Small culture formation on the go – the line (queue) and the crowd

A change in cultural activity in the bus station might have something to do with the marked shift in think­ing-as-usual that COVID brought. Where­as there has always been an orderly queue (line) waiting to get on the bus, running from the left down the length of the waiting area, there is now a crowd directly in front of the entrance to the bus alongside the queue. It has grown over the past three years from an occasional small group to a new and permanent norm. While at first it comprised different types of people, it is now mainly school children. But many of them are late teenagers, so not exactly a group who can claim special treatment. I say this because when it comes to competition for the narrow space for getting on the bus, there are sometimes older, infirm and people with children and pushchairs in the queue.

I call this cultural change because waiting in line (queuing) has long been considered a core British cultural trait. (It is therefore significant that the location is Britain.) In my lifetime this has though already changed. Now we have snakes in such as banks and airports, the front person of which goes to the next available of a range of destinations. Also, queues have never been a feature of getting served in pubs, where the crowd format predominates and attracting the attention of the barperson is crucial. This is also changing, where they’ve adopted the format used in fast food places where there is still a separate line in front of each destination, as there used to be in banks when I was a child, and you had to calculate which line might be moving faster – and in immigration in many airports.

Significantly, the bus station doesn’t have either a line or a crowd, but both. There is therefore a choice to be made. Here is the very evident nature of small culture formation on the go – where we encounter cultural practices about which we need to make decisions about how or whether to conform, reject, influence, change, tolerate, stay, or just leave. This can relate to large or small things – from the perceived major fabric of society to family, work, or personal relations – all of which have impact on how we be­have in public places – such as bus stations.

In negotiating this choice, blocks (things that invoke prejudice) and threads (that bring us together) come into play.

I would actually feel comfortable joining the crowd. I’m conscious that I know how to do this. It is what I learnt to do well in my early adulthood in Iran, including in driving, where one had to occupy every possible available space in front of one, with determination and finesse, to get to the front. 

And indeed I find that I can navigate the crowd quickly and get on the bus early. This might be a cultural thread in that I’m drawing on experience from distant places and times. Another necessary thread is that I don’t [block] associate this crowd norm with the Orientalist notion of a ‘collectivist indolence’ where people are falsely imagined not to respect each other’s space and individuality. Perhaps I know this because I’ve experienced how the crown in the pub is in fact very individualist in its jostling.

This individualism is very evident in the bus station crowd, which requires active manoeuvring – being highly conscious of each person around me and the physical and mental space that each one occupies. This is therefore an excellent example of where relationality and individualism closely interact. And I remember this well in the dynamic jam of getting through the traffic in Tehran – with constant eye-contact and watching for and interpreting the individual intentions of other drivers – so different to the reliance on static rules and signs in Britain. 

I nevertheless mostly decide to join the line in the bus station. This is perhaps  when at those moments I don’t have the moral energy to innovate. When I do decide to find the energy to join the crowd, I feel the exhilaration of the consciousness of all the threads I draw from across my cultural experience – my personal cultural trajectory across near and distant times and locations. The high consciousness of small culture formation on the go.

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