10 March 2010

The Sacred Queue

Being a British Overseas Territory, I would have thought that the Turks and Caicos Islands would have mastered the art of line standing. The British, as well as us Americans, will instinctively form lines whenever the opportunity presents itself (sometimes for no reason at all). Apparently the Empire failed to export its appreciation for the orderly "queue" to its Caribbean territories.

Standing in Line

Here in the Turks and Caicos, when important business needs to be conducted by many at a single point of service (say when banking or visiting the clinic), people form more of a mass or cluster than anything from which a system of priority can intuitively be drawn. Instead, who has priority seems to be based upon one's own self-assuredness, sense of entitlement, or the audacity to step forward before others. This presents an array of anxieties, frustrations, and downright confusion among those of us unaccustomed to such methods.

Standing in lines is ingrained so deeply in our social code of conduct that we find ways of simulating it when it becomes impractical to physically do it. When there is the potential for an inordinately long wait (e.g. at the DMV) or when layout does not lend itself the formation of a line (e.g. at the Deli), we use numbered ticketing systems that allow for virtual queueing. Absent of such technological aids, we will carefully take note of each individual that arrived before and after ourselves, creating mental queues according to length of time served standing in wait. "I'm sorry, yes, you were here before me. I believe it is your turn to go next." In the Turks and Caicos, however, there appears to be no such socially agreed upon self-ordering. Or, at least, I have not yet figured out how such things work here.

This morning I went to the bank (which, by the way, is only open for half a day each week). For weeks I've been trying to get a $5 money order so that I can renew my driver's license. The Washington State Department of Licensing will not accept cash or credit payments. In my opinion, checks are out-dated and I don't use them. All but once or twice a year, this isn't a problem. But we're still in a technological transition period where some are slow to let go of antiquated systems. Until paper checks become completely extinct, I'll have to deal with these periodic (though increasingly infrequent) headaches over their necessity.

Western Union and the Post Office don't sell money orders and, after waiting for nearly an hour in line-less chaos, I was simply told at the bank that they won't sell them to people who are not "customers." Apparently, the desire to purchase a money order is not sufficient qualification for the title of customer. I'm not sure at what stage in the process of purchasing something one becomes a customer, but I seem to have missed a very important step this time around. With my failure to earn the credentials necessary for the purchase of a $5 money order, I simply went home. What's next? I'm not sure. But I miss my bicycle, and I'm happy to say no driver's license is needed for that.

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