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Typical NL: Can’t stand (in) queues

Whenever I’m exploring another country, I also like to take an extensive look at the local supermarkets. Not that I like supermarkets as such, but I find that they allow a little peek into the character of a nation. Of course, there are tasty treats like vla, drop and stroopwafels, but there’s much more to discover.

The most stunning observation I’ve made in supermarkets is that the Dutch apparently hate to wait in queues. Some supermarkets like Jumbo use this as a marketing trick by promising you money if you have to wait in line too long – I've never seen it happen, though. What I have observed regularly, however, is that whenever a new cashier station is opened in a shop, it immediately sparks a race between all the waiting customers: who will be first in the new line? Most foreigners assume that those who’ve already been waiting for the longest time should have priority. But no, the Dutch way is a brutal duel, with no hint of politeness and no trace of courtesy.

And it's not only in the shops – it's everywhere, including buses as well. There’s no point arriving early at a bus station, because as soon as the bus arrives, everyone will ruthlessly push their way onto the bus as quickly as possible. No-one even tries to hide the fact that they’re cutting the line; it's apparently simply not perceived as wrong. Instead of a queue, there’s just a huge knot of people clotting the door. Whoever is quickest or strongest gets to be the first on the bus. With trains it's the same: everybody tries to elbow their way in, even if there are obviously still people who need to exit the train first.

I used to be puzzled by the fact that there are so many places where you have to take a number in order to be served. I knew it from offices but in the Netherlands this system is even in some shops, like bakeries, or at the market. Is it the last resort to avoid utter chaos?

I honestly don't understand it. The Dutch never seem to be in too much of a hurry; they generally take a relaxed attitude which I find charming. But as soon as they face a queue, all this changes. Is this attitude a legacy from times long past, when they were still a seafaring nation? My best guess is that it’s old instincts kicking in and they’re confusing buses with lifeboats, believing that their life depends on getting in as quickly as possible. Or is there some other explanation?

 

Tim Aretz

 

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