The Art of Queuing Czech Style

The multi-queue, the single-queue, the cut-in, and why your line is always the slowest

Ryan Scott

Written by Ryan Scott Published on 04.11.2014 16:00:00 (updated on 04.11.2014) Reading time: 4 minutes

At the post office, bank, train station or bus stop – we have to wait in some form or other. Over the past decade of living here, some rules seem clear, but some still have me flummoxed.

Easy Becomes Difficult

Often, the queue formation is pretty clear. You will find either a single queue, such as the large ticket selling area at the main train station or multiple queues at the windows outside of and adjacent to the ticket selling area. (Then there are also the take-a-number machines and banks and the post office – but I’ll get to those later.) So you either join the long snake of people, crawling slowly toward a free window or choose one of many queues, hoping it’s not the slowest, though invariably, it’s the slowest.

Complications arise when a normally, multi-queue arrangement – that’s one queue per window – turns into a single queue. This often happens in the morning at my local train station, where the cramped foyer forces the two lines together. Then at least one anxious commuter will ‘innocently’ approach the ‘free’ window (i.e. the window seemingly without a queue but really the one farthest from the queue), thinking – for some reason – everyone else has chosen that other window (Who knows? Maybe they’re giving away free puppies) and clearly it’s his/her lucky morning to find the second window vacant.

Vigilant commuters will correct the person’s mistake. Though I recall a couple of times someone slipped through. And though I complain now, I wasn’t going to say anything then. I just tsked like most of the others.

Controlled Chaos

In banks and post offices, they have mostly done away with the lining-up – if not the waiting. Lines have been replaced with the take-a-number machines. In banks, it seems to work. In the post office – or at least in my local branch – what was once an orderly albeit slow system of multiple lines has been replaced by an even slower clump of people, clutching numbers and looking accusingly at everyone else because surely that person who just arrived is pushing in.

I’m not sure if the problem is that some people seem lost and so take the wrong ticket or multiple tickets or if the postal clerks use the fact that people no longer stand near the window as a chance to finish other tasks (and to be fair they have more work than just selling stamps) – but the system does seem slower and more chaotic than before it was introduced. In the golden days of queuing I was preoccupied with wondering if I had joined the slow queue. Now, I just try to work out how it is that person who definitely arrived after me is getting served before me. Are the numbers chosen at random?

Then of course when we’re talking about taking tickets, the one experience which comes to mind is the Department of Asylum and Migration Policy. I’m deliberately avoiding this and the allegations of people selling numbers mean the waiting is not indicative of elsewhere. I don’t think my post office requires corruption to be slow.

Queues Where There Aren’t

Sometimes a queue can lie in wait, ambushing the impatient or those short on time. Famously, it can strike in the doctor’s surgery. Woe to those who knock on the doctor’s door without first checking who was the last to arrive, meaning the person the recent arrival will follow. Though, of course, sometimes , the newcomer has just a tiny question and it will only take a minute – not even a minute…

Most deceptive of all is the situation at bus and tram stops. To this day I can’t safely say what the etiquette is. Sometimes, you find an orderly queue, but as more people arrive the line turns into a crowd. And since the buses and trams have entrances, what does it mean to cut in. Most people seem not to mind (or I don’t register them), but I have received a few ugly glares for seemingly standing in the wrong place.

Cutting In?

Can you ever request to cut in? At supermarkets, banks and post offices I’m reluctant to as I have not seen anyone try yet and I don’t want to be the one to break this unwritten law.

At the train station it’s different. I’m not sure of the frequency but I’ve witnessed some, allowed a few and even requested to do cut in once myself. Success will, like so many other things, depend on circumstance. However, I would offer the following as a simple formula: the chance of success is determined by the amount of time the requestee has to catch the train divided by the panicked state of the requester. In all honesty, sometimes no amount of desperate pleading will work. Some people won’t let you in.


They have just been some of my experiences. What about yours? And what rules or behavior have you noticed?

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