Lessons in Waiting for Your Turn

Many years ago, I was told a story, first hand, by a relative of how he had behaved badly on his first visit abroad. He had gone into the Post Office presumably to buy some stamps. There was a long queue of people waiting patiently for the next cubicle to become free and for the Customer Service Assistant to call out ” next please”. However, this relative simply ignored the queue and walked straight up to the next free Customer Service Assistant to demand for postage stamps. Needless to say, the people who had been queuing lashed out at him and called him all kinds of unprintable names. Sadly, in this case he had asked for the insults by his bad and careless behaviour and he got what he asked for.

More recently, whilst I was recounting this story at a training session, a lady graciously got up and offered her own version of a very similar story. She was on a trip to the United States and had gone into a fast food restaurant; she also was totally oblivious of the queue and proceeded ‘innocently’ to the checkout. She also got abuse, some of it racial that suggested she get some manners from her African heritage. We all know that racial insults are unacceptable in whatever context, but unfortunately, a sure way to not get it, is to not ask for it. By this I mean do not behave in a manner that will attract insults from people.

The antidote to not being insulted is to learn acceptable customs and practices for various situations. These would apply whether at home or abroad, as the saying goes ‘what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Anyone who has taken the pains and discipline to act properly and to observe etiquette and protocol in campus or at the local ‘mama put’ restaurant in Lagos will not be caught unawares if they suddenly find themselves at the dining hall of their university in Atlanta where they are pursuing a Masters programme on scholarship.

‘Charity begins at home’ as they say, meaning it is your conduct at home that you take outside the home. The basic lesson here is to not despise the fact that you are at home in your town or village in Nigeria and behave as if anything goes. Start to behave well wherever you are and you will never suffer indignity anywhere.

Some people may be give excuses to justify jumping the queue or for other rude behaviour. For example, people are wont to say that because most people behave badly, it is irrelevant if they try to do right as they are a lone voice in the midst of an unruly crowd. For some the saying ‘this is how it is done here’ is enough encouragement to continue with the status quo.

However, regardless of the reasons given, the need and importance of waiting for your turn cannot be overemphasised; it is a basic civility in our world and a noble practice that is also a universally accepted language. It is understood and expected in every decent and reasonable culture and it is thus a necessary skill to embrace.

We have returned to the simple manner of waiting for your turn again because it cannot be taken for granted as there are many people who just do not recognise a queue when they see one. Somehow their brains do not pick up the signal from their eyes that says there is a line and you are expected to join it. So here are some pointers:

1. There are so many places where people are required to wait for their turn just to ensure a speedy and chaos-free service. Basically everywhere people congregate, queues are to be expected and honoured. Be it at the supermarket, bank, restaurant, or even at the hospital. It may be as mundane as a local market or an information desk at the airport. In any place where a queue forms, the reason is so that people can be seen in the order in which they arrived.

2. This ensures fairness in service delivery and also a smooth and efficient system. No one likes to be taken advantage of by people who are more powerful or influential. We all consider it as being unfair at the bank when a rich person is taken to the front of the queue and given attention whilst others wait on cashiers who seem uninterested in their work. In the same vein we owe it to one another as citizens of Nigeria and also as human beings to try to make life easier and the world a better place by following basic etiquette in public places. Your time is not more precious than the man standing next to you.

3. Joining the queue is for everyone to do whether rich, poor in a hurry or not.

4. If you have an urgent matter at hand and cannot wait on the queue, the right thing to do is to ask the person in front of you if you can possibly go ahead of them.

5. Remember to ask politely, using the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as necessary.

6. The habits you form as your daily behaviour will elevate you or demote you one day.

7. If you take the pain to do what is right in the village where no one notices, you will probably do the same one day in the city and you will be celebrated.

8. Willingness to join a queue is an act that speaks of the state of your heart; it speaks of a humble nature ready to comply with decency and given authority.

9. Only confident people are strong enough to submit to authority.

10. Expect to be served in the order in which you have sought a service; never expect to go ahead of people present before you.

We all benefit when we do things right!