The Nepali Queue

Happening Issue 131 Sep, 2012
Text by Krita Raut

The Nepali way of lining up for things is as unique as anything else in Nepal.

Nepalis have always been known for their laidback attitude. This is believed to be one of the things many foreigners find endearing about this country. Some even stay back and make Nepal their home, the leisurely pace of life here is a pleasant welcome for westerners used to more hurried routines.

We as a people never seem to be in a hurry; a discipline (or a lack thereof) seen in all spheres of Nepali society. Our politicians are in no hurry to build our constitution. Government level officers are in no rush to finish their work and businessmen are never in a hurry to cater to the needs of the customer. Some shopkeepers even ask, “liney ho ki haina? (are you even going to buy something)” in a rather lazy manner as they show you their goods with a speed that matches the tone.

Notice people walking on the street: observe their pace, it seems like they are taking a stroll in a park. Nobody seems to be running late to reach anywhere. No surprises then that we have the famous term “Nepali time” (read: reaching anywhere 15 to 30 minutes late is acceptable). Nobody expects any event to begin at the designated time; all subscribers of the Nepali time syndrome. And if you are the guest of honor at any important event, you might as well multiply Nepali time by two. Funny enough, the only thing that hasn’t been affected by this syndrome is a factor that reduces efficiencies in all fields - load-shedding. Amazingly, the lights go out right on the dot.

However, there actually is something that makes Nepalis of every region, religion and caste anxious about time running out. The fear of wasting time or not being able to do something on time finally makes an appearance. Our immunity to time ceases to exist, when faced with the incredible phenomena called the “queue”.

The moment a Nepali has to queue up, we as a collective of laidback people suddenly find ourselves in a hurry. The Nepali man (and the Nepali woman) simply does not understand the concept of lining up in an orderly fashion and waiting for his turn. As a result, there really are no queues in Nepal. In its place is a nice, layered crowd.

The hospital registration counter, the movie ticket counter, the queues at petrol stations and even temples: all these places are testament to this rare Nepali phenomenon. I happened to go for an eye check up recently. I was standing behind a guy outside the inquiry room. Slowly more people started standing behind me, no not in a line, just standing behind me. The moment the counter’s window opened, all hell broke loose. The people in waiting who were supposed to form a line had actually created a semi-circle around the window. Hands holding prescriptions started reaching out from all sides. Not like the window was open for a limited time either, people still kept pushing and shouting with the hope that their work might get done early. The guy at the counter seemed in no hurry however; you can’t blame him, you see there was no queue on his side of the window.