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Thursday, October 25, 2007

The real line dividing cultures

I like to share with you a not so new but by no means outdated article, entitled The real line dividing cultures (click to read), as published September 18th, 2005, in the International Harold Tribune.

Author Henry Fountain gives a well-argumented overview of the differences among cultures, analyzing the way in which they queue. As it often goes, the term European doesn't identify one type of people (here, queuers), but brings about a whole bunch of types...
Europeans, Rasulo added, "have very different attitudes about how they wait for things." At the Disneyland in Paris, while British visitors are orderly, French and Italians "never saw a line they couldn't be in front of."
Also remarkable is the idea that American queues are in a way self-limiting (in queueing terms: people balk at entering) whereas Asian queues just tend to grow and grow.
Zhou said there was a tendency among Asians and others in more collective cultures to compare their situation with those around them.

This may make it more likely that they will remain in a line even if it is excessively long.

Zhou said this finding was rooted in a somewhat paradoxical observation: that it is the people behind a person in line, rather than in front, that determine the person's behavior.

"The likelihood of people giving up and leaving the queue is lower when they see more people behind them," Zhou said. "You feel like you are in a better position than the others behind you."

By contrast, she said, Americans and others in more individualistic societies make fewer "social comparisons" of this sort. They do not necessarily feel better that more people are behind them, and dislike having too many people in front of them. Lines in these cultures tend to be self-limiting.

In a place like Hong Kong, however, the lines may just grow and grow. "The longer the line, people think the service is more worthwhile to get," Zhou said.
Spending some time in Asia (once Beijing once Singapore), I remember to have observed this difference too. (More precisely, I admired the peace and calm Asian people in a queue display.)

This being a queueing research blog, I do not balk at mentioning that this suggests to call infinite-sized queues Asian, and finite-sized ones (with balking or reneging) American. Which leaves the term European queues for, err, a mix of queue jumpers (French and Italian) and decent customers (British), that is, some sort of priority queue? But this way of putting it is probably to laden to ever be adopted.

Some more about this (and also some discussion) can be found here.