It means “last”, as in the last person in line.
We learned it pretty early on when arriving in Spain.
If you arrive somewhere and find people waiting around – in no organized manner – chances are they are ‘in line’ for something. It could be to get into the post office, bank, or our favorite takeaway restaurant.
The Spanish don’t like to wait in line. But they do have a system and that system is “Ultimo”.
If you arrive somewhere where you see people waiting around, the protocol is to ask “¿Quién es el último?” (“who is the last?”). Somebody will tell you they are. From then on, all you have to do is wait and keep your eye on the person who was the “ultimo” before you.
It’s an excellent system until somebody comes and breaks it. And it’s usually a foreigner…and it always pisses off the Spanish. Hell has no fury like that unleashed when a foreigner breaks the “ultimo rule”.
A couple of examples:
Example #1. We were at our favorite takeaway restaurant in Nerja waiting for our turn. We saw a Spanish lady on the phone talking off to the side. A British couple showed up. A minute or two later I was putting in my order at the cash when I see the British couple next to me. Somehow they had gotten next in line. I turned back to see the Spanish lady animatedly talking to other Spanish people, red in the face. The British couple had broken the “ultimo rule” and she was pissed. Not pissed enough to confront the couple but pissed enough to tell anyone who spoke Spanish just how pissed she was.
Example #2. I had gone to a fabric store with Lissette. As is often the case, the store was full of old women waiting their turn while all talking at the same time. I waited about 15 minutes and couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to leave Lissette there and do some other shopping. 20 minutes later I came back and Lissette was still waiting but was in the middle of a conversation with the old ladies. She was having a good time and I decided to wait outside the store. About 5 minutes later a foreign couple walked into the store (I later found out they were Dutch). I would see them 10 minutes later walking out with a bag, wondering “how did they get service so quickly?”. Well, they had broken the “ultimo rule”. When Lissette came out (an hour after we had walked in) she was telling stories of old angry old ladies in mumu dresses ranting about foreigners: “they have no manners. They treat locals with no respect”, “they have a superiority complex, I wish they would all go back to their countries”.
Example #3. We learned from an American couple that the same “ultimo rule” applies at the gas station. Paul had been in line at the gas station and saw an opening at a pump. He drove right up, got out of the car and suddenly had an irate Spanish woman in his face telling him off. Unknown to him she had been off to the side awaiting her turn when he had barged in. I’m not sure how the procedure worked in this case (being in her car)…but he had broken the “ultimo rule” and was paying the ultimate price.
So if I can give new foreigners in Spain a tip, I’d recommend they learn the word “Ultimo”.
Related: How to plan a Trip to Spain
Join Our Newsletter
If you haven’t subscribed yet and want to get our posts sent to your email, just insert your email address below. It’s free!