Lines in Croatia are like government; you know they were designed to make life more orderly for the average citizen, but when all is said and done you often feel like you've been put through the wringer.
To begin with, you rarely hear the phrase "excuse me" here in Croatia. The Croatian phrasebook I learned from inexplicably left out all forms of "excuse me" . If an American wants to learn the correct way to say "excuse me" in Croatian they won't find it in the introduction, the "practical" section, or the dictionary. In this case, the omission will teach you step 1 of how to pass someone who is in your way:
Don't say anything at all.
Just move the limb that's obstructing your path. Or simply squeeze around them. If worse comes to worse, move the entire person. If a body isn't in your way, then more power to you - the spot is yours.
The other day, my wife came storming back to our car and told me how an older guy simply tried to step in front of her while she was waiting in line. She sort of manipulated her body to keep him from passing (a pregnant belly helps) but that didn't do any good. As he blatantly passed her, she put her arm on his chest and held him back.
Her experience, though a bit extreme, is not out of the ordinary. There is a very important protocal to follow if you're in line in this country.
1. Stand as close to the person in front of you as you possibly can. Remember, there's really no such thing as personal space here, so your spot will only be safe if your body is pressed up against the person in front of you.
2. Don't focus on anything but the prize. Reading a book, playing with your cell or simply daydreaming will give the person behind you the impression that you don't really care about your place in line. This sort of lacksidasical effort will get you eliminated immediately - unless you're as good as my wife is at recovering.
3. Finish strong. Just because you're next, and the teller is waiting for you doesn't mean you're done. Line thieves are keen on the transition periods. You have to start talking to the teller before the previous person leaves their spot. Giving your predecessor a little nudge when you think they're done is a great way to show them it's your turn. Don't give up until you've accomplished your mission.
You think I'm joking. Before posting this, I decided to wait. I needed to make sure I was giving Croatia a fair shake. Turns out I am.
The other day Petra and I went to a new movie theater. Unfortunately, neither one of us had reviewed the guidelines listed above before we stepped in line. As the person ahead of us finished and moved on to buy popcorn, the phantom ticket purchaser swooped in. No explanation, no apology, no nothing.
Fortunately, the lady at the counter pointed our her iniquity. "A jooooj!" the accused exclaimed as if the 20 person line had been previously invisible to her. "My children are waiting for me, I don't have time to stand in line." (The look on my wife's face was priceless after that gem.)
But then the teller did something even more amazing. "Let's ask this couple if you can buy tickets before them." Stunned, we just stood there and motioned for her to get her tickets. Later, I felt bad. We should've taken a vote. Just because we were next didn't mean that we had the right to let her transgression keep other people from getting to the previews on time.
But as I looked back, I saw no one cared. They'd all been here before. It's normal and should be expected.
It was time to post this.