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How long till you lose your cool in a queue?

Looking at watch

We Brits are renowned for our willingness to queue quietly – but new research shows people lose the plot within 11 minutes of waiting. It seems standing in line has lost its appeal…

I’m going to be honest about this: I’m an impatient person. I’m the sort of woman who, once she’s decided to do something, wants it done yesterday.

I am not the kind of person who is willing, content – or even physically able – to stand sweetly and silently in a queue that goes on forever.

However, I’m not alone. Research released today by the Payments Council suggests that the ‘typical British adult’ can cope with queuing for a mere 10 minutes and 42 seconds before their patience starts to fray.

Why I hate queues

Personally, I reckon I can only stand about five minutes of queuing before the red mist descends – unless there are obvious and acceptable reasons for my wait.

For the record, my top unacceptable reasons for long queues are:

  • Shop assistants chatting about blokes, women, parties or anything else, instead of serving customers.
  • Unmanned tills during busy periods.
  • Staff shutting their stations to go for a break RIGHT NOW, in the face of miserable customers queuing for miles.
  • Plain old incompetence. If you’ve ever stood waiting while the people at the till try to work out how to do a refund/process an exchange/void an incorrect transaction, you’ll know what I mean.

The Payments Council’s research throws up some interesting points. While the over-55s are likely to get antsy nearly three minutes earlier than younger people, they’re half as likely to take it out on those around them. Amusingly, top among the reasons for getting cross in a queue was other people “faffing around” in front of us – 66% of people can’t stand it.

The ways we avoid queues

My own hatred of queuing is one of the reasons I love the internet. I buy groceries, books, DVDs, and clothes on the web, and do 99% of my banking online.

In fact, if someone gives me a cheque for a small amount of money, I’m slightly ashamed to admit I will probably ask myself: ‘Can you really be bothered to go to a bank branch and cash this?’

Yet this is nothing compared to the lengths some people will go to to avoid queues, according to this research:

  • 21% of people will go shopping at night to avoid queuing
  • 18% of us will change what we buy or where we shop to avoid standing in line
  • And – my personal favourite – 12% of young people admit to sending someone else to go and queue for them.

So how long can you queue for before your temper cracks? And what lengths would you go to for the sake of avoiding a queue?


It infuriates me when, in the supermarket, the queue at another checkout moves faster than the one I am in, especially if, as seems to happen a lot at my local branch of Waitrose, the till lady has hit a problem and has rung for a supervisor wiith consequent sometimes prolonged delay.

But nothing, NOTHING, beats for sheer heart-attack inducing uncontrollable RAGE than a motorway traffic jam. On any other road, there are usually side roads you can rat-run up and with a decent map or satnav get round. On the m-way you are thwarted, frustrated, and stuck!

Fat Sam, Glos says:
5 November 2010

do what I do and use the hard shoulder. Putting your hazard lights on also helps as a courteous kind of ‘wave’ to all those remaining stationary.

Sophie Gilbert says:
5 November 2010

Willigness to queue quietly, or indeed to queue at all, is one of the reasons why day to day life is much more pleasant in Britain than in other countries. Long may this distinction continue. Impatient people, get a grip! You’re only making the situation worse, for yourselves and for everyone else.

Fat Sam, Glos says:
5 November 2010

Women – at supermarket checkouts pack as the assistant passes items to you, preferably organising your items in the trolley and then conveyor belt first, making packing easier. Then, have your payment method ready before the assistant even has the chance to utter the words, ‘do you have a Clubcard?’

Old people – banks are not there to confirm the weather. You can also withdraw cash from machines designed and built with that particular function in mind.

Call centre managers – learn the art of staff training. It sometimes helps if your agents actually understand the products and services they are supporting.

BMW/Audi drivers – keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you means you don’t have to apply the brakes when it slows down on motorways forcing everyone else to brake resulting in a complete halt and congestion

Lorry drivers – Elephant racing is not an official sport so please refrain from participating in this activity on the public highway. If another lorry does have the need to overtake you at 60mph it would be helpful if, for a few seconds, you slowed down to allow it to pass you quickly, thus freeing up one-third of the UK motorway network.

Highways engineers – allowing traffic lights to turn to red in the middle of the night on a roundabout when there are no vehicles around is not big or clever. It may keep you in a job but, with the CSR, for how much longer?

Workmen – similarly, when setting up temporary traffic lights on roadworks, it is helpful to understand in what direction the main flow of traffic is. It isn’t helpful having lights on green when nobody is waiting.

Retired people, people with pushchairs, the unemployed, the other stay-at-homes -all should be banned from queuing in any public building between the hours of 12 and 2pm. They have all day to do their business, some of us get 30 mins at lunchtimes.

