Etiquette for Standing in Line

You’ve arrived at the Post Office with your packages, postcards, and letters, only to find that there is a wait, perhaps a long one.  How can your actions contribute to making the experience as pleasant as possible? Politeness may seem to be a lost cause these days, but as long as people are willing to think their actions through and to learn new ways of acting, we can change that.  To that end, here are some pointers – and again, no jeering at items that seem to be obvious!


Do not get into line until you are ready to be served at the counter.  This is a hard one, because we’re all crazy busy these days.  However – it’s just plain difficult to address packages correctly without using a desk, and if you’re shuffling papers it’s also difficult to stand still in line (see pointer #2, below.) It’s also really annoying to wait behind someone who is at the counter and taking the clerk’s time while s/he finishes addressing an item, or two, or four. Again: do not get into line until all of your objects are ready to be handled by the clerk.


Please stand still while you wait. Obviously, you will move forward with the line, but don’t shuffle, make large hand gestures while you talk, practice yoga, or dance (the list could go on and on….) Yes, I am grouchy about this, but I’m not the only short person in the line – your elbow is probably at my nose level, and I value my unbroken bones.  Some of us have larger personal space requirements than others, and it’s unnerving when the person in back of you keeps moving closer to your rear end.


Parents: please keep your children with you and hold them by the hand.  Your actions with your child in public help to teach about politeness and respecting the various needs of those in public places.  When a small child is running around the post office lobby screaming, it’s hard for the clerks to hear customers, and when a toddler cannonballs into my shin it’s hard for me to respect the personal space of the other people in line.


At the same time, all of us need to remember that parenting is a difficult and awesome task. If you are in line and see a parent trying to work with a child who is acting out or having a melt-down, keep  in mind that you will be spending probably half an hour with that child – the parent has been in that child’s company for much longer and is probably exhausted and embarrassed. It’s always a good idea to smile at parents with young children for this reason; if you’re up to saying something nice, it’s going to be greatly appreciated.  Let’s give parents props for teaching their children how to act appropriately in public, and cut them a break when one family member or another doesn’t seem to be measuring up – we never know the entire story.


This is another hard one for me, because I’m talkative – but respect the social cues of those standing in line with you. It’s fine to offer a comment, but if they don’t respond, don’t continue to natter at them.  They’ll start to wonder if you have mental issues or are about to ‘go postal’ – if you’re not, don’t add to the tenseness of wait time with unwanted chatter. (If you are, of course, that’s a very different issue.) Some people use wait time as a means to decompress or to meditate, while others are shy by nature – allow them to stand silently without feeling that they have to be polite and talk to you.


When you get to the front of the line, greet the clerk politely.  Smile if you can.  Thank the clerk for working with you.  Try not to start an argument; if you have questions or feel that a price is incorrect, see if you can communicate that quietly and respectfully. Customer service is difficult and not particularly well compensated.  And if you do lose it, apologize as quickly as you can. We all screw up, and no one is going to be perfect all the time. However, committing yourself to good line etiquette is taking a stand towards a kinder world – isn’t that worth it in the end?

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