Kenya, Rants

Kenyans have weird queue dynamics. First, I understand that the word “weird” is relative/subjective, but I hope it’s not offensive. Second, I may not be Kenyan, but I’ve lived in Kenya since 2007 (yes, including ocha, the village… for two solid years). I’m not bluffing when I say that I’ve stood in plenty of queues during my years in Kenya.

In the Bank

Yesterday I was at the bank waiting to see a teller about a wire transfer. The place was a bit hectic, but the line wasn’t too long. After a few minutes of waiting I was in the front of the queue, the next person to be serviced. Another few minutes passed and a chair finally freed up, but I still stood there in the queue—I wanted eyeballs, body language or some other form of confirmation from the teller that she was ready for me to come sit down.

After no more than five seconds of hesitation, the man behind me pointed and told me, “You can go there.” Our ensuing dialog was as follows:

  • Me: “I’ll wait until she calls me.”
  • Him: “She won’t.”
  • Me: “She will.”
  • Him: “She won’t.”
  • Me: “She will.”

After another ten seconds the teller was free and signaled me over. As I went to sit down I turned back and told the man behind me, “It’s polite to wait.

Maybe Kenyan culture is different, but it just feels right for me to wait. Is it safe to assume that, because the man behind me was Kenyan, and because the teller was Kenyan, that she would have expected me to behave in the same manner? Were it me behind the desk I would have thought it rude for clients to simply barge forward, out of turn. What do you think?

At the Grocery Store

I was baffled again by queue dynamics a few weeks ago when standing in line to checkout at the grocery store. It was around 8 or 9 in the evening, and I had ten or so items. There were two people in front of me, and one or two people behind me. I was just chatting with Cassandra when, all of the sudden, a dude with a bag of spinach squeezes by us with all sorts of haste and intent.

Assuming he was with one of the people in front of us, we made that courteous, passive sound you always tend to make in that situation, and scooted over so he could pass easily (you know that sound, it’s something like, “Ooop!“). When he passed it became clear that he didn’t know anyone up there, and that he was just cutting.

I was a bit put off. When I have one item and the line is long, I just stand quietly in the back and wait for my turn to checkout. Some nice person inevitably says, “Oooh, it’s ok, you can go before me.” That way everyone wins, right?

It’s entirely possible that it’s a Nairobi thing… Kenyans, what do you think?