Waiting in line is a booming business in China, where people are paid an hourly wait to stand as professional queuers. This practice has also started to spread West.
These “paotui” – or errand-runner – services began cropping up in some of China’s largest cities over the past two decades. The Telegraph reported back in 2001 that queuing “has become very popular in the Far East,” and noted that queuers made more money than civil servants at that time.
A 2011 report by NPR featured an interview with a professional “queuer” who discussed his career. Li Qicai not only made a career of waiting in line, but he was able to expand his business to include 4 full-time queuers and several freelancers. They wait in line for anything from new Apple products to picking up prescriptions.
In another interview with CNN, Li stated that hospitals were the most-requested lines from clients. The article noted that, “Li or one of his runners will take a queue number and physically wait in line on your behalf. They will then call you when it is almost your turn so you can rush down and take your place in the line, just before your number is called.”
Although some internet pages claim that this service is available for $3 an hour, the rate will actually vary by time and task. As CNN wrote:
Prices start from RMB 5 for a 10-minute task and can go up to RMB 200 for a 26-hour wait, and most agencies say they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Li told NPR, “I’m just selling my time for money. You don’t need any skills, except the ability to suffer. For some jobs, you need to look good. If you want to buy things for rich people, you can’t look like a farmer or they’ll think you’re a scalper.”
Qicai’s business model is just an example of an expanding new enterprise in China.
Li’s secrets to being a successful queuer: “Go early. Take an umbrella in case it rains, and a book. Load books and games on your mobile phone. Make friends with your neighbors in the line, so you can get away to buy food.”
A January 2015 blog post at My Job Blob featured the professional queuer on its “Weird Job Wednesday” series. It notes that the average pay for a queuer in the UK is £10-£20 an hour. The job is described as follows:
At it’s most basic level, a professional queuer is someone who waits in a line, for money, and that’s about it. No experience needed and no special skills required, only the ability to deal with unrelenting boredom for hours, even days, on end.
In 2014, The Guardian featured a man in Italy who made €10 an hour as a professional queuer. Giovanni Cafaro described his job by stating, “I am the person who will wait in line for those who don’t have the time or desire.” As with other successful queuers, Cafaro suggested that he wanted to expand his business into a full agency.
A 2015 article in the Daily Mail reported that queuers had risen in popularity in Venezuela during a shortage of basic goods. Restaurant owners were employing people to stand in line at supermarkets to wait for food to be put on sale. Some state governments had to ban lines from forming before stores opened due to violence which erupted in long supermarket lines.
Standing in line for someone else in exchange for money, also known as “professional queuing,” has been a rising profession in China over the past two decades. The practice is also gaining popularity in other areas such as Europe and South America.
Updated January 13, 2016
Originally published August 2013