It’s the name of the game in Cuba. Waiting for bus tickets. To exchange money. For peso pizza. To purchase an internet card. It takes a minimum of an hour to get anything done in this country. Usually two. I read about this phenomenon before we came, but seeing it in action is really something. I don’t know what it is about their process that makes it move so slowly, but a quick trip to the bank on your lunch break is simply not a thing here.
This game is particularly confusing for visitors, cause the rules look nothing like they do at home. Rather than queue up in a fashion that resembles anything orderly, folks just stand around haphazardly. Ignorantly, we stood around too, asking meekly of anybody who’s eye we could catch, “Um… are you in line?” Followed by blank stares or shrugs.
Shame on us for not learning the name for “line” in Spanish, though as it turns out, they probably still wouldn’t have understood. Cause there is no “line” as we know it. Rather, the process is this:
- Approach the group and yell “Ultimo!”
- The last person “in line” must then raise his or her hand, informing you that they arrived just before you. This is particularly challenging when the group is comprised of several dozen people, all caught up in conversation with their companions. “Um, hola? Ultimo? Senora? Ultimo? No? Usted? Pardon? ULTIMO?!!”
- Once you locate the right person, you just gotta watch them like a hawk, taking your turn whenever they finish.
- Now, if this person leaves, say, after an exasperating hour with no forward progression (a common occurrence, we’ve learned), they must catch your eye, let you know they are throwing in the towel, and point out the person who is ahead of them – your new target.
The best part about this little dance is how smug you get to act when the next tourist arrives and scratches his head in confusion. Especially when you’re at a bank and no less than 60 people are sitting in the waiting area, and a gringo walks in and goes straight to the next available teller. You should see the reaction! Boy that’s a hoot. Not that we’ve ever done that, of course.