Culture Shock # 1: Lines

Americans LOVE lines.

We love the orderliness of them. We love the fairness and justice we feel while waiting in one. We love them!

We are taught the importance of them from a very young age. During our early years, how many of our daily educational minutes are spent on teaching our American children how to quietly and patiently line up and wait in a line?

Line to walk down to music class. Line to get a drink at the water fountain. Line to take a turn to climb the rope in P.E. Lines at Disney World. Lines at McDonald's. Lines at the grocery store check-out counters. Lines at government offices. Lines while driving.

Lines. Lines. Lines.

Well, lines work well in Northern America, Europe and probably Australia! But, once you leave the Western world, forget about it!

When I first arrived in Armenia, this would drive me nuts! I would be waiting in line at a store to check-out, an elderly woman would just walk right in front of me and check out. I was enraged, and everyone else behind me was calm. She was elderly. She had paid her dues. She deserves respect, and she DOES NOT have to wait in lines.

I still cringe at the idea of going to the doctor's office in Armenia. They do not give appointment times. If the doctor is there, you stand outside of his office and wait! NO, you don't wait in a line. You FIGHT to get in. Whoever is the most aggressive or can prove they have the sickest child, gets in first. A few months ago, I stood with Ava in my arms for 2.5 hours waiting to see the doctor. I couldn't bring myself to FIGHT to get into the doctor, and they took advantage of my timidness.

They don't drive "in the lines" in Armenia. Every day I drive, I encounter countless cars that are driving with the dotted line right beneath the center of their car. They are not in one lane or the other...just in the middle of both!

But, despite my Americaness, over the last seven years, I have learned to relax a bit about lines. I didn't really have a decision. Either I learned to relax about it, or I would live my life in complete frustration ALL THE TIME.

October 21, 2010:

I arrive at Chicago O'Hare airport and walk into the passport control/ customs area. I see that there are people entering the hall from two directions. There are a lot of people coming from the left, and I am coming from the right. So, I merge into the "U.S. Citizen" Passport control line.

Suddenly, I am yelled at.

"The line starts back there." A man pointed back to the left.

I, completely unaware of the beginning of line, humbly apologize in a kind voice.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I was coming from that direction and thought the line merged."

Another rude voice from a young lady with glasses, wearing sweat pants, and with greasy hair that looked like she had flown for hours without a shower.

"Yeah, well, I've been waiting here a LONG TIME." A roll of the eyes.

Wow...culture shock! Don't touch the order of the line! Even if it's a mistake. THERE IS NO GRACE!

Lines keep the world in order. Lines make me just as important as anyone else.

I was kinda hoping I'd be overwhelmed with the kind "outgoingness" of Americans upon my return. We're known for that characteristic all over the world.

But, my welcome back into the US: "Get back in line!"

I felt a little mad, a little sad. I felt like I needed a re-education.

Lines are great. They really do bring fairness and order. But, lines are not more important than the individual.

We, and our spot in line, is not important than everything else. Some people do deserve a break: the elderly, the pregnant, the families with young, screaming children who have just endured a trans-atlantic flight.

But, in our culture, we don't care. Line is supreme.

The rest of the world can learn a lot from our lines and organization. And, we can learn a lot from the rest of the world about compassion and flexibility.

I guess that's why we need each other.

Culture Shock # 1! Welcome to the US!