Queue-ing Up or Breaking Line?

Queue-ing Up Outside Notre Dame

Queue-ing Up or Breaking Line?

Parler Paris Nouvellettre®
Your taste of life in Paris and France
Monday, January 4, 2010
Paris, France

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Dear Parler Paris Reader,

Funny how things seem to happen in patterns to help us take notice. For instance, notice how a new word might enter your vocabulary and then suddenly you’re hearing it at ever turn?

I don’t believe these coincidences are random — as Swiss psychologist Carl Jung theorized in his writings about “synchronicity,” as an “acausal connecting principle” or “meaningful coincidence” — there seems to be a a greater meaning to which we should pay attention and learn, helping us take direction in our lives by following these seemingly correct paths set out before us.

And so it has been since the very first day of the year that some greater force is telling me to “queue up”…for what I’m not yet sure. A “queue” is a an old French word meaning “tail” dating back to 1748. The first time I came in contact with this word it meant a braid of hair worn hanging at the back of the head, like a Chinaman’s. Once arriving in Europe, I found it had a very different meaning…as to wait in line — often making a very perfect line, as is done in England, one person standing exactly behind the other.

In the States, we didn’t have the habit of “queue-ing up.” Like for getting on a bus, for example, the awaiting crowd would simply rush to the front to be the first and filter in one by one, but certainly not in an orderly fashion. Then you watch the British form their perfect lines and it could make you feel like an uncivilized hooligan to do anything different.

The French have a similar approach, although their lines aren’t made so perfectly. And ‘breaking line’ is either taken very badly by the others or considered “débrouillard” — one who is skilled or resourceful at handling any difficulty.

On New Year’s Day with two friends, we took a stroll to Notre Dame to wander through the illustrious cathedral. On the “parvis” (courtyard or space at the entrance to a building) of Notre Dame, which is “Kilometer Zero” (from which all distances in France are measured), there were hordes of visitors. We wound our way to the entrance and started to simply filter in, as you would board a bus. There is no security check or tickets to purchase and therefore is never a “queue” — or at least I’d never seen one before…until that day, which was impossible to see from the massive crowd.

We were very near the door to the cathedral when an Italian couple in front of us began to openly question our being there and accuse us of ‘breaking the long line’ quite loudly, so loudly that the group of Americans behind us also got into the spirit of harassing us for “having no shame.” Meanwhile, two young women walked in ahead of all of us undetected…except by one person in our party!

Imagine the scene. The Italians shouldn’t have cared since we were behind them, but for some reason it rocked their sense of justice and exemplified our American hooliganism. The Americans behind us were embarrassed by our behavior and they were all so busy standing on their laurels that they failed to realize we were already inside and that we had been again duped by others.

One of us in our party was mortified. The other stayed detached as and observer and me, being the spokesperson, simply laughed at the whole scene and agreed to their accusations that “yes, we had no shame.” “We live here and there’s never been a queue before, so w

hy did you form one?” To that we all filtered in and enjoyed our stroll through the famous cathedral.

The next day on route to the Left Bank crossing the Ile de la Cité in front of La Sainte-Chapelle, I noticed a very long queue winding around several times to enter the Gothic chapel with its richly hued stained-glass windows. It entered my mind that the waiting crowd must be miserable in the cold, but how perfectly they had formed their queue. One person stepped out of the line to approach me — turning out to be a friend visiting from New Orleans! Luckily, he didn’t lose his place in line as he and his wife talked with me briefly to make a plan for the following day. In hindsight, they said their wait was about one hour and that it was well worth it.

Yesterday, now only three days into the new year, again I formed a queue to enter the Grand Palais where the “Renoir in the 20th Century” exhibit was taking place only through that day. The sign at that point in the queue claimed the wait was 1.5 hours. Being “débrouillard” enough myself, I left the queue to show the guard my Press Card and ask politely if it would allow me to enter immediately, but of course, I had a friend with me who did not have the pass. He explained that if I went inside to purchase her a ticket and then bring it back to show him, that he would let us both ‘break line.’

To enter the Grand Palais, there is a security check and therefore a queue was forming at the top of the stairs to go through the metal detector. As I was in line, a well-dressed woman in a mink coat entered from the side and stepped in front of me, not understanding a queue had formed, filtering in as you would board a bus. Others in the line harassed her for being so impolite, and me — I just chuckled to myself.

When I came back to the guard with ticket in hand, a second guard had arrived who, not knowing why I was there and seeing me come from within the Grand Palais, instructed me to start over at the end of the line! That’s when the laughing ceased and the exasperation began. Luckily, the first guard overrode his orders and allowed us into the warm and magnificent exhibition.

So, what’s the point? I’m not sure yet, but am sure there is one. Perhaps it’s time to get on the straight and narrow path to a clear goal?

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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