Is it a myth that Swedes love to form a queue?

4:02 min

Today we hear about something that might strike a lot of people as odd when they first come here - the seemingly constant queuing.

But how Swedish is it practice, and why are we so fond of waiting in line? 

However little time you've spent in Sweden you'd be sure to have noticed this phenomenon or quirk in Swedish behaviour. There are seemingly lines for everything. You stand in line to buy cheese at the supermarket, you stand in line to get on the bus - and as an exchange student from Stockholm University pointed out - you may very well have to stand in line to get a ticket from a queue ticket vending machine only to stand in another line.

But where does the Swedish fascination for queuing come from? And is it really typically Swedish?

According to ethnologist Karl Olov Arnstberg, the abundance of lines and queueing here originate from Swedish people's liking of rationality and order.

Switching from one line to another to get ahead is, according to Arnstberg, completely fine, but cutting in line most certainly is not. While most Swedes won't confront you or tell you that you're the wrong for cutting in line, you will probably feel the sting of several angry gazes if you do.

Still, Åke Daun, a retired professor of ethnology, did a study to compare queuing in Italy and in Sweden and found, much to his surprise, that Italian people were less likely to speak up if someone cut ahead of them in a line than the average Swede.

Åke Daun, does however confirm Arnstberg's notion that Swedes have a particular liking of order and argues that it may be rooted in Sweden's agricultural past. He says that Swedish farmers valued order and structure because they had to in order to survive the harsh winters, and that these values have become part of the Swedish mentality.

But there are countless of other possible explanations as to why queuing is such a central part of life in Sweden as well. A more recent theory has to do with the Swedish primary school system, and says that it's because kids here are taught at a very early age to pair up and form neat lines for all sorts of different activities.

But is then queuing something typically Swedish? Karl Olov Arnstberg says that's not necessarily the case.

So while there is no arguing that Swedish people a fans of a well-structured and orderly society - you do after all see lines everywhere from the bank to the church - it's unlikely that we spend that much more time waiting in line.

Myth debunked.

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