At first I thought I’d run into the rudest Brazilian woman in the world.
After waiting patiently for 15 minutes in a queue to use a cashpoint in a hot, stuffy bank foyer, Pat Butcher’s Brazilian cousin had strolled in and waltzed right up to the one I was heading towards.
“Erm, excuse me, there’s a queue,” I ventured in my best pidgin Portuguese.
Pat shot me a filthy look and started rummaging around in her gaudy orange bag for her card.
Blood boiling, I managed to get my plastic in first, leaving Pat to find another cashpoint, grumbling loudly about the “gringa” while I smugly thought “HA!”
Six weeks down the line, I find out I have broken the law. Oops!
Apparently in Brazil it is not just impolite, but actually illegal not to let retired, pregnant or disabled people or those with young kids go ahead of you in any bank, post office or supermarket queue.
In my defence, Pat may have looked a bit haggard but she didn’t look over 65. And apparently some Brazilians take their mums to the bank just so they can get in the quick queue, so clearly this law is open to abuse…
But I still felt guilty.
After all, who could argue that a legally binding and widely acknowledged display of respect for the more mature, burdened or less able is anything but a good thing? It’s just a shame that such politeness doesn’t always extend to the rest of society.
If those waiting in line don’t fit the criteria, queueing etiquette regularly goes out the window. Instead it’s back to pause, touch, engage, push-style jockeying to get to the bus/checkout/cashpoint first.
The old saying goes: “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.”
Over here you might say: “A Brazilian, who is healthy, under 65, not pregnant, able-bodied and doesn’t have a screaming child tugging at mum’s arm for a chocolate bar, may have to wait a while to reach the front.”
Mind you, while we may have slightly different queueing customs, both Brazilians and Brits seem equally good at working themselves into a rage.
When we once got sent to a different counter in the Post Office to buy the 25 stamps needed for five postcards, a waiting elderly gent snarled with such vehemence I actually thought I glimpsed fangs.
It was like a home from home.