Join the Line

Paul Keens-Douglas on the perilous etiquette of queueing in the Caribbean

A-a…darlin’… long time no see…ah was parsing’ an’ ah see de line, so ah say lemme check it an’ see who ah know! Illustration by Dunstan Williams

When a West Indian says to you, “How was the show?”, most times you would be correct in assuming that he means the actual show — the act, the music, the whatever.

But not all the time. Because when it comes to shows, he could be referring to three things that most people living in the Caribbean take as a matter of course, but which always have visitors and the uninitiated a trifle confused, even downright angry. These are the line, the gate, and the seat.

Take the Caribbean concept of a line or queue, for instance. In most parts of the world and in the “official” Caribbean, a line means individuals or things standing neatly one behind the other, so that any casual observer would have a fairly good idea where it begins and where it ends. Not in my Caribbean. Our lines somehow always have breadth as well as length, like a long, fat crowd going in a general direction, but not so obvious, because not everybody in the line is facing in the same direction.

After all, a Caribbean line is a great place to carry on a conversation with people who may be at any point of the compass, and you must face whoever you are speaking to. Go to any show and you will find
that the most popular preshow questions are, Dis is de line? Is where dis line goin? You in de line? Is here dey sellin’ tickets?

These are very valid questions, because there are lines with people in them who are not really “in” them at all. The line just happened to pass by where they were standing, so they just naturally became a part of it. They were there to see who was in the line. They were in it, but not of it.

So unless you are aware of this Caribbean line concept, you may very well neglect to ask the very necessary “unnecessary question”, and just join the line at the end as normal, not realising that you could have joined in the middle or that some lines have one head and three tails, two of which are non-lines.

About fifteen minutes later you begin to realise that your line has not moved one inch, and nobody except you seems to care.

So you venture your first question: “Excuse me, are you in the liner Hear them. “No man, don’t dig nutten, you go ahead, we just waiting on somebody!” So the rule of thumb for the Caribbean is: anytime you join a line, always ask where the line is going, even if you see a big sign telling you where it’s going.

Sometimes they change the line, hut not the sign.

But if you think lines are confusing, wait till you run into Caribbean gates. The normal thing is to have two gates, one marked Entry and one marked Exit. Very simple. You enter by the one marked Entry, and you go out by the one marked Exit. But not in my Caribbean. For there are some people who feel that, for better crowd control, the wisest thins to do is have everybody enter and exit through the  same gate. That way you could keep an eye on everybody.

At a fete the other day, they closed all the extra gates, and had everybody entering and exiting through the same gate. So you could imagine the jam. One set with tickets bawling, “We want to go in!, and a next set with half-a-ticket- bawling, “We want to go out! Four “Security” jam the right-side to make sure nobody go in or out, two fellas in plain-clothes tearing tickets on the left, and three more watching the two who tearing to make sure they do it right.

So it was like a small wedding they had at the gate. And they letting you in and out at the same time. One fella just raise his armpit a little hit, and you squeeze through. I never see nothing so in all my days.

But if you think that’s bad, wait till you “bounce up” the people who like to “hold” seats.

The other night at a big calypso show, I saw a fella trying to hold six seats. Not one or two, but six. He put his car keys on one, his glasses on another, his handkerchief and a pack of biscuits on a next one, a greasy-looking paper bag that had about twenty roti in it on the fourth, and he sat down on two.

The people he was holding for never turned up, but a fat woman, with an ugly husband and an even uglier temper, did.  But that’s another story.