To ‘civilised’ Pakistanis: Learn to stand in line

Published: November 30, 2010

When people do come across a line, they stand uncomfortably close

A four-way road-crossing magically functions in many Western cities, without a traffic policeman or a traffic signal. They call it the four-way ‘Stop’ sign; every car stops before the crossing, waits for other cars before it moves and then moves on its turn. Such discipline is a rare, if not impossible, sight when you live in a developing country. This unsupervised display of morally and socially correct actions speaks volumes about the citizens of any country.

No concept of standing in line

The concept of waiting in queue is missing in Pakistan. While it represents unruly, misguided and animal-like behaviour, it also highlights the basic thought process of people. Children are brought up by being told to fight for their rights and never taught about the rights of others.

A typical Pakistani parent takes pride in his child tactfully snatching the rights of other kids. People talk loudly on the phone while watching movies in cinemas or plays in theatres. They cut lines at the passport office because their relatives are “big shots” in the government. They find excuses to laugh at other people, even when someone falls down. They stare people walking past them in the eye without a pinch of modesty. I need not give an example for this one – it is universally accepted that Pakistanis love to stare and that should not be considered rude. It is rude. So when people do come across a line, they stand uncomfortably close to the person in front – close enough to smell his armpit. Otherwise, someone will conveniently break it and take your place.

This is socially disgusting behaviour, morally inept and religiously unacceptable. There is little being done to fix this problem because it is considered too trivial an issue. This micro-level training can take Pakistan a long way; standing in a line represents Jinnah’s much quoted ‘Unity, Faith, and Discipline’. Standing shoulder to shoulder as one, with faith in your people and country and displaying remarkable social behavior. These define the very fabric of the environment we were supposed to live in.

A media campaign to promote making lines at shops, bus stops, hospitals, eateries, banks and parks can help kill the germs of selfishness within individuals of the country. Other than the obvious benefit (that there will be lines!) it will change the way people think. This very basic level training will impact generations to come by inducing in them the civil behavior every god fearing nation should have intrinsically.

Standing in line essentially means that people will care about those around them. They will develop a better sense of obeying the law and understand the fruits of being organised at an individual and collective level. If a considerable percentage of the population gets this message through the media, the system will start developing itself. Such lessons are viral and tend to grow well if the campaign is effective.

These are small gestures that make a civilisation civilised. The inherent pride of being God’s “chosen creatures” according to Islam has done massive damage to the people of Pakistan and the Muslim world. So next time, try holding the door open for the person behind you, and while you’re at it, flash him a smile too.


Samir Butt

A former Youth Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Fulbright undergraduate scholar, freelance writer, public speaking trainer, IT consultant and marketing professional. He blogs at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sarah B. Haider

    Good article.

    Btw, who said that Pakistanis are civilized? that’s perhaps the first time I am reading this term ‘civilized Pakistani’. A week back I went to this exhibition in Karachi which was open to public and I saw what true ‘civic sense’ is all about. :PRecommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    And I wrote about it too because I was seriously in need to vent.Recommend

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Last year I travelled to Pakistan just after Haj and they were alot of Haji’s returning. Many people on the plane asked the Haji’s about their experiene, and one of the most common themes was about how everyone was equal, we are all brotherrs and sisters, and how everything went so smoothly. Forward to the que at immigration and that spirit degenerated into all the “big shot” returnees jumping the que, or pushing an elderly couple out of the way, or getting into arguments and the ubiquitous, “do you know who I am!!”

    Totally agree, we are socializied into behaviour and alot depends on what values are encouraged at a young age. And frankly, trashing public spaces and breaking cues and getting away with it is viewed with depressing acclaim. Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    this was needed….although i doubt it will have much effect…english media and what not but nonetheless this kinda piece was neededRecommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    Dude, not happening in this country, and i will tell u why, the concept of common courtesy is Alien to Pakistani people, and on a lot of occasions it’s women showing lack of common courtesy, which makes it harder for guys like us to open our mouths. Small example, this has happened almost everytime I have gone to the Supermarket, I am standing in Que, all of a Sudden, out of nowhere, a female comes and stands in front of me, and then at the same time, gives a dirty look to me as if why am I feeling upset about it.
    Uff Taubah!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • http://islamabad Maryam

    good write up…i just hope it shakes the civic sense !Recommend

  • A Suhail

    While I am with you on opening the door for the person behind but flashing a smile if the person behind is a women… not so sure about that. In a wester country it will be ok to flash a smile at a women but here not so.
    Very valid point regarding standing in line and how it develops a better social sense. We need to incorporate this concept into the books we teach our young kids. Recommend

  • sadaffayyaz

    Agreed 100 %………and these are the people who act as if they are the most specialized ones one Earth when they are abroad…..The queue ethics are simply missing here……Recommend

  • abc

    I agree with the guy above who said women are the culprits here most of the time. I mean it is soo annoying! Being a woman myself, I hate to admit it, but thats fact atleast according to my experience. Theres always a woman who’s trying to cut the line at the supermarket. But i’ve made it my job to say something to them regarding the rights of the people who are standing in line. Whether i have to be impolite or be they much older than me (which they are!). There needs to be someone who tells them what they’re doing wrong. Its being illiterate!Recommend

  • Amne Mela

    I’m glad you wrote about this. I wrote something along the lines of these very sentiments a few months back:

    “…people here are naturally more aggressive because we live in what is called a “culture of scarcity”. Resources are rare so people are always ready to fight in order to snatch and seize whatever they can get. I’m sure you’ve seen the lines in front of utility stores. The throngs of 18,000 plus hopeful students crowding examination halls for the MCAT each year. Only a small fraction of them actually get in. When you spend your life like that, you grow to believe the end always justifies the means.”

