Are lines necessary? When is it OK to cut?


American English
When a large group of people is waiting for something, is it necessary to form a line? Why or why not?

If there is a line already formed, do you always go to the back of the line, or do you "cut" into the middle or the front of the line? When is it OK to do this?

My experience:
At an American airport, my flight to Mexico was cancelled; half of the passengers were American, half were Mexican. As soon as the announcement was made over the public address system, the American passengers began forming a straight line at the service desk, while the Mexican passengers each took a place right at the desk, filling up the empty spaces along the length of the desk. Both groups looked ridiculous in contrast to one another: the Mexicans pushing in like suckling pigs, the Americans forming up like geese waddling behind their mother.

To me, it seems that there are two different attitudes toward "lining up" reflected in this experience -- probably determined by culture (although there could be economic or social factors I'm overlooking).

The following quote raised this question:
U.S. Congressman Dan Lungren said:
Ever since we were little kids, we've always sensed that there's somthing wrong with cutting in line (source)
I started wondering if lines and cutting in line are viewed differently in different cultures; or if it is viewed as acceptable in certain situations. The congressman says that in his experience, Americans are taught that one must line up, and that it's unethical to take a place anywhere but the end of the line and wait your turn. (his message: that illegal immigrants are unethical because they are not waiting in the line for visas, like everyone else).

Thanks for your comments.
  • Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    Interesting question.

    I grew up with the attitude of first come, first serve, so I believe it is unethical to cut in line, and I never do so. Everyone should wait their turn. It irks me when I have been waiting for, say, half an hour in line and someone just waltzes in and expects to get, or gets, immediate service. I feel like we are all in this together, we all have things to do, places to be, etc, but we should all extend courtesy and have consideration for others. Obviously there are exceptions to the first come, first serve thing, such as a hospital emergency room and severity of injury.

    That said, I guess it might be a cultural thing. When I was in Egypt I went to a government building to extend my visa and waited for about 10 minutes watching people push and shove and yell to get their business done before realizing that I was going to have to do the same if I wanted service. It was absolute mayhem in there and I wondered how they could hear anything (as there was a lot of noise from the yelling), let alone effectively get any work done. Traffic there is the same -- fend for yourself, and if you want to cross the street on foot, you do so at your own risk.

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    In London, people cue up at the bus stop. In New York, people just mob the bus as it arrives although it appears a much more orderly operation than what happens in Santo Domingo.

    In the tube, on the escalator, those who chose not to walk down, step to the right. In New York, in the subway, you wait for someone to ask you to move or walk around you, if there is room. In Santo Domingo, there is no tube, no subway and very few escalators.

    A tour guide in Salisbury told the crowd that a painting (was it a fresco?) that showed a line of people entering the gates of hell, at a church we were visiting, certainly described Englishmen. How could she tell? Well, they were cueing up!


    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Around here, people queue for some things, such as at the service desk of an airport, but in more informal situations, or when there are few people waiting, or in places where there people aren't used to queueing, they may not queue. It's difficult to infer a criterium. At bus stops, it's a mix of both, and it may depend on the place. I've seen people protest when others got into the bus without queueing, many times. I'm still young, so I don't mind it much, though it is annoying to see some latecomer surrepticiously inserting himself into a spot where he doesn't belong.

    Another thing that annoys me at bus stops is when people do queue, but when the bus arrives they don't move aside because they're taking a different bus. Those who are behind them in the queue need to go around, to get into the bus. :mad:

    But, to be fair, that usually happens at stops with little room which serve buses with many different destinations.


    It is never "OK" to cut into a queue. I always go to the back of the queue.

    We used to queue at bus-stops in Ireland (there used to be a notice on the bus-stop informing people how to queue, and in which direction to do so.) but this died out with the advent of the advertising-hoarding style of bus-shelter. This led to a general melee to board which results in those less nimble and agile being refused at peak times, irrespective of how long they have queued.

    While I was reared to always allow older people on before me I was given to understand that this was not-quite-necessary at rush hour.
    Then our senior citizens were given "free travel" and began to barge to the front of the the queue. This action seemed to lead to (or just happened to coincide with) a decline in the number of people who would defer to them.


    Senior Member
    In Mexico yeah a lot of people cut into the line, but there are others that make a line, normally we form and line and there are rude people who try to cut, and sometimes people in line will yell or complain about this who are trying to save time.


    Senior Member
    English (American)
    Delta Airlines runs hourly "shuttle" flights on the NYC-Boston and NYC-Washington routes and does not assign seats for these flights. So if there is a crowd at the gate, a line starts forming up to 30 minutes before scheduled boarding time. The vast majority of passengers are traveling for business, so it seems to be understood that a person who is already in line can have one or two later-arriving colleagues "cut" in so that they may sit together.



    Senior Member
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    I have lived in Minnesota for all the 19 long years of my life, and I am accustomed to a line being formed whenever there are two or three people standing waiting for something. Cutting in a line may be common for children, but it would generally be considered rude and socially unacceptable for a grown adult to without good and explained or explicit reason cut in a line. Personally, I think this folklaw makes a lot of sense and is a sign of a civil society.


