FARE LA CODA – WAITING IN LINE – OR NOT!
For Italians the concept of forming a line is tedious and boring; this etiquette of waiting has no place in their lives.
When my cousins visited me in Australia, they left the airport and headed to the front of the line of people at the Taxi rank. They were taken aback when those waiting patiently in line, as you do, had stern words for them and in no uncertain terms told them to get to the back of the queue.
The concept of first come, first served does not exist in Italy.
If I am waiting at the counter to pay for my coffee and somebody else strolls up with cash in hand and shoves it in the palm of the cashier, places their order and takes their ticket, then they are served before me. That’s just how it works.
In other cultures, a queue is a straight, ordered system, but coda (literally “tail”) runs contrary to the Mediterranean sense of liberta’. More like a huddle, the Italian line is a product of not only a natural desire to be first, but also a curiosity of other people’s business. The fact of the matter is that if one has to wait, it might as well be entertaining – or at least, informative. A trip to the pharmacy in search of a cure for a mother’s swollen legs will undoubtedly result in personal advice from all those waiting.
Because lines as we know them are non-existent in Italy, when walking into a crowded shop one is obliged to call out into the crowd “Who was last?”. Nevertheless beware of the slow, subtle weave forward – a well practised perpetrator will convince everyone, even himself that he was there before you. Of late, some modern-minded shopkeepers have taken the bold step to install a take a number machine – to the consternation of many. After all, jiggling into a line can be an excuse for a conversation, a commentary or just let off steam – all infinitely much more rewarding than simply waiting one’s turn.