How To Queue Like A Dutchman

Dutch Queue

As a stereotypical Englishman I have a particular (and some would say unhealthy) interest in queuing. Most English people do. It is a natural instinct for us to wait in lines. We might complain about the amount of time it takes to reach the front of the line once we are in it but this is just all part of the tradition. We like the queue. We don’t like the waiting. We like the sense of order, of rules, the idea that even if we have to wait an annoyingly long time at least there is a system.

This is why (as an Englishman) queuing in Holland has taken some time to get used to (putting it mildly). In Holland queuing is an extreme sport. There are no rules, only survivors. The most extreme cases of this can be observed when attempting to board a busy train in Holland. This is something that I have to do daily so I have had a lot of time to analyse it scientifically and take notes. There are several steps to what can be loosely termed ‘queuing for the train’ in Holland.

Step 1: The Cluster

Preparations begin the moment the train is spotted in the distance. The Dutch start moving towards the edge of the platform, trying to predict the best place to stand in the hope that they will end up near a door once the train has stopped. This causes small clusters of people to form around the predicted door locations. However, since they never get it right these small clusters end up shuffling along the platform with the slowing train as they try to keep up with their chosen door. This often causes them to walk backwards into other people, swallowing them up into their group.

Step 2: The Gap

Once the train has come to a full stopped the cluster of people (that have gathered around each entrance) will reform slightly to create a narrow gap leading away from the door. This gap is for the people exiting the train, however it is more of a gesture than a practical exit route. It is kept as narrow as possible just in case anyone at the back of the cluster tries to use it to gain ground.

Step 3: Hold The Line

As passengers exit the train the people on the outer edges of the cluster already start to get restless. They shuffle and move around, trying to see how much longer they have to wait and if there is any weakness in the group that they can exploit. Always be on your guard.

Step 4: The Collapse

As the last person exits the train the cluster of eager Dutch people will immediately collapse in on itself as everyone tries to rush forward through the doors at once. Arms, elbows, bags, large suitcases, hot cups of tea or coffee and body mass are all legitimate strategies to keep people back and gain ground on others. A battle cry is optional.

If a passenger is too slow getting off the train before this happens they are doomed. They will be swept back up onto the train by the unstoppable current of oncoming passengers and find themselves at the next station before they realize what has happened.

In Conclusion:

If you survive and are able to board the train you are one of the lucky ones. Many people have not been so lucky. Dutch queues take no prisoners and should not be taken likely… Of course, if you have made it on to the train there is still one challenge that awaits you; The race to find a seat.

Good luck.

47 responses to “How To Queue Like A Dutchman”

  1. GP says:

    Lived in NL for 14 years. Never once encountered free for all queuing here. Very unfair article.

    • Joey says:

      I’ve lived here for 23 years and I can tell you all of it is true.

      • Invader Stu says:

        I think you are very lucky GP and have never had to get the Intercity Direct between Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

        • Still forgot the one mouthbreather that insists on standing RIGHT in front of the door so that nobody can get off. An ex-colleague of mine decided to literally fall off the train into this guy’s arms and said “dank je wel!” as he stood, stunned, holding her!

    • JM says:

      GP you are one lucky person, I go through this every single day, I’ve even started nicknaming people after the way they push and or run, just a few examples:
      The pusher;
      The i’ll spill coffee all over you if you won’t let me through;
      The killer bycicle woman;
      The seat predator

      :)

      It is annoying in the begining but now it’s just plain fun

      • Joanna says:

        Hahahahaha, the killer bicycle woman, so true, the besties are with foldable bicycles when they unfold it just after getting off the train without even looking if there is anyone behind and might get hurt, happened to me more than once lol

    • Desiree says:

      I am Dutch and the blog is soooooo true. First I thought; what is wrong with the way we are queueing. But it is hilarious when you read it. Man, we are rude! I think it has to do with the fact that there are to little seats and to many travelers. Not an excuse :-). Im curious how the english people queue.

    • Desiree says:

      I am Dutch and the blog is soooooo true. First I thought; what is wrong with the way we are queueing. But it is hilarious when you read it. Man, we are rude! I think it has to do with the fact that there are to little seats and to many travelers. Not an excuse :-). Im curious how the english people queue.

