A fine line between love and hate

One of the minor challenges of travelling in Cambodia has been adjusting myself to the different queuing habits of various places and travellers. There are the people who really don't queue at all, the people who view queuing as a fine way to get ahead of you by cutting in line, and the people who queue but hold slightly different standards about acceptable queuing behavior.

Of those groups the third is the most irritating. A South Korean man did something yesterday that would have been nearly unthinkable: he simply brazenly cut in front of me in the passport control line to exit Cambodia. (Yes, in both Cambodia and Vietnam, you have to pass through immigration both ways.) But I just said "No" firmly, and he want back to the end of the line. On the other hand, I stood in line with a bunch of Germans in a Siem Reap store, which turned into a nightmare. I was acting the way Americans act in queues . . . wandering five feet away to look at something, staring everywhere around the shop except at the clerk. The result was that about three German women cut in front of me.

I am assuming (it's been a while since I was in Germany, and I was paying more attention to the beer than the queuing rules) that this is just some cultural variant on queuing, rather than, say, a bunch of extremely rude women who knew an opportunity when they saw it. Which is not a ridiculous assumption. It's not inherent to queuing that you should be able to step moderately out of line and then rejoin it, though I'd argue that this is a superior equilibrium to everyone staring straight ahead. But what's important is that it has to be a collective equilibrium; you can't make up your own rules. If you don't, you (presumably) get what I did: a bunch of people cutting ahead of you. Rules about all of these trivial things are the operating system of our society--and one of the reasons that people of all nations don't do more business abroad. It's hard to agree on common terms if you don't even recognize all the new collective judgements that have to be made.