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Are Spaniards really that bad at queuing?

While the British are famous for their love of forming orderly lines, the stereotype from abroad is that Spaniards are impatient and incapable of queuing properly. Here's why foreigners have it all wrong.

Are Spaniards really that bad at queuing?
Perhaps it’s not that the Spanish don’t know how to queue, just that they do it differently. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

There are many different clichés said about the Spanish. One of the most common that always seems to come up is that they don’t queue properly, and are instead accustomed to just forming disorganised clusters or even pushing in.

Some even go as far as saying that the Spanish don’t know how to queue or are allergic to it and, if there isn’t some type of indication that you need to queue, they won’t do it.

But how true is this stereotype and is queuing in Spain the nightmare that it’s portrayed to be?

It’s generally true that the Spanish don’t like queueing (who does, really?) and may try to reduce their waiting times in a country where things do tend to go slower.

It’s not uncommon to see couples or families queuing at different counters to buy tickets or tills at the supermarket to see which is the quickest, then joining up together when the first one gets their turn.

You may also notice that if someone meets a friend or someone they know in the queue, they will often push in, to queue with them.

And occasionally an abuelo or abuela (grandfather or grandmother) will sneakily jump the queue because they can get away with it.  

While this may be seen as acceptable in Spain, it makes some foreigners very annoyed.

It may be typical to see chaotic jumbles of people standing around in no specific order to catch the metro or bus (and many people still don’t know how to wait to get on before others have gotten off).

But this lack of queuing doesn’t apply to all situations in Spain.

People queue outside the famous lottery office Doña Manolita to buy the “Fat One” (el Gordo) lottery tickets in the centre of Madrid on December 18, 2012. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

The queues may not be systematically as orderly as in the UK or northern European countries, but that doesn’t mean that the Spanish don’t know how to hacer la cola (queue).

In places such as offices and banks where many people are just standing around, it may not seem like there’s any queuing system in place, but there actually is, and it’s really quite clever.

When you arrive somewhere and see a cluttered mess, simply call out “¿Quien va el último?”, translated as “Who is the last?”.

Someone will answer you and you will know that it will be your turn after that particular person.

Don’t forget that when the next person comes along after you and asks “¿Quién va el último?”, it will be your turn to answer “¡Yo!” (Me!).

This nifty way of queuing means that you don’t all have to stand in one line and wait, you could find a comfy chair to sit on, go and stand near the air-con if it’s hot or go and chat to a friend you might spot who is also waiting.

Perhaps it’s not that the Spanish don’t know how to queue, just that they do it differently. Dare we say it’s actually better than the British or northern European way of standing in an orderly line? Is what is said about Spanish queueing just another unfair stereotype catering to Spain’s image abroad of being disorderly and undisciplined?

It’s also quite common in many places in Spain to collect a number or a ticket in advance, which then flashes up on a digital screen when it’s your turn.

This method can be seen everywhere from deli counters for buying cheeses and fresh fish to local post offices for sending parcels.

People queue outside a vaccination centre on April 26, 2021 in Barcelona during a vaccination campaign to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

Shift during the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic took queueing to another level in a country where any form of bureaucracy already involved waiting. 

Queuing became necessary for everything from waiting outside supermarkets, hospitals, shops, restaurants as only a certain number of people were allowed in, to having specific places for each person to stand at the supermarkets.

Queuing has become so common during the pandemic that generally speaking, Spaniards have become even more adept at it and now seem to form queues everywhere (even bars!).

“¿Quien va el último?” and numbered tickets are still widely used in Spain, but the Spanish also appear to have a newfound appreciation for standing en fila india as they call it (in line), as well as doing it their own way.


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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.