Friday, October 06, 2006

I Love Germans, really.

An old British TV Ad for Carling Black Label

Before anyone without a sense of humour accuses me of anything daft like racism, I hereby declare that the person I love more than any other was born in Germany, the first foreign country I chose to visit, all by myself at the age of 13 was Germany, the person who just helped me get a new job is German, one of my dearest friends is German, I read or look at the pictures on German blogs and the Germans make one of the most delicious food items you could ever hope to sink your teeth into. Deutschland? How could I possibly not liebe dich?

But despite all of this, I have to confess I have noticed that some Germans do have a reputation for trying to jostle their way to the front of the queue. They like to be first in line. Carling Black Label wouldn't have made an expensive TV commercial based on this old stereotype, if there wasn't at least some truth in it.

It has been said of the English they queue thus:
"Queueing is the national passion of an otherwise dispassionate race. The English are rather shy about it, and deny that they adore it.
At week-ends an Englishman queues up at the bus-stop, travels out to Richmond, queues up for a boat, then queues up for tea, then queues up for ice-cream, the joins a few more odd queues just for the sake of the fun of it, then queues up at the bus-stop and has the time of his life."
- George Mikes, How to be an Alien

And I would have to confess, I fit the stereotype. I see myself as an obedient queuer befitting of my reputation as an Englishwoman. If I happen to have a Frenchman at my side encouraging me to make creative queue moves which don't sit easily within my own code of etiquette, I quickly become a little embarassed. As Alexander Walker once said "The reason we British have the word queue is that the French had no further need of it." But we are not here to talk about the French today, we are here to discuss the Germans as they relate to the English when they are queueing next each other in an American Food Mall.

So busy is a Saturday Morning at The San Francisco Ferry Building's Market Place, that even a winding waiting-lane, marked out by twisted ropes, doesn't stop customers hoping for a fresh loaf of Acme Bread from lining up, politely, beyond its limits, further down the hallway. It's a well-ordered line, everyone knows the drill. American's seem to follow the British queueing model. I know my place and I am content to patiently wait with my patient, anonymous friends.

The other day, after surviving Cowgirl Creamery's record-breaking longest line ever, I calmly made way to the next line along, to purchase some carbs on which to perch my cheese. As I positioned myself behind the couple at the end of Acme's line, I amused myself by noting the same two lovebirds had also been directly ahead of me in the cheese shop.

A split-second behind me Herr Deutsch, trying his hardest to control a badly-behaved, tempestuous, screaming little Ms Deutsch turned up with the befuddled Gran-&-Grampy-on-vacation Deutsch tagging along behind him. I could see that Mr Deutsch was miffed that I had pipped him to the post. He quickly swung around, baring his brutal weapon, a folded-up buggy perched precariously on his shoulder, trying to knock me out in one fell swoop, but I dodged my head just in time, narrowly missing an undeserved clip around the ear by a whisper.

I quietly stood my ground and tried to mind my own business, with an inkling, or sixth sense, that the whole Deutsch-family was fidgeting behind me, losing the form of the otherwise neat, ordered, Anglo-American line.

A minute or two later I noticed the uncontrollable little Ms Deutsch dart in front of me on the pretext of chasing her imaginary friend, if indeed a little person displaying such hideous, uncontrolled behaviour could actually find such a pal. I politely stepped back to allow Granny Deutsch, who was trying to chase after her, access so that she could retrieve the little brat. Granny Deutsch's attempts to retrieve her wayward grandaughter were not an instant success, at which point her wimpy son, Herr Deutsch, who had been weeviling on the sidelines, edged his way towards his misplaced family to inexplicably sneak a position one ahead of me in the queue. And he stood there as if nothing untoward had happened and that it was his given right for his whole family to move up one place without even giving a damn.

I am used to being looked over when trying to get the attention of a bartender at a busy watering hole, but if I am in a well-defined line, damn-it, hell hath no fury like a woman queue-jumped. "Excuse me", I tried to pipe up above the incessant, childish din of his ill-behaved daughter, "I was actually in front of you in this line. You were behind me and now you've moved infront of me."

