Queue jumpers

What is it with jumping queues in the supermarket in China? And why are middle aged female queue jumpers far and away the most evil?

I headed down to the supermarket to pick up some stuff for dinner, in a good mood because I was making 烧酒鸡 (chicken with rice wine and herbs) using real Taiwanese 米酒 (rice wine) – from the iconic pink bottle.


The Taiwanese stuff in the supermarket is all on shelves labeled “imported goods – country of origin China” by the way. You have to wonder. If the stuff is really Chinese then why is it in the imported foods section? And if it comes from Taiwan, and if Taiwan is a part of China, then why do they need to plaster ‘China’ all over the shelves? Practically everything in the supermarket is Chinese, but only the Taiwan section gets put on shelves specifically labeled ‘China’. Why is Taiwan getting special treatment?

Also, would it kill them to actually incorporate the word ‘Taiwan’ in there somewhere? They seem desperate to make the point that Taiwan is a part of China, while being allergic to the word ‘Taiwan’ itself. There is something slightly irrational about all this. The word ‘Taiwan’ in itself does not imply that Taiwan is a country. The Chinese themselves refer to ‘Taiwan province’ after all. I’m sure the manager of Carefour could use the word ‘Taiwan’ in his imported foods section without being trucked out to Xinjiang and shot – and if somebody really does have to be shot I’m sure the manager could arrange for it to be one of the shelf stackers.

While probably isn’t worth anybody getting shot over, it would be nice to be able to buy Taiwanese produce from a shelf that said ‘Taiwan’ somewhere. Or if the Taiwanese shelf has to say ‘China’, then logically shouldn’t ‘China’ be plastered across every other shelf too? At least we would get some consistency.

Anyway, I get to the checkout with my bottle of Taiwanese rice wine from China, or if you prefer Chinese rice wine from Taiwan, or PRC rice wine manufactured under the illegal supervision of the bandit government of the ROC on Taiwan but in China, or however you want to phrase it. As I’m queuing I inadvertently let a foot or so of free space open up between me and the woman in front, and into the gap slipped a middle aged dragon.

I really can’t be arsed accusing her of jumping the queue and listening to the inevitable denial. For some reason Chinese women of middle age and above usually deny having jumped a queue, while men usually apologize. Anyway, rather than talking I just tap her on the shoulder and indicate with my thumb that she should be behind me. Incredibly she says that she is queuing and asks what I want. Well fuck me sideways with a chainsaw. . .

I ask her what she thought I was doing standing in a queue if I wasn’t queuing? Did she think I was waiting for spring to arrive? Another denial, and she adds that me having a big nose (i.e. being a foreigner) doesn’t give me any right to tell her what to do. That remark pissed me off no end. Why do Chinese introduce some racial or international dimension to every minor dispute with a foreigner?

Things were soon deteriorating badly. Before long people were turning round to watch and she was screaming that I’d assaulted her (the tap on the shoulder), injuring her arm. Unbelievable. Anyway, before the thing was finished I well and truly lost my temper. There was the inevitable (and unfortunate) 干你娘* and it was all downhill from there. There were insinuations that she had learned all about queue-插ing** on her back and was a real 北港香炉*** (a phrase which nobody in Shanghai seems to understand). People were getting out cameras and taking pictures and stuff, so I am probably going to end up on some Chinese hate site with a death threat or something.

After she started screaming assault I suggested we go find a doctor and I cover her (undoubtedly enormous) medical bills. I guess the idea was calling her bluff or whatever. It was a bad idea of course because if we had got as far as the doctor it would likely have ended up with me forking out a few hundred RMB, to say nothing of wasting hours of time. Luckily one of the managers stepped in and defused things a little. Still, I may avoid that supermarket for a few weeks.

The previous week in a different supermarket an elderly man tried the same trick. Admittedly my own approach was slightly different and rather than do the shoulder tap I just asked him where he thought he was going. His own approach was slightly different too though, since had cut in using the non-confrontational ‘I’m a little lost but maybe I’m in the right place’ strategy. Anyway, he politely got back in the queue behind me and before long we were having the friendliest of chats. He checked carefully through my shopping (it was a bit disconcerting to watch him but he’d been so amicable about the queue jumping I felt obliged to let him have a rummage) and told me I shouldn’t be paying extra for skinless chicken thighs when it would be so easy to skin them myself, and that I should really be drinking Chinese wine instead of foreign stuff.

So a potentially heartwarming Shanghai story was derailed at the outset because a middle aged dragon couldn’t admit she was trying to jump a queue, and instead we ended up with a completely disgraceful scene getting recorded on film. It makes you wonder.

At least the chicken turned out pretty well.

* This means “fuck your grandmother”.

** This is a verb meaning ‘to stick (into)’, and happens to be part of the phrase ‘to jump a queue’ in Chinese. Of course since it also applies to other meanings related to ‘stick’ it has potential for impolite double meanings. What I said was she must have learned about 插-ing in a 理发店 (literally a barber’s shop, but the reality is that most of them are brothels).

*** This phrase literally means ‘north harbor incense burner’ and comes from Taiwan. Taiwan has a big temple to the goddess Mazu in a place called North Harbor. The temple is one of the busiest in Taiwan and every day thousands of people stick joss sticks in the incense burner there. Thus the phrase ‘north harbor incense burner’ is less than respectful when applied to a woman in Taiwan because it means that everybody has stuck their joss stick in her. Mainlanders tend not to understand this one though.

2 Responses to “Queue jumpers”

  1. Patrick Says:

    Nice of the manager to step in and calm things down, rather than chuck the nasty foreigner out! Was the lady surprised that you spoke Mandarin well? I mean – what kind of expression did you see on her face when you said 干你娘?

  2. seamus Says:

    “干你娘” was the one thing I said that stoopped her in her tracks for a second. If nothing else it at least gets a response.

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