Cutting Into Lines

Butting into Lines   /   Queue Jump

 There are many wonderful things about Indonesian culture that we find fascinating. There is, however, one social practice that is very stressful to us, and it is the overwhelming amount of “cutting into lines” that takes place. Many Indonesians have indicated that they don’t like the behavior either.

Lines can become dangerous, and even more so when someone tries butting in and tempers begin to flare. It’s especially dangerous when there is little to no law enforcement to supervise and control such a situation.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that every time we leave our home there will be somebody, somewhere, that will want to cut in on us. Whether it’s on the road, lines at stores, at gas stations, or while paying bills. For us to be able to deal with this situation we have grown to expect it, give way to it, and realize that it isn’t our place to change this behavior. If Indonesians grow tired of this negative social behavior they will have to change it from within.

When large groups of people are in lines, and the lines are not controlled, very serious consequences can develop. It isn’t uncommon for people to get crushed or be stampeded to death. One very serious instance we experienced was about one year ago at the Jakarta airport. The check-in area had over 3,000 people jammed into it, and it looked as though it was designed to contain around 500. It was a very dangerous situation with people pushing, shoving, and being completely inconsiderate of each other. Being in the middle of that mob, I feared for my wife’s life. Seeing the look of horror on her face, of being jammed into a crowd of rather hostile and desperate people, with us having no way to escape, is something I don’t ever want to happen again!

Lines can be very dangerous. Foreigners are advised to avoid places were large masses of people gather.

We have seen lines managed well in Indonesia, so we know it’s possible. It’s just that most businesses don’t invest the time, money, or personnel to guard their customer’s safety and rights. Most stores and businesses still don’t operate with the philosophy that the customer is “boss,” that is, the customers are the ones that sign their paycheck, and without them being happy, their business will fail! Burger King’s philosophy exemplifies this:

 We may be the king, but you my friend, are the almighty ruler.

(quote seen at a Burger King in Jakarta)

The majority of Indonesian businesses make no effort to establish orderly lines, and they will let their customers “fight it out.” BCA bank does an outstanding job at protecting their customers from this rude behavior. Maybe there are other banks that also make this a priority. Telkomsel (phone company) uses a first-come-first-serve number system. That’s helpful, but even there, with that system in place, we’ve had people attempt to position themselves in front of us. Click this link to watch Mr. Bean attempt to cut into a line, while a first-come-first-serve number system is in place.

It’s not uncommon for people to be killed or to be seriously injured waiting in lines.

The reason we’re discussing this is because some tourist friends of ours from the USA were very upset when they saw this happening, not once, but during the entire time they were here. What we’ve reflected on below is to prepare future tourists. We’re not going to write from the perspective of a critical outsider. We will only repeat what we have read and heard other Indonesians say about this common practice of cutting into lines.


Cutting Into Lines is Normal

Indonesians repeatedly state that cutting into lines is only one of their social/cultural problems they are working to overcome. They also state that there is a correlating pattern to this behavior, and it is reflected in how they indiscriminately dispose of their trash, their lack of obedience to traffic laws, their neglected maintenance of public buildings, monuments and parks, and the predominance of corruption. Indonesians committed to changing these social patterns admit that all of these areas can be addressed at the same time, and that the central problem is not corruption, trash disposal, or cutting into lines, they say it’s simply a heart issue. Indonesians claim that until the inner nature is changed the outward behavior will remain the same.

Indonesians have told us that even with “virtual lines” (first-come-first-serve number system), they have had people repeatedly attempt to cut in front of them. We mentioned above that the same has happened to us.

One Indonesian blogger stated:

 The wide practice of cutting into lines merely reflects the mindset of the majority of people in our nation.

The essence of that above quote is reflected on a government monument in the City of Jambi, which states:

Obedience to traffic rules is a reflection on the people in a community.

What is the Reasons Behind this Behavior?

We Indonesians have immediate negative thoughts when we see the word, “antrian” (waiting line). When we see that word, we have unpleasant feelings, and that it will be boring and will waste our time.

An interesting quote from one Indonesian blogger as he was writing about this issue:

Other than discipline and being responsible, obedience to a line also teaches us to become mature.”

This same blogger indicated that those who cut into lines are basically dishonest and want to steal from others.

The behavior of cutting into lines is carried out by people who are proud about their ability to do it.

Line at a gas station. It’s not uncommon to see lines at gas stations reaching well over 1/4 of a mile long…with several abreast.

Indonesians say that obedience to waiting lines is one of respect towards others. They go on to explain that it displays tolerance towards others. Those who are prone to cut into lines are telling others that they are impatient, intolerant, and that they don’t respect others.




More Comments from Indonesians Concerning Cutting Into lines:

One of the most important values we can learn from the waiting line is that we are all the same. In lines there’s no gender, title, religion, race, or skin color. The line will open our eyes to show us what’s really in our hearts. If we are prone to cut into lines, it gives clear evidence that we are either racists, arrogant, irresponsible, that we look down on others, or a host of other very negative character traits. It will also show us that we don’t want to take personal responsibility to unite with others for the betterment of our nation.


Some say our country has a culture of respect, and that those who are older, wealthy, have government positions, or someone of notable influence, that they should have front-of-the-line-privileges. In civilian clothes it’s impossible to tell who’s rich, has an important position, etc., and people will merely act as if they are more important than others and cut into the line.

Rich <> Poor  /  Male <> Female

We have a culture that discriminates.

The Indonesian that made the above statement meant that the rich push their way into lines ahead of the poor, and the males push their way into lines in front of the women.

Almost one year ago Blackberry was giving a 50% discount on their phones. This sale brought thousands, and it was a very dangerous situation with pushing, shoving, and a number of people being injured.

