you and then, before you can say Überschallgeschwindigkeit, actually ahead of you. A polite Entschuldigung ("excuse me") may resolve the issue, though throwing a tantrum helps too.
  • Finally, keep in mind that Germans have grown up with such non-lines and you need to watch out for everybody. While the worst offenders tend to be impatient middle-aged men, you also have to watch out for old ladies who can be quite shameless in their queue-jumping.

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