Holy cow, I wrote a book!
In China, queueing is honored more in the breach than in the observance.
If you see a line for something, you must understand that what you are seeing
is not really a line.
It is a one-dimensional mob.
You must be prepared to defend your position in line fiercely,
because any sign of weakness will be pounced upon, and the next thing
you know, five people just cut in front of you.
I first became aware of this characteristic of "Chinese
while still at the airport.
When the gate agents announced that the flight to Beijing had begun boarding,
a one-dimensional mob quickly formed, and I naïvely joined the end.
It wasn't long before my lack of attentiveness to the minuscule open
space in front of me resulted in another person cutting in front.
At that point, I realized that the Chinese implementation of queueing
theory was already in effect
even before we left the United States.
As another example: After the plane pulls up to the gate after
landing, the aisles quickly fill with people anxious to get
off the plane.
In the United States, you can rely upon the kindness of strangers
to let you into the aisle so you can fetch your bags and join
But in China, you must force your way into the aisle.
Nobody is going to let you in.
Colleagues of mine who have spent time in both China
and the United States tell me that it's an adjustment
they have to make whenever they travel between the two
For example, in the United States, it is understood that
when you are waiting in line for the ATM, you allow the
person at the ATM a few feet of "privacy space."
On the other hand, in China, you cannot leave such an
allowance, because that is a sign of weakness in the
You have to stand right behind the person to protect
your place in line.
Bonus airport observation:
How ironic it is that
your last meal in your home country
often comes from a crappy airport crfeteria.