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Is queuing (or lack of it) influenced by our culture?

I arrived at the bus stop 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time. I was pleased to see my former student and we chatted while queuing. My smiling turned into frowning when I saw two women placing themselves before the more than ten persons already in line.

I was shocked not only because they jumped the queue but that no one said anything. Less than a minute later, three women did the same thing. I whispered to my student that it was unacceptable and we should say something. He turned red and apologised on behalf of the French people in France.

I often witness queue jumping (or cutting) in France and was a direct victim of it several times. I haven’t forgotten the first time I experienced this. Coming from Australia, where falling in line for everything and in everywhere is a natural behaviour, my first year in France was quite a shock. While queuing in a local bakery, a well-groomed woman bypassed me and 5 other persons. Stunned and a bit angry, I put together a few French words alerting the man in front of me. Unfortunately, he said “ça va, j’ai le temps” (it’s all right, I’ve time). I couldn’t believe what I heard. It wasn’t a question regarding time! It’s about respect and courtesy!

The female queue jumper didn’t apologise and walked out proudly, as if she was the centre of the world. I was so disappointed that I gave a minute sermon to my two-year-old son (who was in his pram) on respect, discipline and social manners. He understood nothing, of course; but, I knew there was at least one person in that bakery who worked out the message I tried to impart.

For me, falling in line for goods and services is about fairness and civility, as popularised in the adage “First come, first serve.” When this norm is broken, there’s individual disgust that can lead to social disharmony. There have been incidents of individuals hurting each other because of perception of fairness related to queuing.

I’d also experienced something related to queuing that was as annoying but not so straightforward. While at the cinema, a woman queued for her daughter and her friends. I didn’t expect it and was taken by surprise when she left and wished the girls a good time. Is it right for a person to hold a spot for another (or a group)? How about paying someone to do it for us?

In western countries, like the UK and Canada, standing in line while waiting for goods and services in shops, government offices and everywhere is an expected human trait and behaviour. In France (also a western nation), however, this seems to be more of an individual prerogative.

Italy is another western country where non-queuing is a cultural phenomenon. As The Local ( seen on 15/10/17) has stated, “We’re not into queuing. We don’t queue, we just stand close to one another until we see an opportunity to overtake you. But for Italians, it’s perfectly normal! Arm yourself with a lot of patience, or download a game on your phone – and don’t get offended by nudges, they most probably didn’t mean it.”

In India, Shefaly Yogendra has this to say: “Queues are for societies that at least have a pretence of egalitarianism. India is hierarchical and none misses a chance to impose their authority over the next person, the commonest phrase being — Do you know who I am?” ( seen 15/10/17).

For queue believers (like me), line jumpers or by-passers/cutters are annoying and unpleasant; so, what shall we do?

(I’m posting this from Cap d’Agde in France where I’m participating in a 7-day international chess tournament. So far, I’ve more losses than wins; but this doesn’t matter as what’s important is how I play and progress. The best part of this event is the nightly game between Karpov/Russia and Vaisser/France).

Every ending has a new beginning

Last July 8, I attended a retirement party; and like most farewell gatherings, it was filled with joy and sadness. The honouree was a gentle, kind and caring person who had helped many people, including me. There were always cakes and sweets on her desk for anyone who needed a boost on a hectic day. I often had it out of ‘gourmandise’ (greed). I miss her and her chocolates, and it’s strange not to see her grin anymore.

Everything has an ending; however, this ending has also a beginning. Today may be your last working day, but it’s also an opportunity to start something you have been wanting to do for a long time, such as going to the gym, reading a book, jogging, travelling or relaxing on a sofa or hammock, etc.

The passing of time is inevitably fast that no one is far from any ending. Most situations that herald the end of something, like retirement, retrenchment, graduation, leaving home, holiday, relationships, entertainment or sporting events, mean ‘change.’ The majority of people are anxious about changes because of fear of a possible loss, uncertainty and anxiety (though 90% of these worries don’t happen). We should consider the end of any event or situation as a change that has a silver lining even when it looks sombre.

With any change, positivism is the key. Our thoughts, emotions and feelings affect our body. While positive thoughts and emotions encourage calmness and physical activity, negative thoughts inhibit peace and efficiency. Positivism involves restructuring our perceptions and thinking process so that any problem or negative situation, such as change or end of a situation, is accepted as having benefits or as a stepping stone to something better. After all, change is the only constant in life.

Optimism is contagious. Optimistic individuals, even those who aren’t with us anymore (and aren’t related to us either by blood or ethnicity), continue to have positive effects on us. For me, these are:

Mother Teresa (1910–1997) lived a life of poverty to help improve the conditions of others; her devotion and compassion inspired many people to care for the poor, sick and needy.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884– 1962) was an American politician, diplomat, activist and First Lady of the United States from March 1933 to April 1945. She was a supporter of the rights of women and helped draft the UN Declaration of human rights.

Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) spent 20 years in jail for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa; but upon his release, he showed forgiveness and reconciliation to his former political enemies and became the first black president in 1994. (While living in Australia in the 80s, I joined many rallies and peace marches in protest against apartheid).

