The Answer To Life, The Universe & Everything

I will confess to not being a very patient person. I will also confess to being intolerant of stupid, petty rules and those who seek to enforce them. And, I suppose, I had also better confess to the fact that displaying an attitude can lead to a lack of cooperation which leads to more time spent standing in the ‘queue’.

Signs that say things like ‘Queue This Side’ are guaranteed to have me standing the other side; or ‘Wait Behind Yellow Line’ means some or all of my shoes over the threshold. If some ‘Jobswurf’ has something to say I feign deafness or idiocy and advance into the ‘Forbidden Zone’. This can have interesting consequences, especially at US airports; but enough of that!

When J and I first came to live in Turkey I was delighted by the general air of anarchy that went with what passed for queuing here. There were none of those ticket machines with multiple choice buttons that have countless people pass you whilst you try to work out what to do. No, it was a free-for-all with everyone talking at once and pushing to the front. Unless, that is, you were a foreigner – as soon as you were marked out by the mob a calm would descend and all of the innate kindness and hospitality of the Turk would burst over you as you were propelled to the front of the queue. The person being dealt with would step aside with a smile and a cheery ‘Buyrun, buyrun’ (Come on – Please – Help yourself; a simple word with so many nice meanings). I always felt embarrassed and protested, but to no avail – this rampaging mob of a few minutes ago had transformed itself into everything we love about our hosts and they were determined to demonstrate what Turks were all about. There always seemed to be someone in the group who spoke English (or German and despite ones protests of not understanding would continue to go on at length in German), and with a smiling ‘I can help you’ would assume total control of whatever you were trying to achieve.

Not that it was always sweetness and light – our hosts are genetically inquisitive and this could lead to some interesting gymnastics, especially at the bank. Being raised as an English person taught never to speak of religion, politics or MONEY, it was difficult to tolerate the many heads peering over my shoulder or under my arm – how do you deal with the guy who is not the bank teller counting your money for you?

queuing at Ziraat Bank!


All that changed with the introduction of ticket machines; apart from a few backwoods men and women who persisted with their old habits until led away to get their own ticket by the bank guard. Very civilised you may think, and you would be right; except nothing seems to get done any faster since technology came to streamline the system. Let me explain . . .

We have to pay our SGK (Turkish Health Insurance) premium every month and it can only be paid at Ziraat Bank (so we’re told). Every time we go there, the banks of chairs are full of people clutching their tickets and watching the red, flashing number displays. The numbers change slowly and those waiting also change slowly as new victims enter the queue. There are still those who seem to walk in and wander to the counter and get dealt with but perhaps I’m hallucinating by this time! On our last visit we were there at opening time which we had thought was a smart thing to do, only to find that there were 46 others already there ahead of us. They, of course did not have tickets, the bank not yet being open, and so had reverted to older patterns of queuing behaviour.

So, there we were, number 47, waiting. It couldn’t take long to get through 46 others with 6 tellers at the counter, could it? Except (that word again), those 6 tellers had to get organised, get some tea down them and generally get their day off to a slow start. Twenty minutes after we sat down the first in line walked away from the only open position and number 2 shuffled up to the counter. By this time I was seriously considering employing someone to sit in for me and phone me just before my number was up! This used to be an honourable profession until technology or privatisation took over; a man could earn a day’s pay by standing in various queues to hand in bits of paper and collect other bits of paper. It took 40 minutes before the 5th position opened by when time itself had ceased to have any meaning – and then it hit me – Yes! That was it! Douglas Adams and ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’. That very number 47. It was the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything! Suddenly, everything was explained; queuing; ‘ERNIE’ (electronic random number indicating equipment); chance; fate . . . Ziraat Bank!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps  there is some controversy about the number in serious circles; some say 42, some 45 and some 47 but as the world is going to be destroyed to make way for an Inter-galactic by-pass, who cares!