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I was at the front of a queue of 5 or 6 people waiting for train tickets, at a station in London, England. It was a similar length when I joined, and had taken about 10 minutes to reach the front.

A woman approached me asking if she could go first as she had queued up already to get a form for a discount railcard. I guess the person in the ticket office had continued serving other customers while the woman had filled the form at another position along the long counter.

She took it for granted I would say yes, and stood in front of me. This annoyed me, more than it should have done, perhaps because I'm British and predisposed to petty little angers. I told her to go to the back of the queue.

The person in the ticket office became free to serve the next customer, and what ensued was an unseemly pushing match at the counter as I tried to proffer my money for my monthly ticket, and she her form. I won, but I feel bad about it.

If I were in her situation I would have queued up again without any expectation of going to the front of the queue.

Worse still, as my ticket was being printed and my change counted we shouted at each other in an angry exchange where I argued that she had asked a question, and had been disappointed with the answer, so why did she ask the question if she felt entitled to go first? On reflection I think her question might have been a polite way of letting me know she had queued up already and should not have to do so a second time.

What is the correct etiquette regarding re-queuing for the first in line?

  • 5
    This seems like a "who was right" question to me, which is not quite the right fit for IPS. Is there a goal you have in mind, or an interpersonal skill you'd like advice on? – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica May 24 '18 at 12:38
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    @Upper_Case This is as good an etiquette question as it can be. Etiquette questions are on topic, if it's about IPS. – Kaspar Scherrer May 25 '18 at 5:29
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In my country we have very similar queueing etiquette to the one in United Kingdom.
Cutting in line per se is a no-go.

I have experienced this exact situation several times, from both perspectives. My answer will focus on the etiquette and therefore on the person who had to fill out the form.

As I see it, when I'm filling out the form, it is still my turn. To prevent the employee from having to twiddle their thumbs it's fine if they help someone else before they can continue helping me. But it's still my turn so when I'm ready and the opportunity is there, I expect the employee to continue helping me.

But of course, that is usually not explicitly being said in the moment so it is not a clear agreement.

What I do in this situation - if the first-in-line isn't aware of the situation and doesn't let you go before anyway[1] - is that I walk up next to the queue and wait next to the first-in-line and make eye contact with the employee. This puts the onus on the employee to tell the first-in-line to wait so I can finish my turn by giving the filled form. When he does, thank them both (employee, first-in-line guy) with an appreciative smile and nod [2].

This way, you do not have to ask yourself if you could cut the line, which is rude and mostly turned down.

[1] this is the etiquette for the person first in line
[2] If the employee does nothing after the eye contact, just be patient and wait, while making eye contact as much as possible. But don't cut the line without the employee telling you to. He will do it eventually!

7

The ticket agent really should have intervened to adjudicate, as the policy is apparently unclear to customers.

The main question is, is getting discount rail ticket one bundled service or is getting the form a distinct service, and submitting it to the ticket agent another distinct service? And to answer that, I think the related question is: how long did it take at the ticket window for the woman to get the form?

If it takes a matter of seconds to get the form, I would probably allow the woman to take priority in the queue to submit it. After all, she did wait in line as long as anyone else but didn't really contribute to the wait for anyone behind her. The closer the amount of time needed to get the form is to the typical service time at the window, the less inclined I would be to let her skip the line the second time around.

Assuming your question is "How should I handle this sort of thing politely if it happens again?", I would recommend expressing your answer ("No, you may not skip the queue and go ahead of me") along with the reason from above ("because you've already taken up as much time getting the form as someone buying a ticket."). People may or may not accept that-- this woman seems like she had no intention of queuing again, no matter what-- but it's polite, clear, and to the point about why your decision is what it is.

Shouting and shoving are never good etiquette, regardless of your correctness in the underlying matter.

  • the point about unclear policy and the ticket agent adjudicating is a good one. – user18208 May 24 '18 at 14:35
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Queuing is an agreement with the supplier of a service to order their customers. As customers we agree to comply with their terms of service by queuing.

A customer who has to fill in a form, obviously needs to do this offline from the queue. If they agree with the person at the till, to return as a high priority case then pushing into the queue is acknowledging this exception. If on the other hand the customer has no agreement, by default they have to join the queue.

This often happens in supermarkets while things are returned because of damage and a new item collected. This also makes sense.

On the other hand filling in forms, processing them is not a quick process and therefore going to the back of the queue is not unreasonable.

So your behaviour was perfectly acceptable, unless the lady in question had an agreement with the person at the till to put her details as a higher priority.

The complexity of forms etc. is a judgement call between you and the assistant. I have filled name and address on simple forms and taken others away. There is no one rule. What is most efficient works. There are many jokes about filling in forms and going to back of queues....

  • I'm confused; are you suggesting that the lady should have to go through the queue twice? Once for a 5 second transaction to get the form, then again to hand in the form? – Doktor J May 25 '18 at 3:48
  • "A customer who has to fill in a form, obviously needs to do this offline from the queue" -- why? If I am queing up to have something done which involves a form then I should finish my request (= fill in the form, and then the rest) in front of the agent. If i move aside this is just to let others make use of idle time. – WoJ May 25 '18 at 15:47
4

Etiquette is a tricky business and there is no real correct answer here.

However I'm inclined to say you were in the wrong. Being from Glasgow, maybe we're more laidback than you fast paced Capital folk...

To me, this was a small act of kindness (giving up 30 seconds or so of your time, say?) to save another person spending another 10 minutes in a queue. We all have hectic lives and many things aren't worth fighting over, even if you feel slightly wronged. The slight wronging you initially would feel would quickly be replaced by the smugness of power when helping another human!

Another point would be the socialist perspective of letting her skip the queue - this resulted in 20 people giving up 30 seconds each for her to save 10 minutes. A mere niggle for most people, yet a massive time saving for the skipper - who would be eternally thankful. The fact the queue is so long and they had already waited in it works in the skippers favour. Of course, if your POV is that you have a first come first served right to be there and your immediate satisfaction is worth making someone else wait a significant longer time than you is a valid viewpoint as well.

To me, assuming the skipper was polite, letting them in at the first available till seems like a no brainer. They have done their time, and it's affect on your day would be minuscule; yet would be a major inconvenience to the other person.

Edit: Furthermore, causing a public scene after the fact and 'elbowing' your way in front is very unbritish. The correct British response is to do nothing, tut and maybe turn in mock rage to the person standing behind you if you feel so strongly.

  • yes the rate race of London might have affected my better nature. It shouldn't have been such a big deal. – user18208 May 24 '18 at 14:40

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