This is the second in a series of articles on Chilean culture.
Sharpen your No. 2 and read closely: You have selected a product to purchase in a drugstore and you approach the cashier who is behind the counter. The cashier is helping person 1. Standing five feet behind person 1 is person 2 (see figure 3a). Where do you get in line?
This is a trick question because it doesn’t give enough information for you to answer. What’s missing is the country in which the situation takes place. If it were the U.S., then the correct answer would be that you should line up somewhere behind person 2. But this is Chile and the correct answer is therefore that you stand immediately behind person 1, ignoring person 2.
The philosophy of lines in Chile is so different from the U.S. that it’s downright comical at times. In the States everyone shares the same mental framework. The person who was there first should go first. Lines are good. You ask other people if they are in line. Sure there are people who cut in line, but those people are jerks and we all know it. Here people who cut in line are not jerks because, and this is the fundamental tenet of the nihilistic Chilean line philosophy: there is no line.
This doesn’t just affect drug stores. Turn your attention to figure 4a which is me waiting at the bus stop. I have been waiting for 15 minutes (not shown in diagram) at a distance of four feet from the curb. The bus arrives and opens its door directly in front of me. I move towards the open door. Within moments I find myself in the reconfigured system illustrated in figure 4b, where every man, woman, and high school student—especially the high school students—has pushed his or her way towards the open door. Nowadays I push too, but something tell me this isn’t right. My proximity, my wait time! These are factors in the boarding function, people.
I still try to maintain some level of civility, yielding to elderly women and so on. It is an illusion. The elderly women are no different than anyone else. They are getting in front of me whether I let them or not. I play by their rules some days, pushing, moving with aggressive elbows. Other days I just stand back and chuckle as my line-formation paradigms are blown up gently on the street corners of Chile.