Lessons in Line Breaking

By: leelefever on August 27, 2006 - 1:54am

I had made a decision and I was going to act on it.  Gone were the days of standing passively in line while Chinese people wedge themselves in front of me and place an order before I could react.  I was going stand up for myself and try to be a little more Chinese.

This is not the kind of thing you can plan – it just has to happen and just last night, I had my chance.  We were in the Shanghai subway terminal in line for our first subway card at a vending machine, as we’ve done so many times before in other cities.  Just as the couple in front of me at the machine received their card and turned away, a young Chinese guy stepped directly in front of me.  So, with great determination, I stepped in front of him enough to place my right shoulder at about his eye level and in a single motion stepped directly in front of the vending machine.   It was mine!  HAHA!  I’ll show you line breaker!  I’m no push-over tourist softy!

So there I was, with this foreign and unfamiliar machine staring me in the face.  It was mine, yes, but I realized all too quickly that I had no idea how to use it.  The instructions were in English and the #1 read “Select Fare”.  Scratching my head with waves of embarrassment pending, I searched the machine for anything that said “Fare”.  Nothing.  I inquisitively pressed a couple of random buttons in the hopes that something would happen. Nothing.  My pride was on the line here and I was blowing it!  Thoughts of fleeing in shame entered my mind when I heard a voice over my shoulder, “Where do you need to go?”  It was the line breaker politely asking a simple question that I couldn’t answer completely.  All we knew was that we needed to go two stops on Line 2.  He ended up doing the whole transaction for me and after many “thank yous” I left with our subway cards in hand and my pride more than a little crushed.

The moral here is that if you’re going to try to act like a local, be prepared for the entire event.  Going off half-cocked is a good way to shoot yourself in the foot.

Post From: Shanghai, CN
LenEdgerly's picture
By: LenEdgerly on August 27, 2006 - 1:11pm
Scenes like this show the spiritual value of traveling to foreign cultures.  Thanks for fessing up to this cautionary tale that can provide good guidance even at home!

By: Jake Ludington (not verified) on August 27, 2006 - 1:57pm
My Mandarin tutor has been preparing me with a number of stories about people stepping in front of you in line. It's the cultural expectation. Are you guys going to Bejing before leaving China? I'm arriving in Beijing on August 31 and will be there for about two weeks.
By: leelefever on August 27, 2006 - 4:54pm
Ahh, yeah. We will be there Jake- from about the 2nd to the 9th of September. I'm emailing you now...
By: Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2006 - 9:20am
I've never been to China, but I rode the #30 Stockton bus in San Francisco for years, and this kind of behavior is common--even when the approaching bus is mostly empty. It's happened to me in store lines in the San Gabriel Valley [LA County]. I consider line-jumping intolerable behavior and let people know it.