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British queuing and ‘the power of six’

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A stiff upper lip, a pot of tea and a nice orderly queue. So far, so British. But the great British pastime of standing in line may not be as simple as it seems.

According to academics if you want to truly master the art of the queue, you need to follow the rules.

It’s all about the power of six, professors say.

People will wait for six minutes in a queue before giving up and are unlikely to join a line of more than six people, researchers at the University College London found.

Six is also the magic number when it comes to spacing – gaps of fewer than six inches between people can spark anxiety or stress.

But the biggest faux pas of all is the push-in; queue jump at your peril.

The report’s author, Adrian Furnham, Professor of Psychology at UCL, said the public nature of queuing means that queue jumping sparks a “huge sense of injustice” among those in line.

He pointed to previous research by Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede, which claimed: “The British believe that inequalities between people should be minimized, and everyone should have the autonomy to pursue goals with equal opportunity.”

The UCL study was based on a review of academic literature on queuing at banks, cash points and supermarkets.

‘Specific conduct’

Other queue no-nos include striking up a conversation while queuing and standing on the wrong side of escalators – though this was mainly a complaint of Londoners who feel tourists “misuse” the underground.

The report found the most confusing rule for foreigners could be the practice of one person offering their place in the queue to another.

Professor Furnham said: “The British have a well-established culture of queuing and a very specific type of queue conduct, one that has been known to confuse many a foreign visitor.

“In a time when Britain is changing rapidly, and the ways in which we queue are shifting, the psychology behind British queuing is more important than ever – it is one of the keys to unlocking British culture.”



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