Sunday, June 20, 2010

line up etiquette

Okay this is one beef that Canadians always have when they come to Saudi. In Canada, we are all very (ridiculously?) uptight about not cutting in line for anything in any situation. Whatever the line up, the attitude is always first come first serve no matter who you are. The level of personal insult incurred with a cut in is on the order of slapping everyone you have just cut in front of. We have a tradition of equality that people take really seriously even if you're just buying donuts and you are pretty sure the guy in front of you is drunk: if you are truly Canadian, you will still wait patiently behind the drunken man while he spills the contents of his wallet out and asks how much a single timbit costs in pennies.

Here in Riyadh, things are different. The culture here is hierarchical by nature and it is reflected in little things such as line ups. Whenever you go to the airport or pass through Bahrain, you will often see Saudi nationals jumping lines to pass through customs. Part of the story is that there are less documents to check and so they actually pass through very quickly, and another part of it is that there is sometimes simply an attitude of entitlement present that is tolerated far more in the Middle East than it is in Canada and the U.S. Even purchasing clothing, I have literally gotten to the counter after lining up only to have a local with her entourage swoop in from behind me and demand to be cashed out first. It happens at the grocery store too, especially when prayer is just about to hit and a scramble occurs.

So anyways, I'm sharing all this with you as a preface to a recent experience. I went to McDonalds and there were two Saudi women waiting for their food after ordering, busy chatting. I fully expected them to continue blocking the counter until they got their food and left. But not long after I arrived, one of them saw me and pushed her friend out of the way to make way for me. Yes actually, a lot of them (the majority of them!) are polite and respectful, but since line up etiquette is so very important in Canada, we really remember the bad stuff more than we notice the good. The reality is that for every one Saudi that cuts the line there are ten that will wait patiently just like you.

I mean, this doesn't change the fact that I've become obsessively territorial when I'm waiting in line and deliberately spread my bags out as far as possible as a preventative measure, but it is a reminder that there are a lot of Saudis out there who feel that showing respect and courtesy to others is just a part of our every day lives.


alluringjosh said...

not only saudians do this, i've indians and egyptians workmates who'd always cut in the line from punching in/out on the electronic time recorder to getting on/off the van. i think filipinos and canadians are the same as far as line up etiquette is concerned

Om Lujain© said...

loool.. I have had many fights with women here over the cutting in line thing.. its bloody annoying! You are patiently waiting n lne, and you have a group of them walk past you (I am 5 foot 9!!!) Hard to miss! and try to get cashed in before me.. Hell No! Not happening! I have seen many cashiers actually do a good job at serving people who came frst and completely ignoring the ones that jump the line!

As for customs, there is a separate line for Saudi/GCC nationals in all Gulf airports. I must admit that even though I have my Canadian passport, I go to the Saudi/GCC line as I am usually always traveling with my kids and OR husband that have the Saudi passport, and we are served MUCHHH faster.

PS you made me miss timbits :(

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say I NEVER let anyone cut in front of me anymore....! (if at all possible, that is). One of the things that I will definitely have to work on when I repatriate to Canada is some of my social graces I have lost having lived here for 11 years. I speak up loud and clear when someone tries to cut in front of me (much to our teenager's embarassment).

I'm also sorry to say that one place I WILL cut in line now, is at the airport. When I'm trying to catch a plane OUT of country and standing at the back of the line that will take 2 hours to get through...just to get INTO the airport....because they are so disorganized here. Watch out! The last time my family and I left I said to my kids and husband "stick with me" and basically barged my way in. Am I proud of my behaviour? Less than....but there is no way I'm going to miss my plane out of here, politely standing at the back the line amidst chaos!

PS. I am always missing Tims!

Orchidthief said...

Admittedly the airports can be a total mess sometimes and desperate times can lead to desperate measures ;) I think it's easy in Canada to respect line ups because the whole country is set up for efficiency and organization in general, so line ups never get so dire as they do in other parts of the world.

In the Riyadh airport, there is a security check before you can even check in for your flight, and these can sometimes become insanely long when the line ups are filled with worker bees taking their annual vacation with five boxes each. Then trying to get through to get your departure stamp can be disorganized... it really creates an environment where survival instincts kick in! I think if there were a GCC lineup for departures and not just for re-entry, people wouldn't get so frustrated and antsy at the airport.

On a positive note, within the last year, I feel customs has gotten much more organized for entering Riyadh (putting signs up and shuttling people into the right line ups) so good on them for doing that.

And yeah, definitely there are other cultures that cut in. But I get the sense they do it for different reasons - like it's more of a survivor mentality more than anything.

Don't we all miss Tim Hortons? I miss the bagels. Why don't I ever see bagels out here?

Orchidthief said...

waitaminute I take that back. I know exactly why we don't see bagels out here..............

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It's not really a sense of entitlement. More of a "nice guys finish last" culture.

My parents keep getting on my case because I'm always late in finishing paperwork because I stand in line and watch people cut in front of me rather than do it myself.

"No one is gonna watch out for you in this country so you better take it yourself" they tell me. :(

Orchidthief said...

ummadam, the population that specializes in bagel making is one that's not exactly popular in the middle east =D

and burning-phoenix, I hear ya. it's nice to get different perspectives on it.