Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The impossibility of queuing in the mind of the Italians

Remember that pretentious piece of Young British Artists’ crappery, the pickled-shark-in-a-tank entitled “The Impossibility of death in the mind of the living”, back when Lord Saatchi didn’t think it too vulgar to buy dead animals and stained bed sheets ? Well, I don’t know about death but it turns out Damian Hirst’s creation perfectly captures the Italian state of mind when faced with the concept of queuing.

I had this realisation last week, travelling home to spend New Year with The Family. We have Christmas with His Family, during which enough mini sausages wrapped in bacon are consumed that if you lined them up ....well, you’d be ashamed of yourself. After the Holy Porkathon, a spell with The Family is part detoxing spa (meals at my sister’s), part Seventies pre-cooked Neapolitan feasts (meals at my mother’s). But I digress.
Waiting to catch our plane at Stanstead I observed the behaviour of the mostly Italian crowd: it was  comical in its attempt to not form an orderly line. I’m not talking about queue-jumping here, average rudeness, sharp elbows. No, these were peaceful and courteous enough family groups spreading themselves as widely as possible or condensing in impenetrable little clusters in the narrow corridors, blocking the passage to other gates and the pilots' and staff’s own progress towards our plane, seemingly out of a freakish distaste for the appearance of queuing, while in fact, to all extent and purposes, actually queuing.
 It was a fascinating spectacle. It’s as if even once they had accepted they had to wait and by and large their place was behind other people, who had annoyingly, you know, arrived earlier, they couldn’t quite give up the hope that somehow, someone would lift them from the scrum and deposit them at the front of the queue or indeed directly into Genoa’s passport control lounge, as long as no one was looking or paying too much attention to where one ought to stand. A sort of spatial magical thinking, if you like.
 Another, more irritating type of Italian walked straight past us in the doubling up queue as if everybody else was a little dense and they were the only ones to have worked out a secret way in, a safe passage halfway through. They were all, invariably sent back as said safe passage failed to materialise and had to squeeze their way past the above mentioned families, again. The vast airport was at times nearly brought to a standstill by these slowly moving gluts of Italians unfamiliar and/or unresigned to the concept of standing in a straight line.
This would just be one of those things and wouldn’t matter so much if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that it’s the self same mentality which afflicts otherwise quite reasonable people and infects them with the illogical delusion that it is possible for most of them, the clever ones, not to pay tax and yet still expect functioning schools and hospitals (it’s those dense other Italians who insist on paying you see...). That it’s better to elect time and again a buffoon who tells us all is wonderful and entertains us with his frat-house behaviour at foreign summits rather than face the uncomfortable fact that we have priced our children out their own lives. So that even now the talk is that after a year of Mario Monti’s bitter (and many fear regressive and growth-choking) austerity Berlusconi may actually win another turn by promising another magical million new jobs and several more magical tax cuts – the same he has promised before and, you guessed it,  never delivered.
Would it be so terrible to... face the shark, so to speak, to feel the fear and queue anyway? Renaissance paintings and marble cathedrals are all very well but,  bar for a spot of stylish Vespa-riding in the heady 60s of the economic boom, we have actually achieved fuck all that’s worthy of note in the past 500 years,  busy as we were pretending to be smarter, richer, further up in the line than other people. 
We are funny but not that funny. The food you can get anywhere these days. We soon won’t be able to afford the clothes. Global warming is giving even England a lovely Mediterranean climate. We are not that special any more, just extremely screwed. Might as well absorb some basic rules of civilised behaviour – say queuing - and purge ourselves of the philosophical fallacy that rules must only be obeyed in the presence of an authority figure  ‘making you’. (Yes, taxi-driving morons of my home town, I am talking to you :  the passenger behind you can in fact kill you in a crash if they are not using the rear seat belt even if no policemen are present or bothered about tenforcing that particular law. It’s called momentum and it’s a physical force you cannot bargain with, unlike the vigili urbani).
Might as well elect people who can conjugate verbs and have no previous convictions, and elect them on the basis of what needs to be done and what we think they can actually deliver (not what sounds lovely and they say convincingly and often enough). And maybe we should hold them accountable for the decisions they take and check on the delivery of the promises they make. That of course would imply a professional and competent press which wasn’t organised and run like a medieval guild crossed with a mafia family. And while we are at it we should perhaps look into utilising the 52pc of the population which currently does so well at school only to disappear in the kitchen, like the 70’s was something that happened to other women.  
We have delayed the plane long enough- soon it will leave whether we are on board or not - what more have we got to lose? Let's get in line people!

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