  2. Casper says:

    The sad thing is that this is not even a joke….

  3. Alison says:

    I’ve seen it a few times and am grateful I don’t have to face it regularly. I faced a similar situation daily in NY on the subway. I was thankful that I lived at the start of a train line, so I was able to avoid the battle first thing in the morning.

  4. Senja says:

    Hah this is so true! Thankfully (?!) in Helsinki it’s the same so it hasn’t been much of a culture shock. However, coming home after spending 5 days in London I found myself constantly irritated by people walking all over the place instead of sticking to one side like people do in London (except the tourists, like me :D )

  5. Meta says:

    That’s why we have number systems in town halls, pharmacies etc. We dutch simple do not know how to queue!

    I was at a Begian festival once and where there were a lot of young British, too. They even made an ordely queue for the portable toilets and were annoyed if someone would jump in front. “Excuse me, there’s a queue!”

  6. Johan says:

    It always seems awkward to correct a native speaker, but … You used “courses” twice in step 1, where “causes” seems to be the correct word.

    Nonetheless, I totally recognize your observations. Since I normally travel first class by train, I have the luxury to just wait it all out. 1st is rarely full.

  7. RosieRose says:

    I first experienced this when I was getting to know my Dutch Partner 5 years ago.
    We were on the train from Amsterdam to Maastricht, there was no late train for the last part of the journey, we were told there was a bus provided instead. We went to the bus stop & we were the 1st there so I thought I was 1st in the queue, brilliant. Gradually more & more people came and then the bus arrived the doors opened & there was one almighty surge onto the bus I was left standing, my Partner said the look on my face was amazing! I could not believe the stampede the bus wasn’t even full !
    I find this hard to get used to, along with nobody saying ‘excuse me’ if they want to pass you or ‘sorry’ for bumping into you !

  8. Carin says:

    Hah! So true! When I came to America I was surprised to learn they teach kids to walk in straight lines to go from classroom to classroom and wait their turn at bathrooms at such. Waste of time! I thought, still think so. But it serves a purpose, I guess. Thanks for making me smile on this early morning!

  9. Gez says:

    Yup, I’ll agree on all of those. It’s even valid on the buses too (main transport for me around Almere).
    It was especially annoying when I first moved over, and I’d be first at the bus stop waiting for my bus in Amsterdam (having just missed the bus before, so you KNOW you’re the first there, at an empty stop). I’d have a heavy backpack with me, full of wargaming models, yet somehow by the time the next bus appeared, I’d be the LAST person to get on it!

  10. Frits Onland says:

    Very True. As dutchman I am guilty of it too… I find the english queing and order very attractive for certain things (like keeping on the left on an escalator so the right is free for people in a hurry, the dutch tendency to block escalators is one of my biggest pet peeves, and I AM dutch for goodness sake)

    • Invader_Stu says:

      They slow seem to be making the standing on the right more of a thing on the NS. With any luck it might start working.

      • Frits Onland says:

        with us dutchies? Half the time you ask someone to move so you can pass to catch the train they have the temerity to be annoyed at YOU, because they think they should be able to stand wherever they want. And I know this is true because I very much recognise the impulse in myself :P

  11. margotsegura says:

    Oh my God! this is hilarious! My partner, which is dutch, is laughing his ass off while he’s saying “it’s true, it’s true”. You’re the best guy! hahahahahaha

  12. Wim de Boer says:

    All very true! As a Dutchie with many years of train boarding experience, I recognise each of the phases. I have mellowed a bit over the years, so I will give those in need some space and an opportunity to board the train before me… and occasionaly use my experience to thwart those who think they can get ahead!

  13. Wim de Boer says:

    On the subject of queueing like a Dutchie – the supermarket or department store offers some great examples too! People blatantly walking up to the front of the queue, claiming they didn’t realize there was a queue. And people keeping an eye out for a new till opening in a busy supermarket, so they can rush up from the back and beat all those who have been waiting for quite a while already…. My wife, who’s English, just can’t get used to it.

    • Invader_Stu says:

      Another one is when there is obviously a one queue system (one big queue were the person at the front goes to next available till) but some decides F that forces it into a multi queue system.

