An observation of queuing culture in Taiwan
We are two days into the Year of the Sheep and personally I believe it is too early to be thinking cynical thoughts, but ‘sheep’ does bring to mind a certain social behavior that has been the butt joke of both traditional and social media in Taiwan.
We can be like sheep, perfectly happy to follow the crowd and follow authority without a second thought. To be exact, whenever a new brand or store (or it doesn’t even have to be a new store!) opens in Taiwan, lines are bound to show up, with people squeezing themselves into the store to snag new products and check-in on Facebook to share their latest booty.
But wait, some may be quick to point out that people can wait in line for days to buy the newest iPhone/Apple product, that happens here in Taiwan as well. I applaud your quick thinking, however, look back and think of the last time you waited in line for over thirty minutes or an hour for anything other than an Apple product. Christmas shopping and waiting in horrifying long lines are exempt.
No idea? It’s okay. I asked a handful of my friends and most of them could name the last time they waited thirty minutes or more to buy something. (coughH&HMcough)
From swiping the shelves clean at Costco to trying out the latest udon store from Japan or waiting in line in rain or shine for hours to buy Krispy Kreme, you’d think we were buying iPhones every day in the year.
We are not lining up for the sake of adhering to social rules and maintaining order, but perhaps we’re doing this for the sake of material gratification. I must get my hands on the newest iPad! GAP is coming to Taiwan! I must be the first one in there! H&M, too? *GASP* Oh, choices, choices, choices!
Apart from material gratification, are there underlying mental needs unmet that we’re overlooking? Is this kind of behavior even normal at all?
I am not making fun of my own country; but I am here to point out my observations of this strange phenomenon in my home country and what it might really mean.
Let me bring to the table several examples of new brands launched in Taiwan that brought in swarms of people for weeks (or months).
- ZARA Taipei 101 Store- People waited in long, long lines that hugged corridors, in order to step into the store. As of now, you rarely see the store packed, unless it’s holiday season.
- Dazzling Cafe- They sell honey toast in different flavors, from stuffing chocolate or strawberry sauce and ice cream into hollow toasts, you can eat stacks of waffles or sandwiches there as well. People were willing to wait in line for hours back then.
- Krispy Kreme-It was all over the news when Krispy Kreme opened its first store at XinYi Vieshow Cinema. People (students, white-collared workers and the like) were in line for hours and came out of the store with lugging doughnuts counted in stacks of boxes. This particular event garnered more media attention and brought attention to this social phenomenon. A reference is an article “It only took me 3 hours to buy Krispy Kreme! Is our time valuable or not?” on The News Lens, a new media platform in Taiwan. This article argued how our new generation (with special emphasis on the college-aged students) seemed to prefer material gratification along with the opportunity to ‘dazzle’ their peers over time management.
- H&M-Our newest addition to the “Lining Up” syndrome, yet as of now there are not much media attention on the opening of H&M or its packed crowds and lines around the store. Perhaps the people are learning? Or perhaps, it is our esteemed media that has learned its lesson?
It is easy to discern this social madness as something generated by social media. If we didn’t have Facebook, we wouldn’t be tempted to go try out new things or sensationalize everything that comes our way. But it is important to understand that the underlying root, the main cause of this kind of behavior is the need to ‘show off’ or in gentler terms, to attract attention on oneself. This basic need is always present; the means of social media just made it easier.
Or, from the The News Lens article I mentioned above, it’s also easy to pull our economic problems into the fray. After all, economic problems and social situations come hand in hand. Bad economic landscape have pushed the younger generation to embrace “a little happiness” mindset, as advised by our government, to look forward to recreational activities on a limited budget, to be happy with ‘miniture-sized happiness’ and to not sweat about larger-than-myself problems. Thus, they concluded people swarming in front of Krispy Kreme as a show of ‘embracing the little happiness’.
Ignoring the vehement voice of reason “Waiting in line for three hours to buy doughnuts is a waste of time!” just for one second, it is vital to push towards the root of this problem. Like I mentioned before, could this be an attempt by the media to create buzz? Or perhaps, this shows a generation personality that’s less ambitious than its predecessors?
Personally, I believe it is all of above: a mixture of the social need to flaunt, people embracing bite-sized happiness in face of an uncertain economic future and the media’s way of latching onto and manipulating the audience’s viewing habits. Social media’s seemingly omnipresence and our media’s tendency to over-blow issues out of proportion adds to this social phenomenon. Though, I would argue against our generation being less ambitious. For one, there are more and more people willing to become entrepreneurs.
A question for you, what does this mean for the society at large?