No one in the world knows better how to stand in a queue than the Russians. Alright, some nations might contest this fact. Many folks might think that they know all there is to know about queue-standing. Sorry, folks, but you are mistaken. The Russians have managed to elevate this know-how to the highest state of art, which has its own rules and laws. They have also managed to complicate the matter in the process, and nothing is as straightforward as a foreigner might expect.
I shall prove this by a specific example. Let’s say you need to buy a train ticket. You are on one of Moscow’s train stations and you have even managed to locate the ticket hall. A helpful hint: do not search in your dictionary for the Russian equivalent of the word “Tickets”, which is “Билеты”. Instead you need to look for a word “Кассы”, which means just that – a ticket hall, a cash register or a cash office.
First thing that you need to do upon entering the hall is to assess the situation. There will be multiple ticket-selling windows, each with its own queue. Some windows will be selling tickets for the local trains only, others – for the long distance trains. A train going to the same town could be a local one or a long distance one, depending on how many stops it will have in between. You should choose the window carefully as the “local” window will never sell you a ticket for the long distance train. And you would end up wasting your time standing in that queue.
Let’s assume that you have located the right ticket windows selling the right type of tickets. As I said, there will be a few. Each one – with a queue. Now, here is the crucial part: you have to make a decision which queue to join. In order to come up with the right decision you have to consider the following facts: 1) the length of the queue (not that easy as it seems at first, but I’ll explain later in more detail); 2) the presence of obvious groups of passengers (friends, families, who are planning to travel together and who are likely to enter into lengthy diplomatic discussions with the ticket sales person about the types of train carriages and meal options) which it is advisable to avoid. For general knowledge, it is vital to remember at this stage that the queue could be “standing” as well as “sitting” (the latter is a very important occurrence at banks, hospitals and other venues with provided sitting areas). You should never ever induce hostile feelings in the sitting queue by ignoring it! The hostile feelings will unite the whole queue and turn it against you.
OK, so far so good. You have made the decision. This particular queue appeals to you for all the above reasons. Plus, you also have that “gut feeling”, a “sixth sense”, that tells you instinctively that standing in this particular queue would be the best decision you have ever made in your life. A word of warning: if you are willing to join the queue, you should never just quietly stand behind the last visible person in that queue. Because this person might not be the last. There might be other invisible queuing people, who at this given moment have decided to leave the queue “for a minute” to deal with their other pressing needs. In order to avoid an unpleasant situation later, you should now loudly announce to the whole queue your intention to join it. The typical question for that purpose is: “Who is the last person in the queue?” For an answer you will be instantly given all the required information about the missing people by the last visible queue-holder in front of you. Take a note of it. You wouldn’t want to admit anyone in the queue in front of you, if they don’t match the given description. And believe me, there will always be a volunteer or two, who would like to infiltrate the queue ranks by pretending that they were there all the time, but only left “for a minute”. As soon as you verbally confirm that you are now the last person in the queue, you will have to take upon yourself the whole responsibility of being “the last person in the queue”. You will also acquire a code name, something like “that man in a stripy shirt” or “that woman in a red skirt”, by which you will now be known to the whole queue.
Still, before you actually join that queue and despite that gut feeling, you need to make one very important move. You have to go to the front of that queue to the ticket window itself. It might not be very easy getting there, considering the impenetrable crowd and the barricade of luggage, but you still have to do it. There, behind the glass counter next to the saleswoman (always a woman, for some reason!), is located a small notice board. It’s a timetable for breaks that the saleswoman is going to take no matter what. Please note that the breaks always start, but never finish, on time. Obviously, before you leave the queue for that little quest, you need to warn the person in front of you about your intention to leave the queue “for a minute”. Back to the break timetable. If you have a clear one hour (or better – two) until the next break, you can go back to the end of the queue to resume your position. But if the break starts, say, in (God forbid!) 30 minutes, you might have a problem. Because, when you finally get your turn to buy a ticket, you risk having the ticket window shut right in front of your nose! It is the human right of the saleswoman to have that break, and no amount of pleading to change her mind will help you. Even if your train leaves the station in the next five minutes. So, what you are going to do next is up to you. You could take a chance and still get back in the queue. Or, you could start your task from the beginning and choose a different queue. Simple. A useful hint: the queues are usually shorter at the windows where the break is about to begin. Don’t be tempted.
(to be continued…)
Just for Fun.
This is the first half of the first comical and practical step-by-step guide to dealing with trivial things and daily matters in Russia. An essential read for those planning to visit this wonderful country or for those who would like to know more about life in Russia. I hope you enjoy it. I would welcome all your comments especially those with a healthy helping of constructive criticism. The satirical series will hopefully continue.