Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Departing Brits; Spain is Different; & Yet more large scale corruption.

I get the occasional cold call here in Pontevedra but my mother back in England is plagued with them. She must, I guess, be on some Suckers List. Being of her generation, she used to speak to them before politely ending the call. Now, she just just puts the phone down as I do. I'm sure the technology exists to allow the phone companies to identify the companies and to warn you via a 'Cold Call' alert on your phone screen. But, then, I doubt it's in their financial interests to do so. And so it won't happen.

One of the things I listened to while driving to Plymouth and from Santander was a CD of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the original English. As I did so, the image struck me of Shakespeare sitting in class and moaning to the teacher he didn't think Chaucer should be taught to kids.

The total number of Brits living in Spain is unknown but may be near a million, many of them unregistered with the town hall. What is known is that more than 20% of identified Brits quit Spain to go back to the UK last year. It's supposed that the reasons are economic.

But, anyway, here are a few more ways in which Spain is Different:-

  1. Customer orientation is a little less well developed in Spain than elsewhere.
  2. Ditto, inevitably, levels of customer service. You may have to fight for aisle space with a supermarket employee wielding a pallet. Though Mercadona is an exception.
  3. Kisses and hugging is practised more widely in Spain than in less tactile countries, even between men.
  4. Spain's TV advertising in greatly more adept in intrusive advertising than in other (less tolerant) countries. The latest example is transparent ads that scroll across the screen, usually as the audience is being panned.
  5. Shouting when you're talking is compulsory in Spain. And the more your interlocutors shout at you, the more you are legally bound to shout back. But noise is not a problem in Spain. Everyone accepts it as the norm. Except foreigner. In a bar yesterday, a friend and I were confronted by the worst possible scenario - six screeching grandmothers sitting at the next table. Their deafness didn't help.
  6. In related vein, it's compulsory for every café and bar in Spain to have at least 2 or 3 TVs on the wall, very possibly showing different programs. Plus maybe a radio channel. Again, the locals merely regard this as the norm and neither watch nor listen to any of them. The owners presumably fear a flight of customers if they didn't provide this aural wallpaper. Though, in some metropolitan cases, they would quickly be replaced by foreigners desperate for some peace and quiet. And the ability to hear each other talk.
  7. The Spanish demand bread with every meal and get antsy if it isn't on the table. However, this doesn't mean they'll eat any of it.
  8. The Catholic church remains powerful in Spain, even though 80% of the population don't go to church and support abortion and gay marriage. The Church is particularly involved in education, despite a decades-old intention to change this.
  9. The Catholic Church gets a percentage of our tax money, even though it was decided in the 70s that this would stop and that the church would be self-financing.
  10. It's virtually impossible to enter or leave any sizeable Spanish town without seeing at least one brothel, usually wreathed in garish pink neon lights and possibly a picture of the female form. And featuring a helpful name such as Nimfas or Working Girls.
  11. Corruption among businessmen and Spain's (disproportionate number of) politicians is endemic and considerably higher than in all other European countries, with the possible exception of Greece and Italy. That said, private individuals are very unlikely to see any corruption during their lives.
  12. Terrorist groups operate (in favour of secession) not only in the Basque Country but also in Galicia. Those in the former (ETA) may well have stopped bombing and killing but those in Galicia still occasionally blow up an ATM or a rubbish bin. Not a lot of people know this. 

Finally . . . Talking of corruption, the latest case name we have to try and remember is Operación Edu, under which police in Andalucia (a veritable byword for corruption) are investigating what may be Spain's biggest ever fraud, involving up to €2bn euros of EU funds that 'went missing' once it got into the hands of 'local officials' - regional governors, trades union leaders and employers' associations. The usual subjects, in other words. What's astounding is they thought they could get away with it. And, truth to tell, to the extent that the money will never be recovered, they have. What's a couple of years in jail for a pension pot of several millions? More here. Especially in a country in which moral turpitude is a weak concept. Don't forget it's your taxes which are lost to folk suffering from 'desert disease' - sticky palms.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spain is Different

I arrived home last night to find the TV on and the internet off. By the end of the evening, I'd reversed this situation and was enjoying a download speed of a mere 224 mbps. Which is about as low as it's ever been and compares with a 100 megabytes on offer in the UK. The TV, by the way, had been locked 24/7 on one station and I had to revert to Sky this morning to get anything else. To find that, as far as both Sky and the BBC were concerned, the only important events in the entire world were centred on Manchester United and their departing manager, the sad-but-rich David Moyes,

But, anyway . . . . Here's the first tranche of Spanish Differences, in no particular order of anything. Some of these are trivial and some of them aren't. Whether they are or not depends on which culture you come from and, above all, whether you're Spanish:-

