Nov 192008

(asked by Nancy from Connecticut)

Why can’t French people wait patiently in a line? Particularly when waiting for transportation. When I was at the airport in Paris, everyone was waiting in a clump for the shuttle from one terminal to the other, as soon as the bus came, the French person behind me started pushing and saying “dépêchez-vous” and pushing me. The same sort of thing would happen in the subways and waiting for a taxi, people would be calmly waiting, not in line, and then once the subway or taxi would appear, you would think it was going to be the last one ever.

We must distinguish a few different things here.
First, there is waiting in line, and then there’s getting on the bus/metro/train/etc.

So, French people can’t just wait patiently in line, especially Parisians.
This for two reasons:
-First, waiting patiently in line, in most French people’s mind is admitting you have no personality, you’re part of the flock, and you’re a sheep. If you have personality, you just can’t wait patiently in line, only brainless and brainwashed people do such a thing.
Same thing goes with cutting the lines. When somebody is cutting a line, they don’t feel that they’re being disrespectful to other people. They feel that they’re asserting their personality. They’re showing the whole world that they’re not a sheep; and most importantly, they’re showing that they’re fighting the Man. They’re showing that the Man can’t make them do whatever it wants. Right now, they’re just cutting a line, but in the French person’s mind, this act shows the Man that tomorrow they could start a revolution just as easily, so the Man should be afraid.
-The second reason, which applies mostly to Parisians, has nothing to do with the Man, and everything to do with you. See, Parisians are better than you. Don’t take it personally, they’re better than anybody. And they have more important things to do than you have. And they have less time to spare than you. Because they’re more important.

Usually, when the confrontation happens between a Parisian and a tourist, things go pretty smoothly, as the tourist won’t understand what’s happening and won’t know what to do, and the Parisian will be long gone (at the cash register or in the taxi) before the tourist realizes what just happened. Especially because the Parisian wouldn’t have had any qualm about cutting the line in front of the tourist as it’s common knowledge that even the least important thing a Parisian has to do will be more important than the most important thing a tourist will have to do. And don’t get the Parisian started with time, it’s also common knowledge that tourists have all the time in the world (after all, they’re on vacation) and that Parisians are always in a rush, always.

When it gets interesting is when we’re dealing with two Parisians having this perspective on things. As they’re both more important than the other one, it leads to some very entertaining scenes at times.
It’s even funnier when the Parisian is confronted to an event on which he has no control.

Last week, a very important Parisian (he had an expensive car, a suit and tie, and he was overweight, very important, indeed) wanted to drive through that small street. But there was a delivery truck delivering something.
As the important Parisian was more important than the delivery, he decided to go in the street nonetheless. Of course, like any Parisian driver, he started honking as soon as his car stopped. (Parisian drivers don’t use their brains with they drive, it’s all about Pavlovian conditioning, and when they’re stopped by anything other than a red light, they’ll honk until their car moves again)
Then the delivery guys/movers couldn’t help but make fun of him. The important Parisian was of course offended that his importance was mocked in such a way. Ensued a very colored dialogue between the movers and the important Parisian who, instead of just pulling back and going another way insisted on going that way and demanded that the truck be moved, provoking the hilarity the movers, and myself.

And what about getting on the metro, the bus, the train, etc.
First, let’s note that concerning taxis, the same rules as the ones about waiting in line apply.
But why do people rush when a public transport arrive?
Many possibilities.
First, there’s always the important Parisian (even if he rarely takes public transportation) that thinks you should let him go first, after all he’s more important than you.
Then you have old people that lived through the War, and yes, it could be the last bus, you never know, you foolish youngling that never lived through a war.
Then, you have the people that are not fully aware that these vehicles are operated by human beings and that they’ll wait for you to get in or out before leaving.
Then you have the ones that are really sheep. That must never be underestimated.

I think I’ve covered the topic.

Before finishing, I must underline, that this also might have something to do with the Mediterranean spirit, as French people are so much better with waiting in line than any other country from the Mediterranean, in some other countries that will remain nameless (just look at a map if you suck at geography), I wonder how there aren’t fistfights anytime there’s a line involved.

More Questions Answered:

  13 Responses to “Why can’t French people wait patiently in a line?”

  1. Interesting perspective with the “sheep in the flock”.
    I am the patient waiter (usuallY). When someone cuts the line, I get mad, think the person is a rude a**** that was not brought up well and now must bother me in my already complicated life ))))))
    Btw you now live in boboland? Would you like to share some fresh observations?:)

  2. Hilarious and insightful. As a frequent line-cutter (I’m learning how to live like a Parisian), I’m relieved to hear that everyone really thinks of me as an assertive Man-fighter, and not a rude bitch like I previously thought.

    And, as horrible as Parisians are, I’d have to assert that Italians are the worst…but that’s just my opinion.

  3. Haha. No, I got it…I guess my crappy sarcasm wasn’t very obvious.
    But, I do wonder why people aren’t more “unpleasant” to line-cutters. I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to bitch someone out for not waiting their turn since moving here. I’ve found people usually find their place at the back of the line if you call them out on it.

  4. we were at the market the other day and it was sunday at 12:20, they close at 12:30…it was packed because the sat before was all saints day, so nothing was open. this old man just walked up and cut in front of like 15 people and nobody said anything, just let him cut. What’s the use, like you say, he won’t learn. I have found that if someone is behind me with a couple of things and I have way more I let them go in front of me. What the hell…i’m in no hurry and it makes me feel good to be nice.

  5. In Paris, one learns quickly to protect one’s place in the queue or one will find oneself at the back of the line.

  6. damn french.


  7. “See, Parisians are better than you. Don’t take it personally, they’re better than anybody. And they have more important things to do than you have. And they have less time to spare than you. Because they’re more important.”

    Hahaha. Nice arrogance.
    Stereotypical French Arrogance? Check.

    • I’m not sure if the comment is addressed to me or to Parisians. In doubt, I’ll respond to both.

      If it’s to me, you may be new to the blog and as such don’t really know my opinion of Parisians. See, here for example, I’m not justifying their behavior, I’m mocking it. Yes, irony and sarcasm are a big part of this blog.

      If it’s to Parisians, you should have said “stereotypical Parisian arrogance.” Yeah, I know, I should give up on trying to teach the world that Parisian and French are not interchangeable terms, it’s not like I underlined the difference in this very post after all.

  8. I LOVE your blog depuis toujours.

    Just linked to this.

  9. I really like this answer. You are witty, sarcastic, funny, and straight-forward, Frenchman. Now I know what to expect when I go to Paris! Thanks for answering this question, and thanks Nancy for asking it.

  10. If I ever go to jail, it will be for breaking a couple of bones of another motherf**ker who cuts me in line in Paris.

 Leave a Reply



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.