Luther King (1929–1968). You surely know the “I Have a Dream” speech Mr King delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. This is just one of his many philosophies and beliefs that have influenced by thinking and action. My other favourite is “Darkness can’t drive darkness; only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can on that. “He was, and still is, an inspiring leader of groups and movements for more equal society and for non-violent civil rights actions.

According to Ms Judy Belmont (mental health author, motivational speaker and psychotherapist), the ten essential habits of positive people are:

• They don’t confuse quitting with letting go. They don’t relinquish responsibility (i.e. quit) but let go (i.e. take action to stop and move on) of things and situations that aren’t any healthier for them or have negative influence on their lives.
• They don’t just have a good day, they make a good day.
• For them, the past stays in the past.
• They’re the most grateful people. “They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences. They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.”
• They’re energised by possibilities (opportunities) rather than stuck by their limitations.
• They don’t let fears interfere with their lives.
• They smile a lot.
• They’re great communicators.
• They believe that if they live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness. (They’re realistically optimistic)
• They don’t blame others and consider themselves as victims in life as they’re empowered (i.e. having control of and power over their lives).

Let’s stay positive..
All the best!

If you were there; if you were her

I’d difficulty deciding on the topic of my blog this month. My heart goes out to Manchester in the UK, especially to families, relatives and friends of those who were at Ms. Ariana Grande’s concert last May 22. More than one hundred people were injured and 22 were killed in that vicious terrorist attack, including an eight-year-old girl and an off-duty female police officer.

Last Wednesday evening, I had a mixed feeling of warmth and sadness watching on BBC Tony Walsh reading his poem ‘This Is The Place’ as a tribute to Manchester city at vigil. His rendition was defiant and resilient for peace. For me, it means not hating and living in fear; but be hopeful yet stand up for your rights.

So, here I am doing my usual routine on the first day of every month.

Most-stressful departure ever

You’ve certainly heard about flight delays and lack of information at airports that angered passengers. You probably know at least one person who has lost a luggage or whose baggage ended up on the other side of the world. How about long check-in lines that make you nervous about missing your flight? The story below is an addition to the list of disappointing travels.

Maria has been an international traveller for over 30 years and has visited about 40 countries with more than 20 stopovers/transits. Stories and anecdotes about unfortunate travelling were foreign to her until last month. Her Expedia-purchased tickets (Brussels-New York) had a very short transit in Montreal. To her surprise, she and her family couldn’t board Air Canada because they didn’t have a visa for Canada and their US Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) was not enough to get them into this plane for New York.

They didn’t think of getting a Canadian ETA as they were only transit passengers for less than 2 hours; there was no exiting from and entering into the Canadian soil outside the airport; and they were in the same airport flying with the same airline company. It was amazing that Expedia reminded them to get an American ETA when it was obvious they had to as they were going to New York, and which they already had before purchasing the tickets.

After about 10 minutes of talking with the female staff who hadn’t yet told them how they could obtain the Canadian ETA, Maria queried, “So, tell us how we can get this ETA?” She responded, “online.” There was no sign of empathy or willingness to help, so Maria asked, “How long will it take?” “Between 2 and 72 hours,” she said.

Before this, while queueing, another airline/airport staff spent at least 20 minutes looking at their passports and jovially asking them personal and social questions. Consequently, there was less than an hour and a half left before the scheduled take off. Nevertheless, Maria ran around like a lost hen looking for a computer where she could apply for the Canadian ETA. To add to the stress and chaos, the application form had several pages of questions on personal background, travel information and passport details. The next 30 minutes were un-describable: perspiration, unusually fast heartbeat, shaking hands, etc..

With the approved Canadian ETA fresh from the printer, they rushed to the check-in counter. Guess what? It had already closed. More perspiration, stress, etc. There was no Air Canada stand; more panic.. After a quick look around and a few steps here and there, Maria approached a Swiss Airlines’ female ground staff, who quickly rang the boarding area. She then turned to them and said, “Run; you might be able to make it but you couldn’t bring your luggage with you.” Armed only with a piece of paper that had the name and phone number of this considerate staff, Maria jumped queues explaining her situation to everyone (passengers and staff alike) along the way. As the door of the plane closed behind her, she wiped her forehead and face then walked slowly towards the vacant seat.

Unfortunately, one member of her family had to stay behind to look after their 3 suitcases. The only flight for New York that day was through Washington D.C. This family member joined Maria in Manhattan 7 hours later (the Canadian ETA, afterall, was a waste of money and time as far as he was concerned).

Maria has since written to Air Canada and its response is summarized in this paragraph “We sympathize with your situation but respectfully, it is the customer’s responsibility to obtain the proper travel documents. If you could not fly because you required the eTA and did not apply for one, all fare rules associated to your ticket apply. Further information regarding the eTA is available on the Government of Canada website” If you were in their shoes, would you have checked on travel requirements for Canada? (You were only transit passengers for less than 2 hours; there was no exiting from and entering into Canadian soil except at the airport; you were in the same airport flying with the same airline company; and Expedia didn’t mention this to you).

