Another good post by Liz Hulley:

I was very amused that my automatic Russian-English dictionary correctly translated the title of this post when my mouse hovered over it. The dictionary is rather incomplete and sometime supplies the wrong contextual definition, or it recognizes only the lexical form and won’t translate if word appears in a different form. It had no problem with “queuing,” so I suppose the concept must be an important one in the Russian language.

While traveling in foreign countries, I can sometimes be quite good at blending in. But while I can skillfully hide certain American mannerisms, I’m not so willing to take on the customs of the new culture. There are certain Russian customs that I simply ignore and hope that no one will notice.

One of them is the “waiting in line” conversation. If anyone asks me, I try to be accommodating, but I refuse to initiate a discussion about who’s last in line. It’s just too strange. Here’s a typical dialogue:

“Who’s last in line here?”
“I am.”
“Then I’m after you.”

This is a perfectly normal conversation occurring in Russia. The question I have as a foreigner is, why on earth do they have to discuss it? Everyone knows that if you want to stand in line, you simply go to the end, stand behind the last person, and keep standing behind them until it’s your turn. If you step out of line early, because you forgot something, you go back to the end and begin again.

When we learned line etiquette in Russian class, we were all quite shocked. How could there be different sets of rules for standing in line? Isn’t it common sense?

Russians use the waiting in line rules to deal with situations like this:let’s say that an elderly person comes in and doesn’t have the strength to stand in line. He/she initiates the “Who’s in line” conversation and then adds, “Tell everyone that I’m after you.” And goes to sit down. Now, another person enters and approaches the person who’s standing at the end of the line.

Person who’s physically last in line: “There’s a woman standing after me.” The elderly woman waves from a bench and the new arrival says, “Well then I’m after her.”

For some reason Russians like to get in line before they are finished shopping. Sometimes one person stands with the cart and one or more members of the party continue to run around the store collecting items. Other times one person stands in line without the cart and his companions bring the cart later.

Aside from saving a spot for their friends, Russians also ask strangers to save their place. Recently I was the last in line and a woman came up behind me. “Say that I’m after you,” she instructed. And left her eyeglasses in the basket behind me to “save” her spot while she ran off to get her groceries. It’s all about ensuring your special place and then getting others to work for you.

It’s the same concept on the bus with getting a seat. Elderly people rush on and hover over two seats at once. Indecisive? No, just saving a seat for their friend. When there isn’t enough of something, you take care of yourself and your own.

From the American point of view, it’s immoral to break rules for the sake of your friends. From the Russian point of view, it’s immoral to let down your friends for the sake of following the rules.

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