How many people have I offended this time? 🙂

I don’t mind queuing when it’s busy, but what does infuriate me is when there are 6 people waiting at a supermarket checkout and a vacant till next door is suddenly brought into action. Before anyone who has queued for ages can get to the vacant conveyor belt 2 or 3 people who haven’t queued at all dash in and hog it! Would it not be polite (and reduce “queue-rage”) if the checkout operator quietly suggested to the next 2 or 3 customers in the queue (who have not reached the belt) that they move to the vacant checkout BEFORE (s)he opens it up?

The supervisor in our local Tesco DOES actually do that and quietly approaches people already in a queue to let them know he/she is opening up the till next door.

Sam, your comments are hilarious!!!!! But why Women for packing in supermarkets??? Men are some of the biggest offenders for not pre-sorting their items, not to mention large families that pile everything on at one end (getting the kids involved) then spend hours sorting it at the other. I totally agree that the unemployed should not be allowed to queue in peak hours. Likewise they should not be allowed to complain about their free housing… don’t get me started on this topic… I’m apparently a middle class citizen but I can’t afford to have children…and I certainly won’t be having any until I can afford my own house to put them into.

Sophie Gilbert says:
6 November 2010

I must say that I find this unanimous display of impatience pitiful and rather worrying. I wouldn’t thought it was something to brag about either.

@Emmiesmad – OK, I accept, some men can be as bad. But only men who appear to be older and divorced (you can tell by the contents of their ‘traditional’ shop on the conveyor – i.e. nothing exciting or exotic. They tend to engage in absurd and benign conversation with the checkout assistant (usually elderly) who seems completely oblivious to the people waiting (sometimes patiently, often more than not, tutting profusely) in line.

@Jim – I also have another tip for beating motorway queues. You know when you get three lanes filtering into two and the queues build up for several miles before the cones appear? Well, use the empty lane to bomb past all the muppets who can’t figure out that slowing down and merging in turn gradually is how it should be done – not waiting in line behind the lines of BMWs, Audis, Yariss and Micras who can’t figure it out. Then, upon reaching the end, signal your intention to ‘feel their pain’ and join them, with the full knowledge that only you know that your indicator is really a big bright orange V sign. After all, you’ve done nothing illegal. It’s not your fault they can’t use all three lanes up to the point that one disappears!

3 minutes

denniboy says:
27 July 2011

Thankfully most drivers on motorways drive with consideration for fellow travellers (sufferers)
and therefore they read the road ahead,to understand a situation,and to drive with respect for others . When three lanes converge …into two, it is obvious that the traffic will flow at a slower rate, but at least the traffic still moves.

However there are too many tickled pink morons around who treat other drivers with contemprt. A tickled pink moron thinks that it is clever to disregard collective common sense and decency.
With a brazen contempt these jackals speed along the respectfully vacated 3rd lane…,and then still expect the queuing “muppets” to have the decency to allow them access into the miles long queue..”to share their pain”.

These morons are the cause of motorway misery.. but their days are numbered. Many law abiding drivers are finding their own way of stopping these queue jumpers… by edging out into the third lane ,while their original queue space….. is left vacant for them by the the understanding driver following behind.

Queue jumpers cause much anger among patiently waiting drivers because they know that for every selfish moron that shoots down the puposefully empty lane.( and there are hundreds) It will mean another stop when he is allowed to merge in ….

Some Guy says:
17 December 2015

Oh God, I had this today. I consdier myself to be one of the most patient people ever but this one got me. I was queuing on my lunch break to buy a bottle of water, this one woman in front of me had bought a whole bunch of stuff and was faffing around over whether to buy some perfume that was displayed near the counter. The shopkeeper was encouraging her saying which one she likes best, then the woman starts spraying and sniffing the different bottles, apologizing to the cashier, completely oblivious to me waiting next to her! What made it worse was another cashier was next to her on the other till trying to sort out something to do with the receipts, so clearly not serving. A woman just walks in and says she purchased ear drops instead of eyedrops, “can I just replace them?”. The second girl on till agrees and says yes that’s fine bring them back here and I’ll ring it through the till. Never mind me standing there for 5 minutes obviously needing to be served. Then the woman buying the perfume decides on the one she likes and gets it bagged up. Now the woman serving her starts a conversation about what hours she works this week, the woman buying the perfume told her “oh different hours everyday this week, Monday it’s 2 – 6, Tuesday it’s 1 -5, Wednesday it’s 9 – 12, Thursday…. ” While looking up to the sky trying to remember the hours. At this point I decided to do a loud fake clearing of the throat… nothing, no reaction. So I started randomly whistling a random tune really loudly to give the hint…. nothing! Finally she pays for her stuff. No apologies my way, the cashier must have seen how annoyed I looked but also no apologies. But like a good polite British person I am I kept it all inside. In reality I wanted to unleash holy hell. What is wrong with these people!?

Gregory W Smith says:
4 May 2016

I cannot stand queuing – I have zero patience for people who cannot be asked to move! Nothing worse than an old person taking forever or an idiot on his phone.
I literally grab my shopping, shove it in a bag and dash away so the person behind me can go.
F***ing move people!