5 Tips on How to Stand in a Chinese Queue

Or rather, the 5 Tips on How to Get Ahead of the All the People! Because there are no lines, just a lot of people trying to be first. Initially, you get confused, thinking, why isn’t the line moving? Then you get angry, why are all these people just walking straight in front of me, without even looking like they care? 

You can either get mad, or you can get smart. Think through which strategy will get you to your goal fastest. If you are really smart, you work on your tactics and strategies from the moment you decide you want to reach that ticket counter, subway train, McDonald’s burger or door. Remember, the Chinese were born into this, you have just arrived. Don’t worry if you don’t get it the first times, it is all about practice. A lust for competition also helps.

Most people live in China
Most people live in China

Ready? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Never stand still. The second you stop moving, someone will sneak into the space created when you don’t immediately follow the person in front of you. Remember, most Chinese don’t have a concept about personal space, so you have to get up close.

2. Keep your elbows out and wide. Even when there is no space between you and the person in front of you, they will still try to squeeze in. You have to stand tall, firm and wide to prevent this. You can also bring props. If you don’t like the physical contact extra padding can be useful. A backpack or a big handbag will add some extra space around you and can be used to firmly push people away. Just remember carry it on your stomach and don’t put your valuables here, as big, tight crowds are perfect for pickpockets. Or anything fragile, as the pressure can be hard.

Come early if you want to watch the lowering of the Chinese flag on Tiananmen Square
Come early if you want to watch the lowering of the Chinese flag on Tiananmen Square

3. Make it into a taijiquan exercise. Conjure images of sliding snakes, jumping grasshoppers, crouching tigers and hidden dragons. Bend your knees, move sideways, and lift your arms, all while keeping a good rhythm, like the animal you visualize you are. When you get to the front of the queue you can rightfully call yourself grand master and we’ll all bow in your honor.

4. Don’t get visibly mad. Shouting, pushing and getting angry will not get you closer to your goal. Yes, it can be hard not to care, but please understand that one hysterical foreigner will not change this 5,000-year-old practice. Most likely, you will end up in a video circulating on the internet and be ridiculed by millions of Chinese netizens. It’s better to talk to yourself in your own language, if you need to let some steam off. If your language is English, some people will understand, but at least you are not offending them in their own language and they will probably agree with you.

5. Look at it as a competition. Or a war, if you want, so that you can excuse your behavior by claiming all is fair. Take a deep breath, loosen up your shoulders, do a quick stretch, get whatever mantra you need going (I am invincible, I will get that hamburger) and you are ready for combat. Don’t be shy, if a space opens up, go for it! If you have to step on a few toes, well it’s part of the game. Remember, you have to be defensive. When you get to the front of the line, you win! Not the war on line cutting, but at least today’s battle. In China, no victory is too small for a celebration!

Bonus tip: Don’t stand too close to the man carrying the toddler on his shoulder. Few Chinese babies use diapers. Instead, their pants have a nice little split. Do a mental picture of exactly where that cute little butt will be in relation to your face, and you get my point.

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Christine Surlien

Christine has studied Chinese culture and language extensively. She has spent two years at The People’s University of China in Beijing, done five years of Chinese studies at the University of Oslo, and has her masters degree from Hong Kong University. She has been associated with KinaReiser, Norway’s leading agency for travel to the The Far East, for a decade. She was also employed at the administration of the Norwegian Embassy to China for two years, before relocating to Washington DC with her diplomat husband and their two children.

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  1. […] Chinese tourists will be. Rethink your schedule and make the most of the places you get to see. – Practice “standing” in line from day one. You’ll never get any entrance tickets by being polite. Read my super tips here. – […]

  2. My firend,   Maybe you say is true, But you must be aware of the humanity has its ugly side, not just chinese. So… We’d better understanding each other

  3. … and if I may, I’d add to #4: smile! – victory is even sweeter if you do it in style. 🙂

  4. Love it! – and soooo true! I was applying some of those tips already, but not all and mostly by instinct. Thanks for putting such important survival skills into words :).

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