Buying a perscription at the chemist. | R.L.


The next time I visit a ‘farmacia’ (chemist) to pick up a prescription or buy a packet of cotton buds, I think I will take a packed lunch and make a day of it. Unlike Boots back home in Old Blighty, where you can graze the aisles at your leisure, fill up a basket, then casually wander over to ‘dispensing’, drop off a prescription, pick up the medication almost immediately, then pay for the lot within minutes at a cash desk!

Here in Mallorca, you can almost guarantee that for every person inside the chemist you must calculate an average waiting time of around fifteen minutes. For example - in our small, local farmacia, with only one person serving behind the counter, 6 people ahead of you could easily represent a one and a half hour wait! And I’m not kidding. So why does it take so long?

Well, once the weather has been discussed, along with the welfare of all the ‘nietas’ and ‘nietos’ (grandchildren), the ‘sobrinos’ and ‘sobrinas’ (nephews and nieces), the ‘tias’ (aunties) and Tio Tom Cobbly and all, there is also the possibility that the pharmacy telephone might ring and cause even further delays. The culture here in Mallorca happily embraces lengthy telephone conversations which interrupt the serving process, whether personal or otherwise! And customers seem quite happy to just wait, and wait, and wait; for here in Mallorca they are blissfully graced with an amazing amount of patience, along with the ability to sit around, doing nothing, for ages!

The actual prescriptions themselves also seem to take forever to process and dispense, especially if there is an elderly person involved with a long list of medications on order. Some customers actually look as if they might possibly be starting up their own drugs dispensary, leaving the farmacia laden with carrier bags. Each prescription dispensed requires a bar code to be cut physically from the packaging with surgical precision, usually a Stanley knife, which is then sellotaped to a printed form and signed off. Considering 2023 embraces a digital world of advanced technology, one might assume a bar code could simply be scanned and recorded on a contemporary device. But then this is Mallorca and they like to do things their way!

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But it’s not just the farmacias where you might expect to wait in line for hours. Both banks and post offices are also great places to camp out in for the day! Our local post office in Inca has a digital ticket system (like most), so you work out roughly how long it might be from the current number displayed above the counter, then go and do a bit of shopping, and come back in time to buy a stamp. However, if you are holding number 200 in your hand and they are only displaying numero 20, then you might as well go to the beach for the day, and still get back in time to post that annoying letter!

Banks of course have always been a little confusing, with different counters and desks for various transactions. And people don’t seem to queue in banks, they just hover, looking suspiciously at the uninitiated foreigner, as if they might jump in front of you at the first opportunity and purloin your turn. So without an apparent queue, how does taking your fair turn in a bank, possibly work? Traditionally, when a new customer enters the bank, (this system also works in other establishments where a queue seems non-existent), they simply ask “Quien es el ultimo?” (in a nutshell – who is the last one?) That way each person knows exactly who they are going to follow in line for the cashier. It’s a simple, yet brilliantly effective system, as you don’t have to watch anyone else in the bank except the person whose turn is immediately before yours. No standing in a tired line! You can sit down and get on with Facebook, or flick through Instagram whilst keeping a beady, watchful eye on that person whose turn is directly before yours. As soon as they make their move, you can perk up knowing that you’re next!

But beware! Even when you have taken your turn and are standing in front of the cashier, you might be accosted by a ‘butter!’ and that has nothing to do with anything spread on toast. It’s simply someone who rudely butts in to ask the cashier a quick question. Not even a polite ‘excuse me’, just a straight, uneducated butt into your private conversation. And the worse thing is they just get away with it. Whoever you are dealing with suddenly ignores you and starts dealing with the ‘butter’, and their ready excuse is that it’s only a tiny query and won’t take long. Well, ‘butt out’, I’m being served not you, so wait your turn!

The bakery is another great place to waste a morning. There is no urgency whatsoever to serve customers with their ‘pan Mallorquin’. Having a good chin-wag and sharing a bit of local gossip is a priority. And the majority are very happy to do so as they wait their turn, often chipping in with their own version of events. The Mallorcans specialise in turning simple, everyday events like banking, posting a letter, shopping etc into a social gathering. So, if you find yourself in a long queue, do what I’m going to do in future. Take sandwiches and a flask. Happy waiting!