Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Those fat lines (again)

I generally liked learning Russian at the Minsk State Linguistic University. I only disliked waiting in the cafeteria line, as an endless stream of students would rush up to their friends ahead of me so my part of the line, way in the back somewhere, would not advance. I had the same thing happen last summer when I tried to buy a snack at a shashlik stand in a park during some sort of an event. While there appeared to be only a few people ahead of me when I queued up, I had to wait an extra twenty minutes or so because people kept running up to their acquaintances ahead of me and adding many servings to each order, more than the cook could deliver before additional "friends" happened by and inserted themselves ahead of me. I complained loudly, and the people standing behind me told me to give it up, that this was normal behavior.

A church community, in many ways, develops its own culture. People are nicer at church, perhaps nicer even than they themselves would be in another situation. Cordiality reigns. I figured I'd get myself a big dose of niceness by going to a weekend conference on healing. Everybody was indeed quite neighborly. And then we broke for lunch.

Volunteers had laid out tables in the lobby, arcing around themselves in the shape of the Russian letter П. On these tables, they'd set up a sea of divided plates with the salad course already served up. People flowed out the doors of the church and queued up at the flanks of the tables, waiting to reach the center to get completed plates with hot food added. It worked well for about two minutes, but the servers didn't move fast enough and people started swarming around the hot food rather than go back around behind the people waiting along the flanks. I'd arrived early, and was already near the hot food but not at the center. Those of us trying to form an orderly line had to wait until the swarm at the center thinned out before we could begin to make progress, but I figured this must be due simply to confusion about the layout.

The evening coffee break, however, gave me a different impression. I got in line about six meters from the counter and stayed there for three or four minutes. During that time, the line ballooned ahead of me, swelling to resemble a snake that just swallowed a cat. Finding myself at the back end of the cat, I decided those pastries weren't so attractive after all and returned to the tangerines in my briefcase. Sure, church people are nice. But a line is a line, and here the priority goes to being nice to the people who walk up and find friends already standing near the food.

No comments:

Post a Comment