How I learned to budge


The Lonely Planet Guide to Europe says, "In some southern European countries, aggressive queue-jumping is a way of life." Bosnia has to be included in this list. On my first trip to the bank, more than a year ago, I couldn't get served because people continually budged in front of me. When I glared, they ignored it. After several episodes of waiting over an hour to get served, I started adapting. My western buffer zone of 36 inches gradually shrunk to 24 inches, to 18, to 12, to 6. You should see me in the bank these days. I confidently stride in and up to the person being helped at the teller. I press my body against theirs and watch them count out their money, sign forms, etc., all the while breathing heavily on their neck. Other customers come in after and look to budge to the front, but they soon see that there's no chance in the world with me. You couldn't fit a sheet of paper between me and the next guy, let alone a queue-jumper. When it seems the customer is nearing, but not at, the end of their transaction, I loudly start telling the teller what I need. This is not rude here. This is life. This is how you get things done. I get served, and leave. Four minutes.

Getting ice cream is even better. Ice cream is usually served out a little window, with a glass-front freezer displaying all the flavors and a couple of staff scooping it out. In summer evenings, there might be thirty or forty people crowded around one of these little windows. Actually, crowded doesn't really capture it... More like stuffed, or pressed, or squeezed around the window. There is no order, no queue. It's every man for himself. I walk up, and press against the back of the crowd. I turn sideways, push one leg forward, wedge a little space, then move up. Then move up again. With a little more jostling, I get within ear-shot of a server. You can't wait for eye contact with a server--it'll never happen. Instead, you have to grab their attention. I shout, "2 scoops of chocolate, 2 scoops of yogurt, 2 scoops of hazelnut!" The server has no choice but to comply. My exact change prepared, I pay the server, take my 3 cones and hold them high above my head, victory on my face, as I wedge my way back out.

I'm now back in North America, but I don't know how I'm ever going to respect body space again...