If you ask me what is the most common phenomenon in Shanghai, I would say queuing. With a population of 20 million, queues can be seen everywhere. It’s very likely that we will have to line up whenever we go to a supermarket, bank, hospital, let alone the shopping malls during sale season.
Shanghai people are well-known for their love of joining the crowd. A lot of people will follow lines without knowing where they are going. They take it for granted that good things are happening at the front of the line.
Last month, I went to a bakery where the croissants I love are half-off every Friday afternoon. The line was long because a large number of people were attracted to the sale. I was about to leave when I saw the host of a well-known local food program interviewing the girl standing at the end of the line.
“They must have something special since so many people are in line.”
“Why are you queuing? What are you going to buy in the bakery?” the host asked. “Well, I don’t know what I will buy because I have never been to this bakery,” she said. “They must have something special since so many people are in line.”
“We all know that middle-aged Shanghainese enjoy joining the crowd,” the host said. “But it seems some young people here like that too.”
Nowadays, queuing has developed into a business. If you search for queuing businesses in Shanghai, you will find a lot of small companies. I called one at random and told them that I needed someone to stand in line at the hospital to get my Chinese medicine next Tuesday. The guy said he would charge me 10 yuan ($1.50) an hour. He told me that they offered the service 24 hours a day and seven days a week. He added that they charge no more than 10 yuan an hour.
My retired neighbor Mrs Ding just got hired last month to wait in line for a shoe store
Why do people do this? Because people think that something worth waiting for must be good. It is due to this psychology that some businesses have adopted a new strategy to promote their products. My retired neighbor Mrs Ding just got hired last month to wait in line for a shoe store, whose owner advertises that his shoes are leather, even though they are not. To lend his products some credibility, the owner wanted to manufacture a long line outside his store to attract customers.
The owner paid Mrs Ding 50 yuan a day along with free meals. But she felt guilty about participating in a sham, so she quit after two days. However, she told me that she learned a lot about professional queuing in that time. Some fake line waiters have been hired by real estate developers and restaurants. Most of the hired line waiters are middle-aged women or retirees.
Good things may be worth waiting for. But it’s better to figure out what you are queuing for before spending your time.
Originally published March 21st, 2011 on Yiying’s When East Meets West blog.