He turned to me and bellowed. "I was not behind you, we are in front of you". Why an earth would a shy, English girl who doesn't like to make a fuss make this stuff up? I may be a little coy, but when human rights are in question, I'll venture to open my mouth. Nervously, because I don't much care for confrontation, I tried to explain that his daughter had run in front of me and that they had used that move to adjust their position in the queue. And then it got a bit heated. I don't recall how. He said something condescending like "Have your place in front of me in the queue, if it is that important to you. And just relax." Well, that really pushed me over the edge. I hate it when someone without a uniform tells me what to do. A slimy German father does not help me to relax. A glass of Champagne might help me to relax. Especially if I could throw it in his ugly face. Phew, anyway, I calmed down and was about to turn forward and ignore the whole bunch of them when I heard Granny Deutsch asking, in German of course, what was going on. The son flippantly replied, in German too, "oh, you know, the woman has a problem". I am sure he thought I wasn't translating a word of it. And I don't know what came over me, because I wasn't aware I could understand German any more, but as if by magic I calmly turned around and replied "The woman does not have a problem, you have a problem."

That shut them up sharp, I can tell you. They didn't utter a word, any of them, in either English or German, until they arrived at the counter to order their brot.

2004 | Spanish Red wine: Penasol
2005 | The Anti-Vegan
I Love Germans, really.


  • At 6/10/06 00:43, Blogger ChrisB said…

    Good for you Sam I am glad you politely stood your ground. Queue jumpers really annoy me I would much rather someone ask me if they are in a particular hurry (but aren't we all) and I would then willingly allow someone to go infront of me. mum

  • At 6/10/06 01:24, Blogger David said…

    Next time you come to France, I'll glady seek your assistance. I was at the Bon Marché last week, in line, and a woman came running up with her handbasket, and just walked in front of me, saying "I was here, but I forgot something."

    The Germans may be pushier, but the French certainly seem to have their gall as well. (Except Fred, of course...)

  • At 6/10/06 01:31, Blogger Linda said…

    Living in France, I often have older women push to the front of the line, especially at markets, and start giving their orders. It always makes me so mad. I wish the sellers wouldn't wait on them but they always do. My husband tells me that there was some sort of "war" on a beach somewhere when some Germans tried to save a whole section of the beach for themselves. Made the news a few years ago. Anyway, I loved the commercial.

  • At 6/10/06 04:24, Blogger Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said…

    Ack, queue jumpers! I had an "incident" in Florence recently waiting in line for the Uffizi with US friends (looong line). I say incident because this woman inserted herself and her group in front of us and when I questioned her in perfect Italian, she grabbed my arm and told me to go in front of them. That's when it really started. I don't understand how anyone thinks they are more important than anyone else!!! And definitely don't touch a stranger, you're bound to get hit!

  • At 6/10/06 04:30, Blogger Erielle said…

    I just LOVE that story! I would have loved to see the look on their faces when you told them what was what. How satisfying!

    We don't often get the chance to speak our minds in those situations. When I am cut in line, I usually silently fume for a little bit, get my heart rate up, and then revert to passive-aggressive strategies to get my spot back...such as saying very loudly to the person I am with that "I would be home by now if the people in front of me hadn't cut us," and hoping the line-cutters overhear me. Of course, sometimes they do hear me, and then they apologetically give me back my spot in line, and then I'm the one who feels like I have a problem.

  • At 6/10/06 05:57, Blogger Kevin said…

    Great story.

  • At 6/10/06 06:13, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great story - for us Brits abroad the old ads were definitely good. A great website that has many of them can be found here:

    He has the famous ad of Ray Gardner and his Blackcurrant tango.
    Marvelous stuff.

    Cheers y'all

  • At 6/10/06 06:14, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great story, which indeed contradicts what a long time Londoner told us recently that queueing etiquette was dead in the UK. We said, not so... at least to our experience.

  • At 6/10/06 06:21, Blogger wheresmymind said…

    Come to my fav. watering hole and I'm sure you would get plenty o' attention :)

  • At 6/10/06 06:24, Blogger Joy said…

    Yay! I'm *so* proud of you. I, too, have some issues with line order. Had I been with you, I'm not sure I would have been so polite.

  • At 6/10/06 06:36, Blogger Lisa the Waitress said…

    You could be talking about any of the suburbanites who live in my city! I swear it's something which only happens on Saturdays at the North Market (which is not quite like the Ferry Market building, but imagine for a city like Columbus it's very similar, except with suburbanites coming in from their big houses instead of tourists); I am always cut in line. From now on, I will use you as an inspiration to call them out on it.

