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Pierre Fait la Queue

By Susan Tiberghien / October 19, 1989



MY French husband and I do not line up in the same manner. Pierre fait la queue, he does the line like he does the backyard or he does the dishes, sometimes. I stand in line, I don't do the line but I do do the dishes. One of the first lines I encountered in France was at the student restaurant at Grenoble University. The dining room was upstairs. Instead of lining up downstairs, everyone would shove onto the staircase.

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At first, fresh from the States, I couldn't believe it. I thought I'd help everyone by showing them how much more simple it was to wait in line. Impossible. It seemed no one understood what I was talking about. They'd just plow right in. More than once several of us would slide backward, only to be pushed forward by those behind. No one ever really fell. We just swayed back and forth together.

Then I met Pierre, who introduced me to ski-lift lines. Before I could learn how to ski, I had to learn how to ``do the line.'' We entered a hallway leading to the ski lift. I had no idea how many people could fit into one lift but everyone around me seemed certain they'd make it.

We were carrying our skis. I held mine close in front of me like a suit of armor. Pierre spread his arms out around me and at the same time he pushed us both forward. As we approached the cable car, he quickly surveyed the situation, calculating where the line would give in and move forward. We moved, or rather he moved me, in that direction. And sure enough the man with the red ski cap, who was standing in front of me when I entered, ended up rows behind me as I took off in the ski lift.

How'd Pierre do it? And how'd he do it even in the midst of fellow Frenchmen? He was born the first of eight brothers. Each winter they skied near a little village in the Alps where his parents had a chalet. The eight of them would arrive at any of the lifts or tows and the line would somehow dissolve. I saw them do it. They'd first split, and then from the left and from the right they'd encircle everyone and meet in front, where they'd pretend to be very surprised to discover one another at the head of the line.

When we were first married, we lived in a small village in southern France, where there were rarely enough people for a line. This was back in the '50s. The only lines I remember were at the fresh-air market each Saturday. Without Pierre I'd wait the whole morning for just a melon. It would be my turn but no one would notice me. Not even the vendor. As the months went by, I learned to push my way up front and to stay there until I was served. I was starting to become French.

Then we moved to Brussels where there were lots of lines. Pierre was delighted. It was all the more sport, thwarting those Belgians who waited patiently. We were once in a line to see the king's flower gardens. So many people were standing in front of us that we couldn't even see the entrance. For close to an hour we inched our way forward along the outside wall. It started to rain, a real downpour. Pierre took shelter in a doorway. He tried the door. It opened. He ushered me into the garden and quietly closed the door behind us.