Some have stated that cutting into lines is a cultural norm that has been inherited. Since the previous generation behaved this way, that same behavior is simply passed on to their descendants.

Our Indonesian culture is one in which those who carry the most power are the strongest and can obtain their rights over and above those who are poor, weak, and inferior.

One Indonesian blogger facetiously stated that it’s a little safer to just put the blame on the Dutch, because,

They didn’t teach us about how to be orderly in a waiting line.

Other Indonesian bloggers stated the following:

We Indonesians behave this way because for the most part, we are intolerant, selfish, and don’t value or aren’t concerned about the feelings of other people.

The waiting line is the location where we can all learn about honor, the value of other people, and justice. If we practice cutting into lines, or we see others doing it, we are able to learn about ourselves, whether we think we are more important than others or not.

Some Indonesians make the claim that this practice of cutting into lines is just one more example of injustice, that is, just another form of corruption.

Obviously embarrassed, one Indonesian said:

Our lack of orderliness and unwillingness to submit to regulations is a display of our poor ethics and uncivilized culture.

This behavior of ours shows that we don’t think about the common good. We are displaying our individualism with a total disregard to others.

How Do Indonesians Respond When Others Cut Into Lines?

Twenty people died at the time this picture was taken, and many, many more were seriously injured.

This is what Indonesians say they do when others cut into the lines:

  1. Berdecak: this is the Indonesian word for when they make a clicking sound with the tongue, as they express surprise or astonishment.
  2. Shake their heads to express their annoyance towards people cutting into lines, as well as to communicate to those around them that they don’t approve of that behavior.
  3. Exhale forcefully, as if the situation is hopeless.
  4. Many merely hide their annoyance, being too intimidated to confront.
  5. Some will speak up and voice their annoyance towards others who do it, but it’s a rare practice.
    • Face-to-face encounters with Indonesians displays their politeness, but in a large group that dynamic disappears.

One Example We Had:

While standing in a check-out line, in probably the most modern grocery store in Jambi, a woman behind me reached right in front of me, pushing me back a little, and handed the cashier the products she wanted to buy. The cashier took her items and rang up her bill. When I asked the woman why she cut in on me like that, she said, “it’s not my fault, it’s the cashier’s fault, because she took the items.”

Foreigners, as much as possible, should avoid areas where large masses of people assemble.

That episode illustrates the boldness of some people. It’s also a reflection on some people’s image of self-importance, lack of courtesy, and disregard for other people. It also illustrates the neglect businesses have of not protecting their customer’s rights. That wasn’t the only time people cut into the line on us in that store.

The example above is a common way people cut into lines. They will reach their hands through several people, trying to get their money or products they want to buy into the hands of the cashier, or they will place the items they want to buy on the counter, in front of other people’s items that were there before them. The cashiers, being overwhelmed with all the hands being thrust into their face will randomly take what’s in front of them, being indifferent as to who was really first in line. Strangely, without fail this same behavior can be seen taking place at airports with people going through the boarding gate–many boarding passes are thrust into the hands of the attendant at the same time–similar to what takes place in stores.  Indonesian airports don’t call groups to the boarding gate, like what is done in other international airports. When the call for boarding is given everyone rushes to the gate at the same time. Though they all have a boarding pass, with individual seating assignments, they act as if they don’t get through the gate first, somebody else will take their seat.

Critics With No Solutions Are of No Value

While discussing this cultural behavior one Indonesian blogger stated:

The progress of a nation begins with itself.

This shows money being given to the poor by a major tobacco company. It’s not uncommon for thousands of people to gather, if only to obtain the amount equivalent to $2.00 US. It’s also not uncommon for people do die at locations like this, due to no control being put in place to protect the masses. Safe distribution of financial support for the poor is possible, but doing it in a safe manner may not enlarge the image of the ones giving it away.

Below are some solutions Indonesians believe will bring about change, not only in the habitual practice of cutting into lines, but positive improvement in a number of other social problems as well.

  1. The most important aspect of achieving success in Indonesian (over negative social issues) is the progress in moral integrity.
  2. Businesses that sell products or services must take responsibility and make (and enforce) a clear waiting line for all customers to follow.  If these places of business don’t enforce an orderly line, they are telling their customers that all they care about is selling their products or services and that they care nothing about the people themselves.
  3. People need to be patient and display orderliness. They must also be polite, kind, and courteous to others.
  4. We need very influential individuals to set aside their positions, whether it is one of age, gender, government, military, or police, or whether they are extremely wealthy. We need leaders like this to set an example for others. We need influential people to humble themselves and wait in lines like everyone else so others can learn from their example.
  5. Beginning from pre-school through universities, teachers and professors should make it a point to remind students about discipline, as it pertains to lines, as well as in regard to trash disposal and obedience to traffic laws, etc..
  6. Every school and university should take a moment each time assemblies are conducted and make mention of the need for discipline in lines. The same should be said for each time a church, mosque, temple, or other place of worship conducts services. Every sermon could include a short mention about discipline, selflessness, tolerance, politeness, kindness, and humility.
  7. We must teach that although these changes can’t happen instantaneously, we should not lose hope that they can eventually take place.

Some countries use the following unwritten rules to govern waiting lines.

In some countries amusement parks have been known to be exceptionally strict when it comes to guarding their customers rights. These parks are known to have guards throughout the park, specifically to prevent butting into lines.

You can merge into a line to join up with the rest of your party, like with a spouse or family members. It wouldn’t be proper to invite a large number of people to merge into a line and join a single person.

It’s okay to leave your place in line to go buy a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., if you first tell the person behind you that you will be coming back, and ask them to hold your place.

In grocery stores, people with only a couple of items are often permitted to move to the front, and bypass those with a cart full of food. Even in this situation, the person with only a couple of items doesn’t take it upon themselves to cut into the line, they have to be invited.