  • At 6/10/06 06:47, Blogger I need orange said…

    I suppose that if no one ever pays attention to queues or if the cultural norm is that old women have earned the right to go in front, then everyone is ok with that.

    Part of "shall we, or shall we not obey the queue" is culture clash, I'm sure, and part is just plain ordinary rudeness.

    I fall firmly on the "CUT ME AT YOUR PERIL!" side of things. I always say "Excuse me, there IS a line!"

    One time my dh and I were in ... a country that shall go unnamed (but was not either France or Germany). We were attempting to buy train tickets. We waited in the mob (no line there!) for an hour, and people kept weaseling in ahead of us. Finally my husband, who is rather a large person, decided to block anyone from going in front of me. Finally I began to get closer to the front....

    I believe we were perceived as rude by locals who were late and felt (perhaps correctly in their culture) that they therefore had the right to go first. "But I'll miss my train!"

    "Tant pis" was my unvoiced reaction to that, as we were apparently never going to get tickets if we didn't hold our ground!


    Good on ya, Sam, for putting them in their place (behind you!).

  • At 6/10/06 08:48, Blogger Banlieue Blog said…

    I'm laughing at the 'creative queue moves' with that in action everyday and the French take those 3 words to an art form!!! I must say, I'm pretty good at those moves now too!
    Now.....can we talk about the driving??
    Great post!

  • At 6/10/06 09:31, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    "... their brot."

  • At 6/10/06 10:28, Blogger . said…

    You might like the mtv-netherlands commercial from a while back...

  • At 6/10/06 11:36, Blogger Delphine said…

    I'm unfortunately, a French girl on the Anglo-saxon side of the way of queing...It's one of the reason I love to live in America :)

    And just like you, I always get in trouble, with this little sentence jumping out of my mouth "this is not fair!"

    Each time I say it I know troubles are coming. I can't help. I just can't help.

  • At 6/10/06 11:41, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    For all the NYCers out there, I just got this code for the Time Out eating event on Tuesday. I went last year, and there’s a bunch of restaurants giving out free food, cool music and there’s a couple of open bars for the whole night. There’s a coupon code (TONYVIP) you enter at check out so you can get them for 20% off your tickets if you buy them before Tuesday. It’s a really fun event, and I think you get a gift bag and a free subscriptions, too.

  • At 6/10/06 11:45, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great story Sam. I'd have been furios and said something also.

  • At 6/10/06 14:16, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    good for you! i'm all for "at least i will let you know that i KNOW what you just pulled!"

    and for mainly the reason of all those lines, i do avoid the ferry building on weekends. it's a madhouse!

  • At 6/10/06 15:15, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I would have been livid. Brilliant comment -- absolutely spot-on!

  • At 6/10/06 21:45, Blogger neil said…

    I could quite happily watch you eat some Niederegger Lubeck, but if there was some Bee Sting cake in the way, look out!

  • At 7/10/06 01:07, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great story Sam! I completely relate. I think queueing is more a West coast thing. When I lived in Wash. D.C., I noticed the lack of order -- no lines, just chaos and people elbowing their way up to a food stand. When a local Washingtonian said to me "Stand in line? I don't got time to stand in line?! Why would I want to do that?" I replied
    "Because it's civilized."

  • At 7/10/06 02:28, Blogger Monkey Gland said…

    Having a skinhead and scowling a lot usually protects my spot. And a well time "Oi!" usually spots the pesky jumpers

  • At 7/10/06 08:42, Blogger Amy Sherman said…

    Oh what a great sense of satisfaction to have literally put them in their place!

    Twice I was pushed out of my place in line by Brits in Barcelona this Summer. I admit to being so stunned that I didn't say a thing at the time.

  • At 7/10/06 15:32, Blogger Alice Q. Foodie said…

    How funny - I found it necessary to do this a couple of times in New York. You just have to feel sorry for people who are so miserable they have nothing better to do than act like that!

  • At 7/10/06 20:23, Blogger Catherine said…

    there's so many reasons to learn another language! good for you.

  • At 8/10/06 09:24, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You are so funny, Sam.

