Lining up for things in Asia is a full contact sport.
In the West, waiting is fairly simple. An orderly line forms, the first person in line is served, and people behind wait patiently for their turn. Not so in Asia.
In Asia cutting in line is rampant. People have no qualms about pushing up to the front. At the metro, in the supermarket, in the bathroom, and even at the airport I watched locals completely ignore the line and go straight to the front, often physically pushing others to get past. Why does this happen?
What is the attitude of people from China, Vietnam, and Malaysia that makes cutting in line so acceptable?
One reason is that in many Asian cultures family members are very respected, but strangers are far less important. The same person who would never put themselves before a family member is fine selfishly cutting strangers. This is even more applicable if you are a Westerner getting cut, as you are clearly foreign and command even less respect in the locals’ eyes.
Another reason is that historically (and even today) resources are scarce, and competition for them is fierce. There is a massive population and often not enough food, water, seats, fuel, or other items. In the West, waiting in line may slow you down, but you’ll probably get whatever you’re waiting for. In Asia, if you’re not fighting to be first, there’s a very real chance you will miss out.
I emailed this question to a friend from China and he brought up a third point I hadn’t thought of. He said there’s also a mentality that what’s available today may be gone tomorrow because of political changes. If your friend is the mayor today, get what you can now, because tomorrow you both may be brought down with corruption charges. This sense of immediacy is a way of thinking and extends to business and daily life.
So next time you queue up in an orderly Western line, count your blessings for the stable environment that made it possible. And next time you line up in Asia, get ready to rumble.