Sociology of Waiting in Line

When I visited the Anne Frank House, I lined up for the better part of three hours. The experience was well worth it. The house, converted into a museum, is narrow and dense with people. There is rich information about Anne, her family, her religiosity, and of course there is much education about the Holocaust. Visitors can see the fragile pages of her original journals, video interviews with her father, friends and others who have been impacted by her bravery.

Visitors are respectful and kind to one another. The narrow staircases are very difficult for people with disabilities, older people, pregnant people and others with mobility and health issues. They move slowly, but people are patient and encouraging, reflecting the spirit of Anne Frank’s legacy. One Spanish-speaking family stood to the side to let others pass, as the children asked their mother about the War, talking about the room they were in with respect to the Diary of Anne Frank, which they had all evidently read together.

This visit was one of the highlights of my trip to Europe.

I want to reflect on what happened before I went into the house.

Many people who started in the line with me gave up waiting in the sun. There was a British brother and sister (“I hate being a tourist!”), a group of young Spaniards, Scandinavian people whose language I couldn’t quite pick up, and in the end it was an Italian group of friends who lasted the distance with me.

In front of me in line was a cute American family whose father and son started playing soccer to pass the boredom while the mum and teenage daughter chatted and made plans to hire a van later. When they noticed another American woman ahead of me left (they noticed 15 minutes after she departed) the family talked through various theories of what happened. Did she leave of her own accord? “Was she cut?” The father walked down the line looking for their compatriot, concerned. They had not actually spoken with her at any point.

The interesting aspects of crowd behaviour whilst visiting museums and galleries is how people come to form fleeting camaraderie.