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How NOT to Queue in Spain

By Mr Grumpy - Fri 18th Nov 2011

If there was one thing that would set aside a Brit from a Spaniard more than anything else it would probably be their attitude to queuing.

Whether a Brit examining the etiquette of queuing in Spain, or - worse still - a Brit berating a foreigner´s lack of understanding of queuing etiquette in the UK one thing is clear : Queuing etiquette is - or lack of it - is quite possibly the one thing that will drive a mild mannered granny into in a raving psychotic.

I was having a conversation on this subject with my intercambio language exchange partner the other day : What exactly is the etiquette with regards to queuing in Spain, and ditto with the UK ?

Juanjo explained to me that there wasn´t any etiquette when it came to queuing in general in Spain. In smaller Towns and Villages it may be considered polite to let the elder generation go first in certain circumstance, however, in shops it was usual practice to simply ask "¿ Quien es la Ultima ?" (Apologies if my Spanish isn´t perfect, but at least I managed the second upside' down question mark thing) - which basically means " Who is last [in the queue] ? " (Just the one question mark this time).

It seem that this is time honoured tradition that has served generations of Spaniards perfectly well for generations, ensuring that the last person to enter a shop knows who the customer to be served in front of them is. That way everybody knows there place and is free to wander off or chat with friends etc...

The system only becomes problematic when in wanders clueless Guiri and either jumps his place, or fails to inform the person entering the shop behind him, where his place in the queuing system is.

As far as said Guiri is concerned, the fact that there is not a linear column of people stretching neatly away from the counter, means that there is in fact no queue.

And because said Guiri is both unaware of the existence of the etiquette he alone is responsible for the total collapse of law and order in the local Panaderia, and quite often leaves the shop frustrated at the "bunfight" that he has just caused (see what I did ? that Grammar school education wasn´t for nothing ...) and convinced that the very concept of queuing in Spain does not exist.

Juanjo conceded that as far as getting served in a bar, restaurant or market stall was concerned then queuing, as us Brits would know it, didn´t exist, and he just laughed when I asked about the etiquette of queuing for public transport.

(Have you ever wondered why you never see bus loads of Spaniards at Alton Towers ?)

On the subject of Public transport, Juanjo told me he was almost lynched once whilst on a business trip to the UK when he saw his bus approaching whilst walking with colleagues towards the Bus stop. Worried that the Bus wasn´t going to hang about longer than was necessary to let the passengers get off he sprinted down the pavement and leapt onto the Bus - seemingly ignoring the column of passengers waiting in the rain. His British colleagues did the decent thing and let him do so, casually joining the end of the queue, and letting each of the passengers shoot him their best icy glare in turn whilst waiting their turn in the queue.

I explained that I wouldn´t have been at all surprised to hear that there would have been queues of British women waiting quietly in a queue to take their place for a lifeboat on the deck of the Titanic.

Even when waiting in the Casualty department of A&E you still see some people at the triage station smiling sheepishly as the duty nurse decides that the 9" nail that they have embedded through their eyeball warrants them jumping further along the queue than the guy who just stubbed his toe.

It´s a disease we Brits are born with and will more than likely never be cured.

Comment on this Blog

In my experience the only people 'worse' for being sticklers for queuing ettiquette are the Germans.
P Coulson - Mon, 26th Dec 2011
Awful - and.....some days they use the ticket system and some days they don´t, so you never know quite where you are or if you´ll be home in time to cook the damned thing (poultry, fish, unnamed dead thing).
Mo - Thu, 22nd Dec 2011

Fair point on 'who is spoused to who', but I was careful to steer clear of the label 'foreigner' if you look...

on a separate note, I was queueing in the Butchers at the weekend when I fell 'Fowl' of the local system (see what I did ?... ). It seems that I was totally unaware of the 'Ticket' system, whereby the locals nip and grab a ticket for their turn in the queue and then go away to do all their other shopping in the town, returning 30 mins later to elbow their way to the front of those queueing patiently, declaring that it is in fact now their their turn.

"Who is last in the Queue ?" - He's doing his shopping in the Panaderia at the moment !

Mr Grumpy - Wed, 21st Dec 2011
Beg your pardon, Mr. G., I am not spoused up to any foreigner, tho my (long-suffering) hubby is spoused up to me.
Mo - Wed, 21st Dec 2011
I first came across the "Who is the last in line?" queuing system in the local post office some years ago - it seems to me to be a good system and seems almost never to be abused, even by 'ignorant furriners' once they understand what is going on. I've also noticed that elderly/frail people tend to be pushed forward to the front with general agreement.
Bill - Wed, 21st Dec 2011
Hah! Maybe smartypants is a fair complaint. I used to think Brits in Spain were the worst tourists in the world, and that coming is from an American of the land of 'ugly Americans'. But it's true that Spaniards in England are probably not much better. Maybe the deeper lesson is caution when making smug statements about someone else's culture. I stand by my contention that Brits are probably the worst queue-cutters _in_ Spain. I remember once at an airport watching a cheeky English couple play dumb when cutting a line for boarding a plane, and then griping (when an attendant stopped them) that there was no queue, when clearly there was. They had this look on their face, "Oh now suddenly there are rules about queuing!" Granted, it was a Queasyjet flight, and Easyjet sets universally bad etiquette on queues. If you stop to think about it, the moralizing around queuing is kind of hilarious, and arbitrary. Why favor first-come-first-serve? Why not favor need-based, or total-time-served?
An Expat In Spain - Wed, 21st Dec 2011
I don´t see why people should be left standing while others go off and get more business done just ´cos they can´t be bothered waiting. Similarly, this "I´m smarter than you" mentality is evident here.

Those Crazy Brits.

Mo - Tue, 20th Dec 2011
I agree Expat, although I bow to your's and Mo's superior Knowledge, being spoused up to the natives, so to speak...
Mr Grumpy - Tue, 20th Dec 2011
I'm not sure if you saw my entry on this topic, but I concur with Juanjo. Asking who is the last in line is as sacred an etiquette here as queuing is in England: Local Vocab : Spanish Queue Culture.

I'm also convinced that many a Brit has left Spain incorrectly convinced that there is total lawlessness here with lines, when in fact they had unwittingly jumped several virtual queues at hornos and fiambre stands, indubitably to the chagrine of the locals. @ Alcalaina, I've never in my life seen that gender play happen in Valencia or Madrid, ever. It almost shocks me. If anything, the only caveat to the "¿Quién es la última?" system I've witnessed is when a very old retired person strolls up to the counter, initiates a conversation with the proprietor, and thereby jumps said virtual queue... I think this gets chalked up to the universal law: senile old folks are always allowed to jump the line if they act sufficiently oblivious.
An Expat In Spain - Tue, 20th Dec 2011
The tradition of queueing for us Brits means that whenever I do see a queue in Spain my curiosity gets the better of me and I have to find out what people are queueing for, ie if Spaniards are queueing then whatever it is MUST be worth it!
Maxine - Fri, 9th Dec 2011
The "¿Quién es la última?" system works very well in my local grocers´ shop - until a man comes in. Then all the ladies step aside and he gets served first.
Alcalaina - Thu, 24th Nov 2011

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