  • At 8/10/06 12:18, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    mum - well you brought me up well

    david - I'll have to get fred to give you lessons, but I have to warn you, if you are anything like me you will feel uncomfortable trying to be gallish.

    linda - interesting - I couldnt really find out where the beach stereotype came from.

    ms adventures in italy - funny to hear the italian side, I havent been to italy for quite a while and cant remember any queue stories from there

    i think i used to be more of a silent fumer but as I get older I have less time left so I stick up for myself more.

    kevin - i might have more queue stories in the future

    anon - thanks for the link!!

    joan k - it might well have dies in london but I personally strive to maintain queueing etiquette wherever I am in the world.

    wmm - you funny!

    joy - i need you for the frech situations since you can speak the language so well

    lisa - you go girl - call them out!

    i need orange - i am sure that tourists get taken advantage wherever they travel - maybe the locals were trying to pull a fast one on you

    melissa - i guess you know exactly what I was alluding too. And as for the driving - 'moutons' and 'tru de cul' are the only phrases I hear in our car when a certain person is driving. Not sure if I i spelled those french words correctly but you probably get the gist.

    cookiecrumb - they didnt really deserve brot after that behaviour.

    b7b - hilarious - thank you

    del - I know the 'its not fair' bu try not to use it too much cos it sounds a little whiney. I think it often though.

    barbara - woman after my own heart

    c(h)ristine - it served me right ofr not getting theere really early that day like I should have done.

    janice - agreed

    neil - hmm?

    wendy - definitely appreciated civilized

    monkey gland - can i pay you to be my shopping body guard next time?

    amy - brits abroad are a different animal to the ones at home, present company excepted.

    alice - i dont recall that happening to me in NY - I must have been lucky.

    catherine - good point

    tana - thank you

  • At 8/10/06 22:54, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Grrr... I can't stand queue jumpers.

    Your translation reminded me of a funny moment a few years ago. I had three French girls visiting me here in Melbourne, Australia. We were sitting in a beer garden at a local pub, enjoying our wine and speaking French. The other girls didn't have a fantastic command of English, especially when spoken with an Australian accent. Some guys came along and sat next to us at the communal table and tried to chat us up. I didn't intervene, and let the girls handle them with their Parisienne cold shoulders (only French women know how brush men off like that). So these guys stupidly assumed that none of us spoke any English.

    They had a great time talking about my rather attractive French friends and myself in VERY blunt language right in front of us. The girls didn't understand what they were saying... until I started translating it into French for them. So the whole time these idiot boys were talking about us, I was relaying it back to our group in French.

    When we finished our drinks and stood up to leave, I turned to the guy sitting next to me and said very calmly (in my home-grown Aussie accent) "They're French, they're not idiots."

    The looks on their faces was PRICELESS!

  • At 9/10/06 00:06, Blogger neil said…

    That would be a Bienenstich cake. Its basically a yeast cake with a filling i.e. whipped cream, pastry cream or the one I like best, custard. The whole thing is topped with an almond honey praline.

  • At 9/10/06 00:17, Blogger Sam said…

    Lady Lunchalot - I LOVE that story!
    thanks for sharing.

    Neil. Ahh, I see. but bee sting?

  • At 9/10/06 14:39, Blogger neil said…

    Dunno, must be a German thing, after all who else would name a cake after a forest?

  • At 9/10/06 22:21, Blogger David said…

    Actually, I did get a lesson in line-jumping here, or risquillage, as it's called.

    To do it properly, you have to do it sans regret. Just step up to the counter, fix your gaze on the salesperson (or butcher, boulanger, etc.) and don't look anyone else in the eye (or you're screwed), and have exact change...unless you're a little old lady...
    ...then feel free to stand there and count out the centimes one-by-one, acting completely surprised, as if it's the first time anyone's ever asked you to pay for anything.

    Last sunday I actually was in line at the market for my cheese, and my (French) other half asked me why I was waiting in line. Hmmm, maybe I do need Fred to show me a thing or two after all. Old habits die hard.

  • At 20/4/07 14:08, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You're a bit small-minded, don't you think? Also Englishmen can be fusspots as well!

    @"Mrs. Adventures in Italy":

    If you spoke perfect Italian, you wouldn't have written "Uffizi" but "uffici". ;)


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