August 08, 2009

Phones, and squeezing

From a quick trip last week that took me through two airports, some observations.

* I know this is normal, but it still baffles me. Two men sitting near me in the plane kept up conversations on their phones well past the time the aircraft pulled away from the gate and the staff had asked us all to switch them off. Well past the time the staff came down the aisle and asked them specifically to switch off. Nearly till the time we left the ground.

* I know this is normal too, but it still baffles me too. Both men's phones began ringing -- ringing! -- the instant we touched the ground again, 2 hours later. I mean, the very instant. Conversations started up, uninterrupted by numerous pleas from the staff.

* At the check-in queue, a man tried to squeeze past and go to the front. At the security check queue, two men tried to squeeze past and go to the front. At the gate, a man tried to go to the front of the queue. Getting on to the bus, a man tried to squeeze past to go to the front. Getting off the bus and walking to the stairs to board the plane, two men tried to go to the front.

All of which, in every depressing detail, was repeated at the other airport.

* Also at the other airport, I was hungry and had a couple hours to kill. Joined a queue at a sandwich-and-coffee joint. In about five minutes, I got to second in line, young man with a guitar on his shoulder in front of me, ordering and paying.

Suddenly, the middle-aged man behind me, creased trousers and starched white shirt, squeezes behind me and then between guitar-man and me, so he is now second in line.

I ask him what he's up to. He shrugs elaborately and exaggeratedly and says, as if doing me an enormous favour, "Oh sure, please go ahead!" and returns to his original place behind me.

(I shall end here, and wait for someone to point out to silly me that all such behaviour happens because there is nobody to enforce the rules.)


Anonymous said...

baffles and depresses me too....
Somehow it does come down to enforcement though. For a certain percentage of the populace there is no other way but to put the law down firmly. The responsibility of enforcement lies with parents, teachers and society in general.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Did you leave a polite gap between yourself and guitar-man? Not done. Unless you're absolutely breathing down the guy's neck, it is assumed that you are not standing in line.

I have frequently stood behind people whom I have assumed were in line, only to be waved in front -- "oh, I'm not in line..." -- or even worse, not told anything, but then watch someone else squeeze in front without eliciting protest, and then realising that the person in front of me was not in line.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anon 345am: but how do you enforce the law inside planes, apart from the staff telling everybody who pulls out their phones not to use them? Why is this rule obeyed with exactly the same enforcement strategy (staff telling people not to use phones) in other countries where people fly?

Rahul: good point, but this guy had been standing behind me for most of those 5 minutes too, moving up the line with me. There were folks behind him as well.

I cannot imagine what suddenly possessed him.

Ludwig said...

There's a taxonomy that might be of interest. Your starched white shirt man fits in there somewhere, I am sure.

A very specific example of what to do with annoying talking on phone on the plane types is also to be found.

Exeunt [having blown trumpet]

Rahul said...

An extension of this attitude can be found in the roads everyday as well. I met someone in Mauritius many years ago who had said to me (as a queue of cars politely waited behind a stalled scooter), "The maturity of a civilization can be determined by the way it behaves on the road..."

It seemed an appropriate comment to me and I felt quite ashamed..

Anonymous said...

I came to US an year back fr my studies. Over an year I have realised that may be, we indians don't inculcate the basic human etiquettes in our children right from the start. Even if one person does, others do not and thus difficult to escape the effect of others. Whereas, in US they give a very high regard to human feelings, which I we hardly observe in India then be it while driving on road, queue to pay bill...or whatever. I am not any anti-indian neither highly pro-american but I have really appreciated this attitude. Though I myself have been driving in india with all abusive words for ppl having no driving sense or queue instance you narrated

NightWatchmen said...

Dilip I think we are jumping conclusions too fast here and extrapolating about civilizations etc etc. (At least in the comments)

The hurry at the airports I have seen everywhere I mean everywhere...Tel Aviv, Milan, Zurich, Frankfurt, Dallas, Houston you name it. Cutting across during check in/secutiry and talking on cell phones has happened everywhere.

Talking of airport queues, why do we routinely accept signal violations, drunken driving which are way more life threatening than say ppl cutting across lines (talking on cell phone do have a non zero probability of crashing flights though) ? Funnily enough a lot of people I know who have theories like "I drive better when I am drunk since I need to concentrate more" "If you are driving your own car no matter how drunk you are nothing will happen" and in all these cases they are mightily well educated make a huge amount of money a month and still sprout such pearls of wisdom.

