The following post was written by Ella Shapard who is spending the first half of her Gap Year in Cuba.
If there’s one thing that Cubans know better than anyone else, it’s lines. They wait in lines for the bank, the infamous ETECSA (the only phone service offered on the island), the grocery stores, bus stops, etc, etc. Having to spend a good chunk of time in lines has led to a unique, and in my opinion excellent, method of forming them. Of course, Jake and I learned this method the hard way when we took our first trip to the ETECSA store, a place that seems to me the Cuban equivalent of the DMV in terms of emotional losses suffered while there. We got to the building around 8am, pleased to find ourselves among the few there so early. We plopped down on the floor, expecting that the line would form when the doors opened. Around rolled 9am, the doors open, and immediately everyone gets in line, us excluded. We try to shove our way into the line, telling everyone we got there at 8am so, therefore, we should be towards the front. We got some confused/irritated/ah yes they aren’t from here looks before a kind man explained to us that Cuban lines aren’t your standard lines. To get in line here, you approach the group of people, shout/ask with gusto “último!!!???” which basically means “who’s the last one in line here??” The last person will signal to you, and then show you who is in front of them. This works on two different levels, the first being so that you know who is in front of them in case they give up and leave, but secondly, and to my absolute delight, so the person can leave the line, go grab some food or chat to a friend and still be in the same position when they come back. Cuban lines take a long while, so people often take advantage of this clause within the unwritten set of rules about lines here.
Once we learned this crucial tidbit, Jake and I started to use it everywhere. We were pretty stoked about being able to employ our new knowledge, and it has come in handy every single day. The Cuban method of line forming has developed in the past decades as a side effect of both the 1959 communist revolution and the blockade from the United States which makes it infinitely more difficult to find processed goods and has also dramatically reduced the oil that Cuba used to receive from Venezuela (hence the long lines for buses and their erratic schedule.) People have had to wait in lines to cash in ration coupons when the country was in the process of “redistributing wealth” and now have to wait in lines when an exciting product like butter or Pringles magically pops up in a store. As one of our Cuban friends Ángel puts it, the Cubans have got lines down to a science.