Commuter Etiquette

When I was young the British had a reputation: they knew how to queue. When a line formed in the UK, for whatever reason, it was always orderly.

That fact would usually be mentioned as people were trying to find their way through a chaotic situation where an orderly line would have made things so much simpler. Here in North America, the continent of rugged individualism, everyone wants to be first for everything. No standing nicely in line for us!

Queueing has been on my mind this week as my daily commute has gotten more difficult, especially in rush hour. It seems that over the summer people collectively forgot the simple behaviour that makes the trip to and from work or school easier for all.

Due to construction on roads of my usual bus route, I have been taking Ottawa’s only light rail line to near downtown and then transferring to a bus. The train runs from nowhere to nowhere, five stops, but Carleton University is the middle one. That means when classes are in session it can be very crowded.

This week I noted a couple of new crowd control measures. The first was the exasperated voice of the train engineer telling people to move to the centre of the train and stop crowding the doors, the better to allow people to board the train at the next stop. The exasperation was an indication that his entreaties were not bringing about any movement. Given that most of the people on the train were students, and I had no problems hearing he announcement, I can only assume that higher education makes you deaf.

I don’t understand why people crowd the doors, especially when there are seats available. The doors won’t open until the entire train has arrived at the station. Given that, I can’t see that pressing up against the doors will make all that much difference in terms of time. However, given the number of people who refuse to take a seat, I can only assume that there is some flaw in my reasoning.

The other new crowd control measure I observed this week was at the end of the line (or the beginning, depending on where you start your journey. There I found two burly men with loud voices yelling: “Let the people off the train. Leave a path so that people can get through.”

These actions should be common sense. Apparently they are not. I’m not sure what that says about us as a society. I’m also curious as to what would happen if the instructions weren’t heeded.

Maybe there are still things we in the Colonies can learn from the British. Or maybe the stories of British etiquette in the queues is a memory of days gone by. Maybe rudeness has overtaken the world.

I hope not.


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