  14. Jan Mango says:

    Having travelled to work by train for years, taking three hours a day in total, four years ago I bought a nice road tax-free diesel (duh!). And it took me 45 minutes for a 75 km drive. Nice and dry. Alone. Hardly any traffic jams (north). No queuing. No elbows.
    Now my employer forces me to go back to the NS again. For budget reasons. Thanks Stu for the reminder of the daily NS journey. This time I’m going to take precautions. Every morning, I’m going to soak myself with Old Spice. Creating ample room at the terrace and in the train. Off course my colleagues will be a bit, ehm, sad. But I don’t care. Have to stay clear of the eternal burning smoking poles, though.

  15. Tim says:

    I see this article is about Holland and I don’t go there very often, so it might be true. But this certainly is different for other parts of the Netherlands. I have lived in the Netherlands for almost 30 years and don’t recognize any of the steps.

    Funny article that made me laugh though, well written! :)

    • Jochem says:

      I’ve travelled by train all over the Netherlands and this is true when boarding any busy train and on any busy platform. When it’s quiet, then you obviously don’t notice this behavior at all.

  16. This sounds like the premise for the Dutch version of The Hunger Games. “May the queue be in your favor.” :P

    French queuing is fairly orderly, even if keeping a straight line isn’t fully respected, but when faced with the need to use public transportation or check in to a flight, all bets are OFF.

    • Liz says:

      That would be fantastic, you’d start with a large number of contestants who have to fit in a double decker intercity, those who can’t get kicked out. You then take sprinters, trams and different sizes of busses until only one candidate remains.

  17. Arvind says:

    So true Stu. My India experience comes in handy. i slowly move predicting the door position based on experience for the Intercity Direct, keep eyes open for any gaps to exploit and always have a hot coffee/tea that makes others wary of being too close to me while boarding, and have boarded just as the last chappie is getting off. when i visit Scotland the queing drives me nuts.

  18. Adeela Abbas says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  19. Joanna says:

    I have experienced it for over 6 years, luckily now I am just cycling to work. I thought it was just me seeing this whole pattern, sometimes I did laugh though why I was trying to predict the place where the door of the train will be and then failed miserably :-), I must say I became pretty good at it after all :-D. Another interesting part is when platform is changing in the last minute and whole crowd is running down and up the stairs to catch the train first and to follow again 4 steps you have mentioned. Oh yes, this happens often in Leiden Centraal. I always thoiught there must be someone from management team standing up there and looking at us running like crazy and just laughing and laughing…..

  20. dragonlady says:

    It has been like this on the buses in London for a long time. People don’t bother to que anymore, they just arrive at the bus stop and stand around, sometimes a few yards away. When the bus arrives its everyone for themselves.I even had a little old lady push me out of the way when I tried to board the bus and she had only just walked up to the bus stop.The first time I saw this behaviour was in Venice. We queued for the water bus with lots of tourists and Italians. You could tell who the Italians were, they were the ones with their elbows stuck out.Talk about a free for all.

  21. This is nothng compared to India during a festival, when people, giant iron crates and burlap sacks with harvest get stuffed in death trap remnants from the Raj era..

    they leave the doors open for the dozen or so clinging on or forever stuck in the doorway, or to be macho and survive in case of accident- the windows have bars. The frustrating part was that we, obviously having trained on timid English expats back home, had to let two trains pass while Every Indian on the platform squeezed in, leaving us on an empty platform. But there was no way we could fit in without squeezing the live out of some locals and perhaps violated in return. Steven Hawking couldn’t explain the increased density of Indians on trains.
    The nazis might be familiar with what we saw on those boarding scenes, only this was self-inflicted. We felt huge and awkward for not fitting, you guys left your legacy but waiting in line here means you’ll end up last in the survival of the fittest.

  22. Martijn says:

    Very, very true. It becomes worse when the train is full and the group of people in the train are forming a line at the door. Than it is a real struggle to even get in the train. How do they solve this kind of problem in England?

    • Invader_Stu says:

      I don’t know if I can really say we solved it. It’s just different. Although, because of the way our trains are slightly differnt people do tend to move down the train carriage and use the whole thing rather than just stay by the doors.

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