The Current

Cue the rage over queues: Documentary explores social science of lining up

Director Josh Freed’s new documentary looks at the history and tensions around the queue, or the lineup.
The average person will spend a year or two in lines of some kind over their lifetime. (Shutterstock)

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They can cause stress, anxiety, rage and in some extreme cases — even murder. 

From grocery stores to renewing a passport, to the virtual version sitting on hold on the phone — lineups are a painful but unavoidable fact of everyday life.

In his new documentary, The Taming of the Queue, Montreal filmmaker Josh Freed says that how we stand in line can tell us a lot about our culture. And however much we might hate it, he points to a silver lining in lineups.

"There is something very human about a line," Freed tells The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"When you actually are forced into it long enough and if you do chat with people, it's kind of an interesting human experience to meet people you'd never meet."

There is something very human about a line.- Josh Freed

Queuing culture in U.K.

Freed points to the British at being the biggest queuing enthusiasts. He describes a photograph taken during 2011 riots in the U.K.

"People broke into an electronics store," says Freed. "And you see this long queue of people all lined up in front of a broken window waiting to take their turn to steal a television. They queue up to loot." 
In his documentary, The Taming of the Queue, Montreal filmmaker Josh Freed says that how we stand in line can tell us a lot about our culture. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

On the other hand, when Freed visited Mumbai, India, he found himself unable to manage getting onto a train in a place where lining up wasn't the norm.

"As a North American, I couldn't board the train during rush hour," says Freed. 

"It's this extraordinary wall of elbows and bums and heads banging ... They've come in groups and they have strategies. I felt like I was a leaf in a hurricane. I just got flung backwards each time I tried, like I was an infant."

No lineups in Mumbai

Freed asked people in Mumbai about what's behind the lack of orderly train queues.

"They say ... if you can't find your way onto the train, you don't want it as badly as somebody else," says Freed.

"That's the general attitude there and all Indians accept it. Life is hard. Your day could be 18 hours between travel, getting to work, getting home," he explains.

"If some Western guy is not willing to squeeze his body next to the person in front of him, if he's not willing to fight his way into the train, he doesn't need it."

The Canadians will not let you in line, but they won't punch you like Americans will.- Josh Freed

Where do Canadians stand in this cultural queue?

"We have a bit of the British in us ... in that we're polite," says Freed.

"But we have a bit of the American in us in that when you try to break in the line, they're going to kick you out of line. The British will let you in, begrudgingly," he explains. 

"The Canadians will not let you in line, but they won't punch you like Americans will."

Listen to this segment at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese.