top of page

Why do the British call a line a 'queue'?

Americans call it a line and Brits call it a queue. The word queue is French and comes from the Latin word cauda which means tail. Perhaps England started to use the word queue because it is geographically closer to France than America? What we do know for sure, is that queuing is an important part of cultural behaviour in the UK. So how did it begin? Here are two theories about how queuing up started:

1. One theory is that it started in the Industrial Revolution when hundreds of factory workers had to stand in a line to clock in and clock out of work.

2. Another theory is that queues became part of British culture after the Second World War when people had to wait in line for rations.

Is queuing is more common in Britain and America than it is in other places? For anyone living in a country where this cultural norm is not important, it may seem strange! However, when visiting or relocating to the UK, it's best to know what is expected of you. This is why we've put together:

The Top 5 Rules of Queuing (it could save you from embarrassing yourself!)

1. Always join a queue at the back.

2. Avoid making a new queue of your own.

3. Personal space is important, don’t stand too close to the person or people in front of you.

4.Never jump the queue!

Queue jumping makes Brits mad!

The phrase 'jumping the queue' means joining it in the middle – or worse, at the front!

This is considered rude in the UK and in other English speaking places, like America.

5. If you are queuing in a shop that opens up another checkout (locally known as a 'till'), it's a race to get there first. Not literally, there's no need to run.

There are many places where people queue up in Britain. For example, at bus stops, in supermarkets, cafes and at the bank.

Brits are also well-known for queueing at their local fish and chip shop on Friday evenings for a ‘chippy tea'.

*Disclaimer* A ‘chippy tea’ is not connected to drinking tea!

In the north of England, dinner is often called ‘tea’, so a chippy tea is a takeaway dinner from the local fish and chip shop. Northerners think of a chippy tea as a treat, that is, something to look forward to after a long week. You may be wondering what is so special about a chippy tea? The answer is that the average chippy sells much more than just fish and chips; all of it is delicious! For example, look up ‘chips, peas, pudding and gravy’ :).

Brits love fish and chips so much that there is even a National Fish and Chips Day every year on the 4th of June. Plus, the best chippies can enter the National Fish and Chips Awards each year. This is a serious competition, a bit like the Oscars of British takeaway food!

How to make the perfect chip butty at home.

Firstly, what is a ‘chip butty’? Butty is just an informal word for a ‘sandwich’.

But this can change depending on which part of the UK you are in. You’ll also hear chip barm in Lancashire, chip bap in the Midlands and chip roll in London. No matter what it may be called, it's still a national favourite.

As you can see, the perfect chip butty is made from buttered white bread, thick-cut chips and tomato ketchup, and it is definitely worth queueing for if you're not dieting!

Why is it important to learn all about customs like queueing? If you have ever travelled to or lived in another country, you’ll know about something called ‘culture shock.’ This is when the country you’re visiting has a very different way of life than your home country.

The good news is that culture shock is avoidable! How? By learning about your destination before you travel or relocate. That’s why, here at IQ Global, we’ve designed a series of fantastic webinars, blogs and quizzes about British Culture that is guaranteed to teach you more than any guidebook could. To enter the wonderful world of British food and customs, catch up on previously recorded webinars here and don't miss out on IQ Global's Culture Cooking Show here.

Did you know that we have an English Voice taster at each level, absolutely free? Just sign up to the website to access this amazing free content and try before you buy!

We hope you have enjoyed this blog. As always, you will progress more by reading, listening and practising your English so make sure you check out IQ Global for free resources and our YouTube channel. See you next time!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page