Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_1009I am a rule follower. Much to my husband’s dismay (or annoyance?) it is very difficult for me to go against what I have learned to be the “right” way to do something. If there’s a no trespassing sign on a trail where I can see 10 people walking, I feel uncomfortable. If a movie theater says not to bring in my own food or drink, I feel guilty with a water bottle. And if there’s a line somewhere, gosh darn it, I’m going to take my place in that line, and not try and work around it or take cuts. I played Red Light, Green Light growing up, and I NEVER WENT WHEN IT WAS RED LIGHT.

Thus it came as quite shock to me when my friend Janice and I got to the customs and immigration department at the Moscow airport about 15 years ago, and there were at least six customs booths open, but not a single line. Every person just pushed and elbowed their way closer and closer to a booth. Then when my family traveled in Turkey in 2008, and we went up to the rooftop deck for breakfast at our Istanbul hotel, my poor daughters (who are more like me than any of us would like to admit) would wait and wait for “their turn” to put food from the buffet table onto their plates, but they would repeatedly be cut in front of by folks from all over the world. Most recently, in China, I noticed that if you wanted to buy food from a food cart or vendor, you really had to push your way to the front of the line, and interrupt the worker and perhaps other customers by shouting or pointing out your order.


Can I just repeat? This all makes me uncomfortable.

I’m sure I lean a bit towards the obsessive/compulsive side, or to put it in more derogative terms, the anal retentive side, but I like the orderly lines found in the USA. When I choose a line at the grocery store, I like to know there are three people ahead of me. And when I’m waiting in customs and immigration, I don’t want to push my way to the front. I want velvet ropes telling me—and those in front of me and behind me—that we will wait our turn like civilized people.

Then I started thinking about other cultures, and how just because my culture does something one way doesn’t make it the right way, it’s just how my culture does it. Foreigners might look at the lines we form here in the US and think they are the craziest things they’ve ever seen. I know, I find this hard to believe too, but who am I to judge? Other cultures lack of structure may, in its own way, be structure. I’ll keep thinking about this while I’m standing in line, waiting to hear “green light.”