    I got attacked very personally for this lol. For some reason people around here get offended if you dare try to talk about change at the grassroots level. If we stop blaming the politicans and start analyzing ourselves, sensitivities are flared and some people assume it’s because you’re against Pakistan. What they don’t realize is that people like us speak out because we care about Pakistan. This isn’t complaining about Pakistan, it’s being enraged because we feel that our country deserves better.

    Keep writing.Recommend

  • Aftab Malick

    Nicely written article :) I hope such civilised & ethical issue would be resolved with improvement in literacy rate in our society ( Umed e Sehr ).Recommend

  • Sardar Alam Khan

    Guys join my page, “I am a responsible and civilized citizen of Pakistan” . Link is,
    Author I agree with you completely.
    @A Sohail: Think about the situation if a woman opens the door for the person behind him who is a man, and the woman smiles at home. Recommend

  • Usama Zafar

    A good article and salute to Amna Mela!!!Recommend

  • Shumaila

    Oh man. I do not recommend holding open doors for radical feminists. They will hit you. Or for other people, for that matter, because you might be half an hour standing there holding it open as people push past into the building without so much as a thank you. I’ve been in that situation before.

    ;) on a serious not though, very good post. It is interesting to note how awareness is being raised about major issues on almost every front (education, health, finance) but not about the smaller ones, like courtesy and civilised behaviour and simple manners. You did a good job in reminding us how much these things matter too. And I don’t think its pointless, because even if a few people reading this are subconsciously incited to a sort of civic sense, then well, good for us.Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    100% Agreed with every word, can’t be better than this.

    Noor-e-Sarmaya say hai roh-e-tamadun ki jila
    hum jahan hain wahan tahzeeb naheen pal sakti
    muflisi his-e-latafat ko mita daity hai
    bhook tahzeeb kay sanchay main naheen dhal sakti (Sahir Ludhwanvi)Recommend

  • Live and learn

    You’re always a treat to read, you should blog more often!Recommend

  • Shahbaz

    Nicely done, Ethics & civic sense words related to erstwhile era & please we’r Pakistanis, words not suit us,,,,,,, Recommend

  • fyst

    If our country is guilty of anything; in my opinion it would be a bunch of snobs; blaming culture, religion and customs. Writing articles fit for consumption by teenagers salivating at the prospect of a green card and a west they have not seen.

    Since when did a few examples spiced with mediocre humor validate generalizations about an entire culture; and why do we always have to drag in religion and local customs.

    The tribune clearly is a repository of such talent; first class journalism; i wont hold my breath for an award :)Recommend

  • Ahsan

    hey standing in lines is animalistic and insect-like behavior… havent you seen camels and ants :PPPPRecommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Hi Samir

    I just read your previous post about Agha Sahib, I can’t tell you how happy I am, I have researched alot about Agha Sahib and about the rise and fall of BCCI, he was one of the very few great minds we have produced, he contributed alot to the society, but unfortunately we are forgetting him and no body knows the amount of social and philanthropic work he did.
    The international media has created alot of bad impression about him.
    Thanks man, it was wonderful reading about him.Recommend

  • parvez

    Interesting and necessary but quite a common topic.
    Change in this undisciplined behaviour must come from a “top down” approach. Trying to fix it from the bottom up will never work. Recommend

  • Imtiaz

    @Sarah B. Haider: look at the bright side – the queue will be short and move fast.Recommend

  • JT

    Its also reflective of a deeper malaise within Pakistanis….and sadly its engulfs even some of the “educated, supposedly civilized” folks that live abroad in highly civilized countries. When at a non-desi place, all of the Pakistanis will stand in lines properly, but go to a desi event and many of these same people (remember, they are supposedly educated and civilized) consider it their right to completely let go of that discipline and push and shove their way around those other desis standing in line so they can get ahead.
    This behavior contradiction at desi and non-desi places explains a lot about approach of certain Pakistanis towards to all things Pakistani – its a shameRecommend

  • http://toronto Hina

    GOOD One! “Samir Butt”.

    “it is universally accepted that Pakistanis love to stare and that should not be considered rude. It is rude. ”

    EXACTLY! it’s so damn TRUE! hate how our people feel no shame in starring and acting like X-ray Machines all the time!

    I think every individual should print this article and stick it on their forehead for themself n others so that No One forgets how to be a little more “HUMAN” next time they are out n about.
    Such basic essentials are totally missing from our amazing society!

