Abroad Perspective: Stepping Out of Line

Forget all you know about an orderly line when you visit Italy, because here you’ll find out that a horizontal line exists instead. Ordering a drink at a busy American bar on the weekend is probably the closest you’ll get to waiting in line “The Italian Way.”

If you are not used to people jumping the line, waiting for anything in Italy may be shocking. It is common to ask who the last person in line is, which will leave you with paying attention to when you are up. If you do see an orderly line, chances are that everyone around you is a tourist.

When you are in the mood for some Italian espresso, walk up to the cash register, pay for your order in advance and then start scanning the area to figure out who else is waiting. Once it is your assumed turn, hand over the receipt to the barista and he or she will start working on your order.

Breaking a habit can be difficult, so if there is a line, most of us will abide by it and join at the end. In Italy you have to adjust this mentality. Be polite, but be prepared.

Worth the Wait?

One time my wife and I were waiting for the bus in Sorrento to get to the Amalfi Coast. The bus we were trying to catch had just filled up, so at least we knew we were going to make it on the next one. Some Italian school kids arrived a little later and were hanging out near the front of the line. When the bus pulled up and the doors opened, the kids ran on the bus, leaving everyone in line astonished.

Having learned from the various waiting experiences in Italy, I was ready to do as the Romans do. As you may know, the flight from the USA to Europe can be quite tiring. So when we landed at the airport in Rome, all my wife and I wanted to do was to get to our accommodation and freshen up.

This sounded good in theory, but what we got instead was a giant line of people waiting to get through passport control. Never in my life have I seen so many confused faces and people asking each other if they were waiting in line. All this was orchestrated by a short Italian lady with a loud voice, that looked like she was about to apply for the Italian Symphony.

After 15 minutes of aimlessly waiting around, I took my wife by the hand and pointed at the EU Passports desk, which looked like an oasis in the desert.

In true Italian fashion we started making our way to the other side of the terminal by dodging belt barriers and other obstacles. Two minutes later we had gone through passport control.

As far as standing in line goes, Europe really has a north-south divide. The more south you go, the less organized the line will be. Just try and remember that you are on vacation and that this is how things work in your destination.

As a Dutch American, I am well aware of cultural differences. In my series, Abroad Perspective, I will tackle the challenges of international travel.

How do you deal with those lines overseas? Feel free to share this or any other cultural shocks with us in the comments below and your idea could be featured in the next blog!

Ray originally hails from The Hague, Netherlands and one day showed up at Global Discovery Vacations’ doorstep. When he is not traveling or writing, you might find him engaged in playing ping pong, swimming or planting tulips.