What of the worry at the back of mind when I drive home late from work that there might be a certain guy with too many Jack Daniel's on the road, so far touch wood have been lucky not so the case with the early morning walkers mowed down by a Honda City in Indiranagar Bangalore about 5km from my house. The media of course does not find a City or a local businessman as attractive as a BMW so our man is still driving somewhere out there.

I can easily put up with people cutting across airport queues after all the flight will not leave without me :)

Vamsee Modugula said...

I am going to sound very incoherent here because this is one of my pet peeves and something that infuriates me to no end. I have had people cut lines even when there is no long queue and I am talking about rich, educated people here who I am sure visited foreign countries and followed rules there!
I just cannot understand why these people are so impatient. Same is the case with drivers on the road. The way they squeeze their car in to the narrow space between two occupied lanes is unbelievable. Why is it so hard for them to spend those extra 30 seconds to stand in lines or drive safely?

Now...these same impatient people will stand in line for hours at a stretch for god's darshan in a temple.

I will stop here, but just one more comment on your observation as to why rules are observed in some places and not others.

Have you read about the theory of broken windows? Read about it here:

P.S Came to your blog through TGDC.

avenir labs said...

I think it a good decision and good way ...

??! said...

Most of the things I had to say have been already by the previous commenters.

Let me just point you to two blogposts -

About queues in other parts of the world.

and about how the phone-in-planes rule is a bit of a sham.

Anonymous said...


Requesting is not the same as enforcing. In other countries there is almost zero tolerance for non compliance with law. Continued non compliance in the face of repeated requests would be dealt with severely. In India we always sigh and tolerate. No action is ever taken nor is this even considered as a serious issue. Maybe that's what your question is about .... that we as a nation don't even consider such behavior to be problematic.

-Anon 345am

Sumedha said...

I don't think that the cutting of queues is because of lack of enforecement. What do we want, a security guard at every line making sure we follow basic courtesy and common sense? And I think it is true that the same people, when abroad, will follow many of the rules they ignore here. I think that's because rule-breaking is so expected and accepted here. Cutting of queues happens everywhere... just a couple of days ago, I was standing in line at a McDonald's, and an old-ish woman came with a small child, gave the girl some money, and said "Jao, jao, aage chale jao" and pushed her in front of me. Five seconds after I told her that there's a line (which was perfectly obvious) and the child was moved, two guys decided to be all smart and crowd the counter, trying to get in front of me.

I would understand if people are in a hurry, you know. Okay, you have someplace to be, and you're late. So ask me! I'll give you my place in the line. You can't just barge in! Besides, most of the line-cutters aren't actually in a hurry, are they?

The Real Azous D'Pilid said...

Ah D'Souza, at it again, I see. The usual insuating, implying comments, because you lack the testicular accoutrements to say what you want to say - which is that you think all Indians are crude assholes. At this point, D'Souza goes: WHERE HAVE I SAID that? Nowhere, D'Souza, nowhere. You let your chamcha commentors say it instead, so that you can go and correct them and therefore sound more worldly and liberal. Keep it up, we have all day, the Tsunami's been cancelled.

The Real Azous D'Pilid said...

I don't think that the cutting of queues is because of lack of enforecement. What do we want, a security guard at every line making sure we follow basic courtesy and common sense?

It is possible to 'enforce' queueing without security guards. Everybody works on the principal of reward and punishment, even you.
You need to wonder why the server lets queue jumpers in. And when you tell off the queue jumper, instead of the server, you are making the mistake. The right thing to do when somebody jumps the line in front of you at an airport is to ask to see the manager - and tell him that the employees are not doing their job. Or if it's in a coffee shop - inform the cashier that you are going to buy your coffee elsewhere, because the cashier rewarded a queue jumper. Do you do that? No? Of course not. You don't have the time. It's easier just to totally dismiss Indians as boorish and then go on being superior and stiff-upper-lipped like D'Souza The MahaGentleman here.

What is the 'goal' of cutting the queue? To get to the front of the line and get served first.

