“That’s what we Brits do – we queue in the rain,” Jacob Lovewell, 29, who works in marketing, told AFP as he waited patiently in the slow-moving line that stretched along the River Thames.
The queue, which started forming more than 48 hours before the first people were admitted on Wednesday night, already has its own YouTube channel and live stream.
Newspaper front pages and live television reports increasingly mention the length and pace of “The Queue,” a new focus for the country, which is going through 10 days of mourning.
By early Thursday afternoon, the line was more than four miles (7 km) long and growing, with people waiting more than seven hours to see the coffin, which will be in Westminster Hall until Monday.
Strict rules prohibit photography and walking near the coffin, so people who come to say goodbye have only a few seconds to pay their respects after a long and endurance-demanding wait.
But those waiting are in good spirits, sharing snacks and chatting with neighbors because it’s an event of sacrifice and quiet fellowship.
“If you’re British, this is the queue you’ve been preparing for all your life. It’s a line of lines,” wrote one Twitter user
“I don’t really care about the queen. But the queue? The queue is a triumph of Britishness,” wrote another.
A legacy of war
Queues and the ability to stand in them have long been an interesting part of the British identity, alongside an often idealized commitment to notions of “fair play” and civility.
Waiting for hours to get into the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament is not considered a sign of bad management but part of the experience, and queues at the famous Glastonbury music festival are also part of folklore.
In the 1946 bestseller George Mikes (a Hungarian immigrant), How to be an Alien states that waiting in lines is “a national passion of an otherwise dispassionate nation.”
“An Englishman, even if he is alone, starts an orderly line of one man,” G. Mikes wrote.
Kate Bradley, a historian of social life at the University of Kent, told AFP that queuing became part of the national mythology during the Second World War, when food rationing was introduced and people had to wait long for everyday items such as bread and butter.
“Obviously there were queues before the Second World War, but during the war it became a virtue to endure hardship,” she said.
Joe Moran, a historian at Liverpool John Moores University, told AFP that the worship of the verses “brings back the self-flattering idea that the English are a well-bred people”.
He, author of Queuing for Beginners: The Story of Daily Life From Breakfast to Bedtime, also noted that queuing is “a very fair way of rationing scarce resources.”
K.Bradley and J.Moran emphasized that most daily queues in modern Britain are just as frustrating as anywhere else in the world, and that it is wrong to imagine that orderly queues are an exclusively British trait or a nationwide reality.
Mr. Moran said that during the war, when rationing was in place, the police sometimes had to quell riots, and disputes that arose were commonplace.
Both experts pointed out that the technology that helps Queen fans has also solved one of the problems of queuing – the universally despised fans of skipping queues.
Each person is given an electronic bracelet that indicates their position. It can be used to go to one of the 500 temporary toilets or to buy food and drink before returning to your seat.
“I think that the people of the United Kingdom, by standing in line in such a responsible way, show not only their devotion, their respect for the Queen, but also their respect for each other,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Liz Truss said on Thursday.