Whenever you enter somewhere in Spain – shop, bank, water office, even the local bus stop – there is always a queue.
It’s not obvious of course. Oh no. It’s not one of those British taily things (Spanish for queue is una cola – a tail), it’s an imperceptible thing.
After all, why would you stand in a line when you want to catch up on the local gossip with Maria or Reme, Paco or Juan, who are just a bit further away from you.
So, when you enter – somewhere, you politely ask “¿Quien es el último?”
Remember to notice who this person is. You are always stuffed though if they clear off because they can’t be bothered to wait and you don’t know who they were behind. That’s a minor point – it doesn’t happen too often.
When you find out who the last person is, you go to chat to your mates while you are waiting. This works well for paying bills.
The local supermarket is slightly different. The main one in town just has your average boring queue. So that doesn’t count.
Here in the village people live in the past. They go in, grab a basket, put a couple of things in and then plonk it in front of the counter to book a place. Then they go round the shop for more things. I joke not. Sometimes there is a melee of people and baskets, none of whom are actually queuing, just chatting.
But when you are standing there dutifully queuing, with for example, a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of water, some old dear will cheerfully walk up to the empty basket in front of you with an arm full of goodies to take up the place that she has booked. In front of you and six other people. And no-one says anything. Apart from “¿Quien es el último?” and it obviously isn’t the old dear.
The times must be a-changing somewhat though. Shopping Partner went down the other week and a woman in front of him had quite a few items. No pre-booked place, it was a proper queue, but she decided she wanted some other things. So she told the cashier she was just going to get them.
“NO way,” said the cashier. And unkeyed every single item from the till and put everything to one side. “Go to the back of the queue.” Then she beamed at Shopping Partner, who after all is A Man, and therefore Worth Something – in economic terms, and rolled her eyes and muttered some obscenity about the previous punter.
Fast forward a few days, and he’s down there again. One of the other optional customs is to let someone go in front of you if they have one or two items and you have more. Of course, you only ever get to go in front if you are A Man.
You can be a woman with a bottle of water and the person in front (usually another woman) has shopping piled up on the check-out for the next week, catering for her distant family who has just descended on her, but you will have to wait for every single 175 items to be keyed in.
Anyway, Shopping Partner spotted the neighbour with the proverbial bottle of water.
“Pasa, Jose, pasa.” It was Shopping Partner’s turn next so he thought he would let Jose in front. SP only had two or three items as well. But this was a total conspiracy. Behind was Skinny Legs. She lives down the street – in the biggest plot of the whole street – and is vaguely related to Jose through various marriages. She is a miserable old cow. Normally lives in Seville but turns up from time to time to take up residence in the shared family plot which has four houses. Possibly five now. One loses track.
She was not pleased. Jose and Shopping Partner were sniggering away like naughty schoolboys. Jose beamed. “Gracias, amigo.” Off he went.
It came back on Jose though. The next day he arrived home after his walk. His woman was not home. She had gone to the shop (it’s a daily ritual here). He didn’t have his keys, after all when he left, she was at home. He stomped up and down his terrace.
Eventually she came back with the eldest daughter. Adelina (like many round here) can’t read and write so she needs one of the daughters to go with her. Much shouting ensued.
“¡Coño!” each called the other. “Why didn’t you take your keys?” each asked the other. “I didn’t need them, you had them,” they both said simultaneously.
When the daughter could finally stop laughing she managed to produce her set of house keys (fortunately). After all, every member of the extended family always has a key to the house. Whether they always have it with them is another matter. Luckily she did.