Where do you think this impatience comes from? Could it be because from a very very early age, you have seen there being a long line for everything, and knowing that if you actually wait your turn patiently, you will not be rewarded, and then seeing people cut the line be rewarded? It is so easy to extrapolate your life experience with those of others, even people who are 'educated'.

So yes, having security guards everywhere is what you need - you need it until it becomes learned behaviour, and part of your social norms. Then, the security guards will no longer be required.

Let's take another example - looking both ways before you cross the street. This is not done by pedestrians in India. Why not? Isn't it common sense? No. It isn't. It is learned behaviour, which every school is supposed to teach you. Mine did. In countries outside India in fact this rule used to be broadcast on TV. In countries outside India, pedestrians who cross when it is not their light, or from the wrong part of the road can be fined by policemen for jaywalking. Do it often enough, and people eventually learn - but has it even been tried in India? Ever?

But Again, Don Souza Quixote Shaheed here, would rather just have you look down on your own race because then he can be praised for 'Holding a Mirror up to Society' and 'Making People Think', although if this is 'thinking', I really fear for the Human Race

Dilip D'Souza said...

Ludwig, enjoyed those two articles! Thanks. Reminds me of the time a friend and I used to exit movie shows shouting to those present for the next show "It's bad, don't waste your money, XYZ is how it ends!"

Of course, our only purpose was to be obnoxious.

Vamsee M, I hear your rage. I've read a little bit about broken windows, often also cited as the reason NYC saw a drop in crime (and the amount of graffiti on the trains...).

As always, I don't know that being rich and educated has much of a correlation with being willing to observe certain niceties. The guy who parked in such a way as to block the rest of us trying to get through the drivethru lane in the Taco Bell in Austin, who listened me asking him to move and then said "Ahh, just get the fuck back to your country, man!" -- from his clothes and his massive SUV, I'd peg him as rich. Didn't stop him from being a prick.

??!, I'm not persuaded of the safety benefits or otherwise of not using your cellphone while the plane is taxi-ing, but what baffles me is why guys feel the need to turn on their phones the *instant* the plane touches down. What's that about?

Sumedha, I think people don't ask to break the line because they assume they will be turned down. Maybe they think the returns will be better if they simply barge in. Maybe this is something to work on too, the courtesy of saying yes when someone is courteous enough to ask.

Suresh said...


Queue jumping in our own country is only one manifestation of an attitude which creates rules and then tags on various exceptions to them. I have seen buses with seats labeled "Reserved for MPs/MLAs" on them. You yourself have pointed to the fact that the Sealink has a set of "VIPs" who are exempt from paying the toll. I remember Mr. Inder Gujral waxing indignant when he was forced to follow the "normal" immigration procedures on his return home from a visit abroad. We've seen the recent brouhaha over the security check of former President Abdul Kalam. And so on and so forth.

I tend to think that queue jumping, not paying tolls etc. can best be viewed as methods of "signaling" one's status in society. That is, you show how "important" you are by demonstrating that rules that others have to live by are not applicable to you. So long as "breaking rules" (or rather being an "exception to the rule") is associated with "status" in society, I don't think things will change.

Anonymous said...

During the 90s I myself has jumped the queue several times at Chennai suburban station ticket counters. You know why...not that because I want to impose myself on others but due to the fact that the bloody counter may close at any time without warning.

So this queue jumping is mostly due to the mismatch in supply and demand....I mean who jumps the queue in a wedding food hall.

Suresh said...

So this queue jumping is mostly due to the mismatch in supply and demand....I mean who jumps the queue in a wedding food hall.

In a wedding, the social pressure against bad behavior (jumping the queue) is considerable because it's likely that you know quite a few of those in the queue. You can't compare it to the railway counter queue where the probability that you personally know someone in the queue is close to zero.

By the way, a queue arises precisely because there is a mismatch between supply and demand. This doesn't explain queue jumping.

bluespriite said...

Came here to comment and realised have nothing new to say. But it gets a little weary to have to fight for things otherwise considered polite. Whether it's a queue at the airport, or the supermarket of even a ticket window. Push, shove and try to get ahead will be tried, if it works fantastic, if not, shrug and ask others what their problem is!

Ugich Konitari said...

This seems to be high season for "indiscipline " comments. But what happened on my flight 2 days ago, was too much. See THIS ...