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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Lines Display Little Sense of Fair Play

Long hot Moscow summers may be a relief from long cold Moscow winters, but they also bring long hot summer lines. So far, Vita's experience of waiting in line is limited to merry-go-rounds and cold drinks in the local park. But even at her tender age you can see a puzzled look on her face when some kid pushes ahead of her to get on her favorite tattered horse or an adult butts in at the front of the kiosk line.

An English writer friend, a brilliant jazz pianist who did a bit of Russian at college, once remarked to me that it was an historic irony that Russia tried out socialism first. It should have been England first: With the English love for queuing and orderliness, fair play and sportsmanlike behavior, he argued, socialism could have proved successful.

Whoever says that the line is a characteristic of the Russian way of life should be executed on the spot: It is cutting in line that is characteristic of Russians.

"I didn't realize you were waiting," "I just want to inquire," "I'm a veteran so I don't have to wait in line" or "I was here earlier": Whether it's for ice cream or your subsidized municipal apartment, there are always more Russians jumping than standing in line.

I didn't agree with my English friend then and I still don't because it is my firm belief that socialism, be it Russian or English or whatever nationality, is not about lining up but about cutting in line. Democracy, for its part, is about everyone standing in the same line in an orderly fashion, as at an English bus stop, and creating an uproar if anyone tries to avoid waiting his turn.

In philosophical terms the line is the equivalent of fairness.

In the meantime, it is clearly time to teach Vita some queuing etiquette. The British way, of course, teaches you to be nice to each other and to show fairness and respect for your fellow human beings, all of which Vita should know and understand.

But it's not going to help her much here. Being nervous and distrustful of others standing in line and trying to find a way to jump in line developed, in us Russians, as a survival technique.

It is not so much that we don't trust each other, but that we don't much trust the ones in charge of the lines, especially when we are queuing for anything allocated by the authorities. We always suspect that there are some privileged people who do not wait with ordinary people but use their influence to get ahead. Nine times out of 10, of course, we are right.

In this respect Vita will be best served by queuing in a nice orderly British way but at the same time being on her guard and, politely of course, never letting a bully or a lout barge ahead of her.