Where the Line Ends
There are some places in the world where people wait in line and there are some places where they don’t. From our travels, we have observed that lines spontaneously form in places such as Europe, the United States and Turkey. Meanwhile, in East Asia, a crush of humanity forms around any ticket counter, food source or other service. Indeed, in advance of the Olympics, the Chinese government has deployed policemen across Beijing in order to train people to stand in line while waiting for the bus. As we travel across Asia overland, we realized that we have an excellent opportunity to find exactly where the cultural phenomenon of the line ends.
It is important to note that we are not passing a value judgment here. It is neither good nor bad for a culture to have lines or not. A line divides up resources between those who are willing to wait the most and those who are not. A throng favors those who are more physically capable and want a resource the most. In fact, we are able-bodied and one of us is a head higher than most, so we would prefer that lines were not the cultural norm in the United States as this would, for us, dramatically reduce wait times at the DMV.
As we wound east from Istanbul, we found lines in Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan. From Baku, Azerbaijan we found it impossible to head further east across the Caspian Sea by land, so we bought tickets for the Baku-Actau shuttle on Air Kazakhstan. We were already a bit worried about flying on Air Kazakhstan and the boarding process did not calm our nerves. Air Kazakhstan’s boarding passes don’t have seat numbers on them, but then again, nor do Southwest’s. As the bus pulled up to the plane waiting on the tarmac, something completely unexpected happened. The passengers poured out of the bus with their suitcases at a full sprint. Men, women and children. We had been warned by a Scottish ex-pat that this might happen, so we were out near the front of the peloton. Once the mob hit the steps leading up to the plane, small children and smaller men tried to weave their way to the front around people’s legs. Those with advantageous places swung their suitcases and elbows to prevent this. A few men had boarded when the first woman joined the mass surrounding the airplane. At this point, everyone took a step back and all women with tickets were allowed to board while the men waiting jostled for position. After all women had entered the plane, the men lunged up the stairs and wrestled their way into remaining seats. Once the seats were filled, the remaining passengers were left on the tarmac. From the comfort of our window seats, we realized that we had found where lines end.
Writing from eastern Uzbekistan, we can confirm that the Caspian Sea is one of humanity’s significant boundaries. To the west, lines spontaneously form. To the east, lines are not to be found. While we discovered this cultural border, we have yet to find a good explanation for it. A British ex-pat we met bragged that people in Asia wait in line everywhere that the British Empire has been. Anyone who has been to the New Delhi train station knows that is could not be further from the truth. So please leave us with any ideas in the comments box below.