For the most part, I’ve adapted to the interminable lines that precede virtually every activity here that requires a visit to a government (or pseudo-government) office. Or any place where queues tend to form. You know like the grocery store. The post office. The bank. Ok…there’s a potential for long lines pretty much everywhere, because…island time.
And, sadly, I’m not always dialed into my inner chill island girl persona. Mostly, but not always.
Once in awhile I still have to give myself a quick mental slap when I walk into a place and start feeing stressed when I encounter a line six or seven folks deep (on a good day). I seriously have to take a few deep breaths and check myself with something along the lines of “Look bitch, you choose to live in the islands and this is part of the deal. So get over your American spoiled self and buck up, sister. Besides, you could be at the Department of Motor Vehicles back home…with equally long, slow lines and a much shittier climate!”
And eventually, I get back to channeling my “waiting in line island zen” state. And in those moments, when I can simply accept what is, my mind is actually open enough to learn something new. Something that reminds me that, while nothing happens here remotely like it might back where I came from, things happen in their own ways here that are just as efficient and pleasant. Sometimes, dare I say, even better.
Like the other day at the post office.
Yes, I was in a hurry (not a good start). Yes, I was with Island Boy (which tends to add to my stress level when running errands…ladies, give me a holla if you know what I mean). Yes, I really, really, really wanted to just run in, collect the Amazon package I had been excitedly waiting on for weeks, tick that “to do” off my list and run back out before my truck lost all its air conditioned goodness (summer in the islands…yay). Please let there be no lines.
But when I opened the mirrored door (a deceptive trick, I am sure, designed to get you to commit to entering before you see the crowds) and discovered two lines stretched out in an arc at least 15 people deep, I felt my old, stressed out, spoiled American self bubbling to the surface. Damn it…I really thought after 6+ years on a rock, I had finally left her behind. Nope.
And, at that precise moment, uptight American me had a few quick decisions to make.
First of all, should I stay? Staying meant a lengthy wait (of that I was certain), and I was hungry, hot and in a hurry (a deadly combo on any Caribbean island). But leaving meant I would spend the weekend without my fabulous new pool floaties (priorities!), the ones that promised hours of leisurely lounging in absolute bliss (can I get a ‘hell yeah!”?). With built-in cup holders (of course). And since there was no wind in the forecast, I had some serious together time planned with my swimming pool.
So, ok, obviously leaving was not an option. I simply had to gird my loins and prepare for the endless wait. Fine. I slowly began to resign myself to my immediate fate. It was just going to be one of those days.
Which brought me to decision number two. Which line to pick?
There were two equally non-rushed cashiers and two equally long lines. Decisions, decisions. And as I am the self-appointed queen of choosing the slower moving line, every time, I hesitated in my judgment. Memories of interminable waits at Home Depot and Target flashed in my head. Ones where I stood forlornly in a stationary line while those all around me sped along with lightening speed. The horror.
But then I realized that today I had an ace in my back pocket. I had Island Boy with me.
At this moment, of course, he could become a quite useful part of errand running day. My analytical brain quickly told me if he waited in one line and I in the other, I stood the best chances of walking out faster with my coveted Amazon delivery. An excellent plan. Perhaps, I should bring him along on errand day more often? (Hold up there, cowgirl, let’s not get carried away, ok?)
So I installed him in one line, and I joined the other queue. Ha! Take that island inefficiency.
But then this crazy rock delivered a lesson straight to my highly competitive Americanized brain. It showed me that, despite my assumptions about how things *don’t* work on a Caribbean rock, a tiny island has its own way of being efficient. And with a lot less stress.
Because, as it turned out, despite my scheming and strategizing, it didn’t really matter which line I picked. Between the cashiers and the other folks in line (and the older customers seated on the nearby sofa), everyone was following a polite method of letting people be served in the order they arrived. Regardless of which line they were in. Or even if they weren’t in line at all.
As each cashier s-l-o-w-l-y finished with her current customer (reality check, this is STILL a Caribbean island), the group collectively and politely noted who had been waiting longest. And then, bam, it was that person’s turn. No angry looks or muttered comments or jostling to reach the counter first. It didn’t matter which line you were in, or if you were Antillean, Dutch, North or South American. Everyone just smiled and politely followed this protocol. The lines sort of merged and dissolved into a single group, as people stepped up to the free cashier and conducted their business after they were acknowledged as the next person in the “arrived” order.
It was calm. And civilized. And, believe it or not, relatively quick (well, except for the one lady who insisted on opening all seven of her Amazon packages to inspect the contents, one by one, before she paid…but I digress).
Now, I highly doubt such an approach would work at, say, Wal-Mart on a Saturday morning. Or anywhere in the States, really, because we’re usually a collective of tense, overly competitive, ‘in it for me’ types of people when we gather in public places (or is that just me?). Winner takes all and that sort of mentality. Black Friday shopping comes to mind (I did that once…never, ever, ever again.) I suspect if someone tried this approach in the U.S., they would be last in line every time. If they ever got served. I just don’t see it happening.
And that, my friends, was an eye opening reminder that when you find yourself tempted to get pissy about something on an island that you are 1000% certain could be done “better” if it were just done like it is “back home,” you should probably just shut up, check yo’self and try really, really, really hard not to be THAT person (every rock has ’em). Because different doesn’t automatically mean “worse” or “less efficient.” Sometimes, it means “better” and “kinder” and “civilized.”
And that is just one of the many reasons I love calling this rock home.
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Also published on Medium.