    Senior Member
    I lived in Mexico City when I was a child, and there are so very many people everywhere, that for anything you wish to do there was a line waiting already.
    I distinctly remember going to a movie in 1977 (the one in space, with a princess and a Luke guy) and standing in line for about four hours just to buy the tickets. Directly afterwards, we stood in line a couple hours longer to get inside the cinema. The cinema in question had multiple screens and they were all showing the same movie, so you can assume thousands of people were watching the movie daily just at that location. Many other cinemas were showing the movie also...
    Sure, many people are unruly and cut in line, but it is not the standard expected behaviour. In the Mexico of my childhood, only rude people cut in line.


    American English
    Some great comments so far. Thanks!
    Outsider said:
    ... but in more informal situations, or when there are few people waiting, or in places where there people aren't used to queueing, they may not queue. It's difficult to infer a criterium.
    If there are no criteria, can you give some examples of situations in which people aren't used to queueing?
    daniel said:
    Sure, many people are unruly and cut in line, but it is not the standard expected behaviour. In the Mexico of my childhood, only rude people cut in line.
    I hope you didn't infer from my example above that I was judging the Mexican passengers for not forming a line. It was one example of many I've witnessed where people in and/or from Mexico did not line up in a situation in which most Americans would have. I'm just curious as to why.


    Senior Member
    No, no, me no infering at all. I understand you witnessed a marked difference in the way each group reacted. Is alright, I seen it, too, when I tried to buy fresh bread last time I was visiting Mexico City... I just mentioned what our family's beliefs were in reference to queueing (I like this word). For all I know we were the only silly people not cutting in line! And also, that was almost thirty years ago, so maybe nowdays it's more common to cut in line (especially with thirty million people waiting in line).
    Peace out.


    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    fenixpollo said:
    If there are no criteria, can you give some examples of situations in which people aren't used to queueing?
    Scraping the bottom of my memory, here's what I found:

    - in small, crowded book shops;
    - in governmental offices where there usually aren't many people waiting, but at certain times in the year there are many, because some deadline is about to expire.


    Senior Member
    Guatemala, Spanish
    I'm also a part-time tutor for a disabled student at a local college. I usually pick her up at her dorm and escort her to class.
    Well, one day we were waiting for the elevator and we were running a little late. A group of students showed up, they were all chatting and laughing, as soon as the elevator door opened they all jumped in leaving no room for the student's wheelchair. They all gave us a look like sorry, but still nobody was nice enough to allow us in. I was shocked and before I could say a word the door closed.
    There is rude people who don't have any sense of common courtesy everywhere even in educational institutions.
    Cutting in line in the States is considered rude everywhere. Here in the New York area you could get into a "road rage" situation (line rage?)where you get a punch in the face or worse. But amazingly, even in rude New York, if you ASK someone, "May I pleeeese cut in front of you?" and then offer a good excuse like "I need to catch a plane, or , I'm late for chemotherapy" they will usually allow you to cut in line. It's a social hierarchy thing. If you cut in line you are TAKING...if you ask they are GIVING.

    One thing that really irks me is when you are driving and you let some other car pull out in front of you from a side street or parking lot and then the other driver doesn't acknowledge the favor with a little wave of the hand or a "thumbs up." That is completely obnoxious.


    Senior Member
    UK English
    Queing here is a national pastime. However it is starting to unravel at the edges:
    • On cheap airlines seats aren't allocated. People in wheelchairs or with children get first go and then for the rest it's a case of every man for themself.
    • Many offices now have automatic queue machines where an area is taped off and then a voice tells you which counter is free.
    In London, some queues fall apart under pressure eg in bad traffic. However others - like getting off a crowded tube or when there is a security alert (possible bomb scare) or queing up for hole in the wall machine are still sacrosanct.


    American English
    Thanks for all of the responses, guys -- especially the views from outside America.

    I just found an article in the New York Times that claims that NY leads the politeness trend.
    But somehow a city whose residents have long been scorned for their churlish behavior is now being praised for adopting rules and laws that govern personal conduct, making New York an unlikely model for legislating courtesy and decorum.

    From tighter restrictions on sports fans and car alarms to a new $50 fine on subway riders who rest their feet on a seat, New York's efforts to curb everyday annoyances and foster more civility among its residents have increasingly been studied and debated far from home.

    Given the successes, some New York officials are moving to take things even further. Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., of Queens, got the Council to expand his sports fan law last fall to include penalties for those who throw things onto the field or spit at the players. The 11 people who have been arrested under the original law, all during Yankees and Mets games, include one man who was sentenced to nine weekends in jail, fined $2,000, and ordered to stay out of Shea Stadium for three years.
    That's taking the bull by the horns! :)

    ¿Y qué pasa en otros países? ¿Son necesarias las filas/las colas? ¿Cuándo está bien cortar la fila?

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