  • In Spain, it's obligatory to kiss on the first meeting. In the UK, it isn't.
  • In Spain, it's compulsory to engage in eye contact: In the UK, it isn't.
  • In Spain, it's illegal not to have the word corazon (heart) in every song. Elsewhere, it isn't.
  • In Spain, the legal system is inquisitorial. In the UK it's adversarial.
  • In Spain, you can touch a woman when you talk to her. In the UK, you'd be accused of attempted rape if you did.
  • In the UK, you pay for your drinks when you order them. In Spain, you pay for them when you leave the bar.
  • In Spain, rules are ignored if they're personally inconvenient, elsewhere they aren't.
  • Spain has more prostitutes per (male) capita than any other country in Europe.
  • You can drive on Spanish motorways without being terrified by trucks and continuously slowed down by roadworks of 'phantom jams'. In the UK, you can't.
  • Not everyone born in Spain feels Spanish.
  • Books elsewhere have their titles on the spine all in one direction. In Spain, they can be either to the left or to the right, making a trip to a book shop a pain in the neck.
  • The Spanish usually have only 1 forename but 2 surnames. Each child has different surnames from each of its parents, who have different surnames from each other. Simple it ain't.
  • Because of this funny name business, foreigners in Spain suffer from bureaucratic confusion about what they're really called. And what they should put on their forms.
  • The Spanish daily timetable differs significantly from those elsewhere. The morning stretches to the time of the 'midday' meal, i. e. to 2 or 3pm. Shops open at 10 in the morning and close at 2 for 3 hours. They're then open until 8 or 9pm. Elsewhere, things are more sensible and people get home before 10pm.
  • The Spanish eat their main meal of the day usually at 2.30 to 3pm. Only a light meal is eaten in the evening, between 9 and 10.
  • Thanks to the lateness of everything else, the peak TV hour in Spain is between midnight and 1am.
  • Both adults and children in Spain get fewer hours of sleep than elsewhere.
  • Notaries are king in Spain. The law obliges their involvement - as agents of the government - in a great deal of what you do during your life, including selling or buying a house.
  • In contrast, lawyers in Spain are low in status. The pre-university exam mark required for entry onto a degree course is far below that required for aspiring doctors, vets, nurses and physiotherapists. In the Anglosphere, things are rather different.
  • Shower heads in Spain are nearly always loose, attached to a hose which comes up from the taps.
  • Burials in Spain must take place within 48 hours and related ceremonies take place in an odd communal place called the tanatorio.
  • The Spanish still prefer to do business face-to-face, rather than by phone or email.
  • Spanish responses to invitations are meaningless. A No might really mean a Yes and a Yes means "Provided I don't get a better invitation in the meantime".
  • Sadly, having either your arm or your leg stroked by a Spanish woman you're talking to means absolutely nothing.

  • Well, that's enough for today. More tomorrow.

    Monday, April 21, 2014

    More UK tribulations.

    Have just discovered that there's free wifi on this boat. Which probably explains why the ticket price has increased so much in the last couple of years.

    I finally did find a crew of East Europeans to clean my car in Leamington Spa. The operation was brilliantly efficient - inside and out - and a quick calculation based on their hourly throughput and low overheads suggested a sizeable profit for the owners. Though I rather doubt the operatives are on more than the minimum wage. If that.

    My list of 27 ways in which Spain is different in proceeding nicely and will be posted tomorrow. Apologies for the delay.

    This may or may not be true - it was in the Daily Mail - but it seems the UK's bureaucrats are now so ignorant of Christianity that one local council banned a Good Friday street Passion play because they thought it centred on sex. You couldn't make it up.

    Which reminds me . . . Exeter's luminous cathedral is Gothic in style. As I may have said before, this word was originally applied to post-Romanesque churches to mean 'ugly'. BTW - On entering the cathedral, we were told they hadn't taken a delivery of free leaflets in English but we could have the glossy guide for only a  quid, instead of two. We opted for the free leaflet in German and Spanish.

    The piano player on this trip is far better than the two on the last one. In fact, he played such good blues and jazz that I got up to congratulate him. Only to find that he'd gone on his break and the piano was playing automatically.

    Finally . . . The 'headline' cabaret star last night was a Tom Jones impersonator who'd been the ('cheated') runner-up in some UK copycat competition. He was announced as 'Europe's leading tribute act'. Which does rather make you wonder what he's doing on this boat, playing to drunken motor-cyclists. Perhaps Europe is awash with Tom Jones impersonators.

    Sunday, April 20, 2014

    Just in case anyone's interested . . .

    Thursday, 17 April

    Drove from Leamington Spa to Dorchester, arriving an hour later than expected. No time to write the How Spain is Different piece.

    Friday, 18 April;

    Walked along the beautiful Dorset coast with an old friend from law school. Saw the fascinating Durdle Door 

    19.00: Arrived in Newton Abbott, to find myself in the only house in the UK without internet.

    Saturday, 19 April.

    Thanks to my old Anglo-German friend, I learnt that toilet paper makes an acceptable alternative to filter paper for coffee. Or kitchen paper, if you're fussy.

    Visited Exeter cathedral and then went into a nearby place offering free internet. It didn't work and, when I asked them to switch the router off and back on, they refused on the grounds that their till was connected to the internet. Then they added 12.5% service charge to the bill, even though 10 is the UK norm. But tourists are their main custom so I suppose they don't give a damn that I won't be going back there

    Exeter cathedral, though, was worth the money. It's possibly the lightest cathedral I've ever seen, thanks to the brilliance of the 12th century architects. On the way in, we passed a couple of men exiting via the entrance. One of them was saying to his rather resigned looking colleague: "If it was free to enter, I'd probably chuck 5 quid into the donations box but I'm not willing to pay 6 quid when it's compulsory". As he was old enough to pay the 4 quid Senior rate, I guess we can regard 'probably' as the (in)operative word of his complaint.

    Sunday, 20 April

    Finally found somewhere with working internet - McDonalds in the centre of Plymouth, where they charge you for parking even on Easter Sunday. Heathens.

    Spanish Differences will have to wait until Tuesday.

    Saturday, April 19, 2014

    Normal service will be resumed as soon as I get a reliable internet connection, somewhere between Newton Abbott and Pontevedra . . . .

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