    As far as the holdin door etc is concerned,such gestures are badly needed but our people lack the basics so badly and HOlding the door for someone is like inviting more “museebat” cuz very few would appreciate it and the rest will either think your an idiot and continue starring!
    we truly need a course for every pakistani to be a little more civilised or just inject them all with some magical drug tht would solve the problem..but mind you call it An “ISLAMIC POTION” otherwise no one would want it as they are simply OBSESSED with “islam” yet cant follow a single thing properly!Recommend

  • saad

    totally reflect my thoughts and observations. here are some more:
    looking in while passing a house with open gates, knowing one wouldn’t be able to answer the cell carrying it to the masjid, soon after the prayers are over chatting loudly close to the namazis, and those who do are usually with beards, considering staring is not just limited to men but women with scarves do too, not saying thanks when someone holds the door to give way, checking out others’ monitors at work, entering a room at work without knocking (and that too by a pakistani-canadian), staring at the other driver at a red light, checking out the food while passing or on the next table at a restaurant, going for something and checking it which a customer is already considering to buy, at work digging into or attacking others’ plates, shaking hands with clammy and sweaty paws, burping while praying, a new trend: when over with prayers impatiently stand facing the namazi already praying, and to top it all throwing trash on the streets (including: out of cars with stickers of colleges and foreign universities) and then calling the country ‘paak’istan!! Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    don’t understand why you have to criticise him for stating the obvious. We are not a particularly disciplined country, hell we are not even scrupulous. Sorry to be the ‘generalizing’, salivating, desirous of a green card teenager who is living and working in this country for a while now – but we are always amongst the select few most corrupt countries in the world, we are known for exporting terrorism, our judicial system is decadent, we have poverty, hunger, disasters to contend with. All this is dressed in the garb of ‘islam’, ‘culture’ and ‘have pride in who you are and your identity’. I am sorry but if my ‘identity’ is supposed to be of a proud, corrupt, rude, discourteous, intolerant ‘muslim’ then i have got to speak out against it right?Recommend

  • Talha

    Bravo Samir! Always a treat to read your blogs..
    it’s somehow even sadder to see so-called ‘educated’ people engaging in such behaviour, the prevalent attitude being that if you can get away with it, do it.. regardless of whether it’s inconsiderate towards others.. whether this points to bad upbringing or schooling, or both, is debatable Recommend

  • Talat

    His observations are not observations at all. Probably he has made up facts to apply his knowledge of the benefits of making queues to Pakistani society. No one in Pakistan is encouraged by his/her family to usurp rights of others.
    There is a perception that the fulbright prefers arts students so that they can use their writing skills to praise the western values and culture. Recommend

  • Sana N

    Theres hope yet. At the passport office they’ve started maintaining control of people who que up and I noticed the last time I was at Karachi airport that they’ve employed uniformed personnel to make sure people stand in proper lines. They’ll hopefully learn to stand in lines before they learn to stop staring though. ‘it is universally accepted that Pakistanis love to stare and that should not be considered rude. It is rude.’ lol, good point.Recommend

  • Sohaib Khan

    gud work never goes in vain..keep writingRecommend

  • Khalid Aziz

    “breaking the line” is a symbol of power in Pakistan. Ayub, Zia, Mush- all of them broke the line. This is a status/power symbol Butt sahib. Recommend

  • Abu Abdullah

    Ever wondered how do these very same Pakistanis start abiding law when they go abroad or as soon as they get on Lahore- Islamabad Motor way. In case you haven’t guessed it already, law enforcement is the key to a law abiding society.

    At the same time and more importantly give them respect and the basic necessities of a civic society.

    I happened to be in Piccadilly circus waiting for a bus on the day of 7/7 bombings in London. As the tube service went down and all the commuters turned to the bus service, believe you me it was no different than what we have in Pakistan. A people known for their etiquettes very pushing the elderly and breaking the Que just the way it happens here. Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    @talat….if you said that in jest…its genius…if not…Recommend

  • Talat


    Be specific.What do you not agree with.Recommend

  • Sidrah Moiz Khan

    Hain? Pakistanis are civilised? Really?Recommend

  • A _mir

    yeah Sidrah pakistanis r very civilised ppl,trust me on dat one,,, i guess the problem here is most pakistani r too busy seaching for suger,electricity,gas etc leaving no time to show their civilization, and ppl like u n me who r fortunate enough to be called civilised asking questions like Hain? pakistani r civilise?Really?….so dont dobut the fact, we r civilised. the person who wrote this article seem enough civilized to me as he realize the need dat pakistani should stand in line to make civilizition more civilized.. Recommend

  • Noor Khan

    I know. As a person who was born and have lived in England my whole life, I must say that this is so true every time i visit Pakistan. I once was waiting in the queue for getting tickets for the wagah border ceremony and there were people jumping in the queue right in front of me! My cousin had to tell them to get to the back of the line. What was even more shocking was that others in front of me didn’t even mind, they didn’t say a word!

    Here in the UK those who jump the queue are frowned upon and are immediately told to get to the back. Nobody would tolerate this kind of behaviour in the UK. Recommend

  • http://- maimoona

    yah agree on this same situation i can also faced
    ppl r always in hurry
    we can’t wait and stand in queue how can we achieve other things Recommend