I’m queuing at a counter at the airport – I’m early and want to see if I can catch an earlier flight. When it’s almost my turn, a middle-aged man walks past me without hesitation or turning around and places his outstretched hand, holding a banknote, on the counter.
Online Indians are known worldwide. The stranger leaning on your shoulders from behind to read your newspaper, or shoving you forward in a too-tight pole: countless travel blogs and memes have been devoted to the phenomenon. I quickly realize what mistake I made at the airport: I left too much space between me and the person in front of me.
Supermarket manager and author Damodar Mall conducted an experiment in 2013 in all sorts of rows across India, from luxury buffets in five-star hotels to train stations. It turned out that as soon as you leave a small gap, measured from your elbow to your fingertips, it will be taken in no more than five minutes. Either because someone is standing in the free space, or because the person behind you is pushing you forward.
Push the slag
What struck Mall most was that there was no difference between the behavior of the urban elite and that of the less affluent citizens. In the latter group, this behavior can be somewhat explained. Those who grow up in a house with one room and a bed for several family members are not used to a lot of personal space or distance. But the elite, Mall wrote in the magazine Forbes from his research, has learned to respect privacy. “Our collective behavior apparently runs counter to these beliefs.”
I was also surprised to see people queuing at the gate of a flight. On a train where you have to fight for a seat I guess, but why lean your chest against the back of another passenger when everyone has reserved seats?
Sociologists point to the collective memory of Indians, in which scarcity has had a profound effect. Less than a quarter of a century ago, rich and poor alike had to squeeze slag because of shortages. Even today, there are often thousands of compatriots with whom to compete for almost everything, from places of study to temple blessings. Therefore, losing space in a row would go against Indian instinct. It would also explain other habits, such as obsessive tailgating and the so-called “fourth seat” on the train and subway, where there are more people lined up than expected by default.
Claim your turn out loud
Even the pandemic has brought no change. The blue circles our local shopkeeper painted on the sidewalk tiles a yard away were ignored, and customers shopped as usual: waving banknotes over their shoulders and yelling at each other. necessary products. There’s nothing like waiting your turn in convenience stores. You must actively and loudly claim your turn and it is up to the trader to bring order to the chaos.
Still, my travel companion’s action at the airport goes a bit too far for me. So after a few seconds of perplexity I turn to him. “Excuse me?” More words are not needed. “I’m sorry,” the man said politely, standing behind me. Right behind me.
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