Wednesday, July 26, 2006


This really should not bother me enough to post but it does. It drives me absolutely insane, despite the fact that it really doesn't affect me for the most part. Its the principle of it.

When I was little, my class would be taken to get a sip of water from the drinking fountain and we all had to line up, "single file, no pushing or shoving", and get a drink. People who took cuts in line were demonized and made to feel like they alone, had just wiped out a tribe of Native Americans. Cutting was evil, pure and simple. This anti-cutting doctrine was embedded into my brain at a very young age.

Fast forward twenty years and here I am. While I am not the guy that gets so bent out of shape as to say something when people cut in line, the whole principle that someone has taken cuts in a line bothers me. What makes it worse for me is that the people that do this are old people. Sneaky, sneaky, ninja-like, old people. These are people that if you saw them on the street, you would mentally prepare a list of things to do in case they collapse in front of you, dialling 119 for instance. Yes, 119 is the Japanese version of 911, anywho.

Not a day goes by that I do not have an old person cut in front of me while waiting in line for a train. In Japan, there are five national pastimes; baseball, drinking, smoking, steeling bikes and umbrellas, and if you are old, cutting in front of people to get on trains. All but baseball drive me crazy, but none so much as the cutting. There are basically three varieties of cutters that one will encounter while in Japan.

First, the "in-your-face" cutter. These are the old people that I respect the most. You will be standing in line, hell, you may be the only person in line, and you see them coming toward you. Usually, cutters of this variety are male and in their prime, they were probably the hardcore, go-getter type. These guys will come up to the line, look at all of the people in the line, and then while looking at you, they proceed to cut to the very front of the line. After seizing their territory, they look back down the line and squint. They see me looking at them and they return my gaze with a firm, unyielding stare. They are daring me to say something to them. They know what they have done, they know I saw them do it, but they do not give a damn. I can respect this, these men have balls. Oh yeah, when these guys cut, they don't just pick the middle area of the line to cut into. They don't pick the part of the line that may be three of four people from the door, oh no. They go straight to the absolute front of the line. When the door of the train slides open, they WILL be the first ones on.

Next we have the "party" cutter. These queue screwers are usually female. This works more like a clever scam than an outright cut and the deviousness of it bothers me more than the cutting itself. The way it works is you will have a group of three or four ladies, all of them gabbing and being merry. You will hear their conversation before you see them and then once they hit the train platform they head to a line. They work like raptors preparing to sweep in on an unsuspecting paleontologist; as a group, they simply merge into the middle of a line. This is natural and they do not break a beat in their talking, one minute you were six people from the door of the train, now you are hoping to break into the top ten. These women are oblivious to the fact that they have just shafted half of a line or, they simply pretend not to notice. Either way, you just got cut.

Lastly, we have the cutter that I despise the most, the "inchers". These cutters can be either sex and they always work alone. Unlike the "in-your-facers", the "inchers" know what they are doing is wrong but do not have the piss and vinegar to go straight to the front of the line and stare down would-be complainers. Instead, the "inchers" start at the back of the line. After being there a second or two, they walk forward a tiny bit. After securing this new ground, they scan the area to make sure they are not being watched. Then after they are comfortable that no one is watching, they shuffle up a little more. They stop, scan, and shuffle. Rinse, wash, repeat. After five minutes or so of baby steps, they are now in the front of the line and you just got screwed by a passive aggressive, geriatric wanting a window seat.

How does this happen? Easy, Japanese people loathe outright conflict of any sort. They would much rather get bumped from a train or their desired seat than be seen as a gripe that was trying to make waves. As the saying goes, "the nail that stands up must be pushed back down". Its not good to make waves. Japanese people are by no means stupid and they know they are getting cut in front of, but to them, its easier to let that person have their way than it would be to tell them off. The person will be bad mouthed in private, amongst friends, but never to their face. I have never seen anyone confront a cutter. The thing that cracks me up is that if this were to happen in the United States, either the person getting cut would say something to the cutter or move their body in a manner as to pre-empt the cutter. Either way, the cutting would not stand. Even if a person did manage to cut in line, the person behind them would probably end up making a noise or funny eye gesture or something. You would not see many people who would take the cutting the way Japanese people do.

The other reason that the cutting is probably tolerated is because 99% of the people who I have seen do it are old. In Japan, there is a sense that old people can pretty much do whatever they see fit. They have lived longer than you and therefore, must know more than you and somehow in their infinite wisdom, saw it fit to screw you. Older people are respected much more here and in a way, they deserve more respect than most of the aged in the United States. Even into their seventies and eighties, older people here are very active. They will go swimming, gardening, volunteering, you name it. Old people in Japan are what Americans would classify as a spry old person. Its a common belief here that when you stop being active, your mind and body deteriorate, so old people tend to be very active in an effort to combat Father Time. This could be one reason Japan has the highest life expectancy of anyone in the world. I have theories as to that as well but that is another post in and of itself.

Now you have it, my complete anthropological study of Japanese line cutters. Somehow your life is more complete than it was a few minutes ago, your welcome.


At 8:11 PM, Blogger Karie and Reid said...

SO TRUE!! But there is also another type of cutter that I would like to add to your study - one that only a woman would notice. It's the "I'm a man and you are a woman - a WHITE woman - and I deserve to be here first" cutter....I encounter this variety on a multiple times a day basis. And much like you, I despise cutters of all sorts. I love how you categorized them though - funny, but true!

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Tony's Mom said...

Ha! The same thing happens in Hong Kong! While waiting for the MTR or even at the all ever holy of holy lands,Disneyland, the religion of children everywhere. They simply walk their way through the crowd,as though someone up front was waiting for them. No one says a word.

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Steph said...

My life is more complete! Thanks for the laugh Ty.


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