Well, I’m back from my staycation. I wasn’t sure how I’d get on running around London with both kids for seven days straight while my husband was out-of-town on a business trip. But we had a great time.
We visited Buckingham Palace (or as my daughter calls it “Bucklingham Palace.”) We took a tour of the Houses of Parliament. We made a special trip up to the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire to see the place where this great author did his magic. And we spent a day at the seaside out in East Anglia.
Each of those trips was a lot of fun. But in some ways, the most fun of all was the day we spent…standing in line. Yes, you heard that correctly. We spent the better part of one day just waiting in a long queue with nothing to do but wait.
The occasion was the opening of a new art store in my neighborhood. As a promotional offer, the store was giving out 50 pounds worth of free art supplies to the first 1,000 people who visited last Saturday. And all you had to do was spend 10 pounds at the store to collect the prize.
The doors opened at 10 am and we arrived at 9:50, fresh on the heels of a full English breakfast at our favorite cafe. By that time, the line to get into the store was already snaking around two full city blocks but I figured – meh – the kids don’t have a haircut until 11:00 a.m…what have we got to lose by just hanging out here for an hour and killing some time?
Four hours later, I had good reason to rethink that logic. But the truth is, we *did* have a good time. Here’s what I learned about why standing in lines – even long ones – can be fun:
1. You feel part of a community. One of the nicest parts of standing in a queue all day long in the middle of Hampstead Village was realizing just how many people I know in my neighborhood. I saw friends…neighbors…teachers…merchants. Those of us who formed part of the line saluted one another in solidarity. Those who were just passing by came up to say “hi.” It was such a lovely – an unexpected – reminder of the many different ways we all connect to our respective communities and how broad and diverse those communities are. (Hidden bonus? I have now confirmed my long-held suspicion that should I ever decide to run for mayor of this village, I’ve got it in the bag…)
2. You meet new people. Even more fun than running into old friends and acquaintances was the chance to meet new people. I stood next to a mother from an adjoining neighborhood and an administrator from her daughter’s school and chatted to them for the better part of four hours. By the end, we were already fast friends and had moved on from chit-chat about schools to lengthy discussions about our respective blogs (confirming my suspicion that everyone’s a blogger) and the perils of cell phones for your brain. When I had to say good-bye to them, I actually felt sad!
3. You rethink your surroundings. I’ve long been of the opinion that Brits just don’t get customer service. You have to chase down your waiter when you want your bill. Phone calls to customer service teams go unanswered. Brits also don’t get the whole concept of promotions – a sale here means something like 10% off on a rack of last year’s clothing. So to witness a store actually doing a proper giveaway – where you get something valuable (and four hours or not, the art supplies in that bag were truly something!) – is unheard of. And I’d never seen a line that long anywhere in London – even on the day the iPhone 4 was released! Friends tell me that there were still people there after 6 pm when the store closed. All of which made me realize that things really are changing around here.
4. You grasp group psychology. By the time we were well into the third hour of our wait, I’d forgotten what we were even waiting for. I’m sure I’m not alone. If you stand in front of a door long enough, after a while all you focus on is getting through that door. They could have handed me a toothpick by the time I made it to the front of the queue and I would have been delighted. I’m sure there’s some handy theorem in behavioral economics that can explain the psychology behind this. But there’s no question that the longer I waited, the less I cared about the loot that awaited us. I just wanted to get in.
5. You let go of schedules. This was perhaps the most valuable lesson of all. As a parent, I often have an irrational fear of down-time. I think that I need to schedule in every moment of the day lest…well, I don’t know what “lest.” I’m just driven to fill up their days, especially when my husband is out of town. But my stint standing in line that day taught me that sometimes just hanging out and doing nothing is just as much fun as tackling some major cultural outing. Which is another way of saying that sometimes you just need to throw away the outline.
Everyone who saw me in line that day keeps asking me: Was it worth it?
To which I’d have to say: yes.
Image: The line went around the block! by scary cow via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.