A major complaint heard from tourists in Italy is that Italians are not at all prone to forming into nice, straight lines like nice people do—at the bank for example. The assumption is that standing in a line doing nothing is considered The Right Thing For Civilized People To Do.
Four years after buying my house in Italy, I can say that I’ve really come to like the Italian way. I know it’s blasphemy to those who crave the well-ordered appearance of lines streaming out the doors of inefficient businesses, but few ever question the complete idiocy of standing in one.
So I will. It’s utterly idiotic to stand in lines while waiting your turn at the bank, or anywhere else for that matter.
The purpose of a well-ordered line is to prohibit the social interaction of individuals. You may assert your authority by being first in one, which evidently fills line aficionados with a smug disregard for those behind that is positively orgasmic. But more importantly, this accomplishment—being first in line—comes without words, without grammar, without the construction of a single meaningful sentence. In fact, it came about through no meaningful effort at all. You should be proud.
But consider the Italian case. Let’s say you’re USian, and the Italian bank’s ATM has eaten your card. You go inside to correct the problem, through the door that tells you to divest yourself of all metal (thanking God you haven’t worn your Friday night best chain mail). You are confronted by the following scene:
A woman sits on a bench fanning herself with a wad of bills. Two men are leaning against the wall, eyes fixed upon a young women in an impossibly short skirt, hoping she’ll bend over to get a drink out of the water fountain now gurgling in front of a stumpy three year old who can reach it just fine. A man is slumped near the only open teller window (you man disregard the spider web across the window that seems to be anchored to his left elbow because it is inconceivable he’s been at the window that long).
Of course, you look at this scene in disgust. What a mess! Who’s next? You can’t ask because you don’t know the language. Oh, how you wish there was a line! A line is understandable. Universal. Without sin or a language of its own. Classless even!
Then someone else comes through the security door, say a man. He babbles something. Fingers point to you.
You’re probably getting a mite worked up at this point. What’s going on? Has the man just brazenly blurted out something nasty, like “who is the idiot that messed up the ATM machine with their stupid unauthorized ATM card and made us all captives of the lazy bank teller?”
No, he’s asked who is last in line. People have responded. You are.
It’s simple. Now the man who has just entered can sit and chat with the women and her bills, or he can elbow the kid away from the fountain and have a drink of water, or he can go outside and have a smoke. He’s free! Free in a way that no line-monkey could ever be free.
He can even ask the Pretty Young Thing for a date. She probably has a nice Medjool in her bag. Perhaps he will break his tooth on the pit. You don’t get that kinda action while you wait in line at your bank in the US or London, do you?