Last in the line?!

Do you know what it means in Cuba when somebody asks out loud for “el último” (“last in the line”)? It is a sign of social discipline, courtesy, and having the tact not to violate the rights of other people who were there first. This unwritten rule for standing in line is one of the ones that people most frequently observe. It guarantees your right to your turn for whatever your business might be, according to when you arrive at a given place.

However, standing in line does involve moments of tension. These occur when somebody arrives and asks who “el último” is; everyone perks up their ears and pays attention, silently, to make sure there are no mistakes, because the last person in line must physically wait until someone asks for “el último” before wandering out of earshot. It is how the line stays organized; if the last person in line is not around to identify himself or herself to the next person who asks for “el último,” then who will? However, there is a method that some people use to avoid that problem: after asking for “el último” and becoming the new last person in line, you tell the person in front of you that you need to step away for a minute; will he or she remain there in line? If the answer is affirmative, you ask that person to please provide your description to the next person who asks for “el último” and explain that you will be right back. You walk away to do whatever you need to do, leaving the person in front of you happy not to be the last person in line anymore.

At the polyclinic, the lines are better organized for people waiting for laboratory services. When you arrive and ask for “el último,” somebody in line who is very knowledgeable and who is not a clinic employee — because they don’t get involved in line matters — asks you, “For what?”  Here you find yourself in an embarrassing situation as you hold on tightly to your two little specimen jars, unable to explain exactly “for what” you are last in line. 

It is even more embarrassing when that same question is asked in the line for the proctologist: “Last in line for what?” In this case, a know-it-all who is having a little fun with a new arrival says in a very loud voice, “This is the line for the ultrasound and that is the line for the manual exam.” The new arrival, a hulking guy in his fifties, is confounded. “Man, what did I do to deserve this?” runs through his mind, as he turns bright red and wordlessly becomes “el último” in the manual exam line.

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