She also brought this joyless experience to the attention of Expedia who, until now, hasn’t responded to her email.

What’s the rationale behind the Canadian eTA for transit passengers of less than 2 hours? If it’s to collect an airport tax, why not do this at the check-in desk or in one of the pre-boarding counters?

The words in our language

“How was your staycation?” my student asked her colleague.
“It was relaxing,” he answered.

Another young woman sitting next to him raised her hand. “What did you say? What was it?” “stey-key-shun?”
He replied, “Ah.. you were not with us last year. Staycation means vacation spent at home doing something you enjoy. In the beginning, I also thought it sounded funny.”

Then he added, “holiday in UK and vacation in US English.”

I couldn’t help smiling and was glad that my student remembered something from our previous course. Languages evolve, appear and disappear to adapt and cater to the changing needs and developments (e.g. technology) in our society. Often, new words are created by: 1) putting together letters from 2 different words (e.g. ‘Brexit’ – British/Britain’s exit from the European Union. There’s a referendum on this issue in June 2016); 2) shortening words (e.g. company representative = company rep); 3) borrowing from other languages (e.g. French ‘chef’ – cook); and 4) even from mistakes or words of celebrities (e.g. Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling which describes divorcing or separating couple who find the source of unhappiness in themselves and refrain from blaming each other).

According to Betty Birner, many changes in a language begin with teens and youngsters. As young people interact with each others, their language grows to include words, phrases and constructions that are different from those of the older generation. Some of these new words and phrases have a short life span, but others remain and impact the way we speak and write (

Three of the new words I recently saw in are: farecasting (noun) predicting the optimum date to buy a plane ticket, especially on a website or using an application; unsend (noun) – deleting an email after it has been sent; and digital diet (noun) – deliberate reduction in the amount of time spent on the Internet.

Hangry (a combination of hungry and angry, i.e. feeling irritable due to hunger) has been added to According to this website, if you want to talk about an adequate sauce for a tasty meal, you can use “awesomesauce.” If you had been disappointed standing in a moving passenger bus while someone occupied two spaces, you could have told him to stop manspreading (sitting with his legs wide apart encroaching on an adjacent seat or seats depriving other passenger/s of their seats. (

Sometime last year, I saw an online newspaper article that used Mx. (as a gender-neutral title) in the same way as Mr., Miss, Mrs. and Ms. before a person’s name.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from my Aussie friend with a Youtube link of Mr. George Carlin (1937 -2008), an American comedian who coined “soft language” to describe euphemistic words and phrases that, according to him, are used to conceal reality or truth. Some euphemisms he mentioned have actually become politically-correct words, e.g. physically-challenged instead of crippled, visually-impaired for blind, and individuals with learning disorder for “stupid” (his word) person.

I can’t tell you which of this year’s new words will remain in the English language and how long for. Hence, I suggest you stick to established English words and phrases, either British or American, appropriate to the situation.

Likewise, we should avoid the widespread use of jargon (specialised language often used by experts, business people, company staff and bureaucrats) because we communicate to understand and be understood, and not to impress. I’m an avid fan of Plain English (or any language) – i.e. clear, simple and direct, both in oral and written forms.

Happy Labour (US – labor) Day!

Year 2016 should be better

I’m writing this from sunny Brisbane in Australia. I’m so delighted to be with family and friends, especially that I didn’t see them for five years. Being a family addict and social connoisseur, every day is spent dining together, playing board games and sports, visiting places or simply lazing around talking to each other. Giving and receiving are also a habit. Fortunately, I received only useful presents last Christmas. However, even if I had unwanted gifts, I would have turned these into needed and appreciated possessions. In fact, even when I don’t like my gift, I never return it. Of course you can do this if there’s a receipt (but never ask for it) and exchange it for something that you really like.

In the past, I did regift expensive wine and champagne bottles (I don’t drink alcohol). Sometimes, I had presents that stayed in my wardrobe for a year or so waiting for the right person and occasion. Since I have a fairly good memory when it comes to people and their kindness, I always remember who has given me what. However, one day when my memory starts to dwindle, I will record my unwanted presents so that I won’t offer these embarrassingly to the original givers.

As well, I am good at reusing presents, e.g. my current make up porcelain holder was actually given to me as a jewellery box.

Barbara Young, one of my role models and former work supervisors, donates unwanted gifts to charities (e.g. Save the Children Fund) and those less fortunate. About 8 years ago, I helped her get rid of unused belongings in a garage sale.

Perhaps one day I will organise a swapping party for unused/unwanted Christmas (or birthday) presents.

The year 2015 was enlightening and productive for me, however, global events (several of which I had mentioned in my previous articles) saddened me. Currently, what worries me more is that our world continues to be riddled with mutual distrust and division, conflicts and terrorism. What can we do about these – antidotes and answers?

I hope that in 2016 we will witness less destruction of lives and properties (and other crimes), unemployment/underemployment, flooding of refugees, extreme weather conditions/climate change, failure in national and global governances, political and economic instability, and family breakdowns.

I wish you and your loved ones peace, security, safety, good health and happiness throughout 2016.