Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Under Spain’s attenuated anti-smoking legislation, small bars/cafés can choose to be Smoking or No-Smoking. As my elder daughter has pointed out, this is exactly the same situation as before the law came in. So, can anyone really be surprised nothing has changed except in the case of those very few bars serving predominantly young people, where business would be lost if they didn’t go No-Smoking? The real test of the law will come in September, at the end of the 8 months’ period of grace given to large bars/cafés to provide a No-Smoking area. I find it hard to be optimistic, especially in light of the manoeuvring going on in my favourite café to have itself treated as two small places rather than one large one. If they succeed, neither of the ‘two’ cafés will fall within the law. And I will move - regretfully - to the one place in town which has become No-Smoking. Next to a school, naturally.

Last year a Spanish bank bought the Abbey National in the UK. And this year the operator of Spain’s airports [including T4 in Madrid!] is said to be pursuing its British opposite number. These developments naturally go down well with the Spanish public. In contrast, a somewhat different [French?] view is taken of foreign firms which stalk Spanish companies. But not always. For some time now, there’s been concern about a major Catalan utilities company taking over a large Madrid-based supplier, to form a major Spanish operator. But today, the target has announced it’s in discussion with a German ‘white knight’. This seems to have been well received, suggesting perhaps that, in today’s Spain, Germans are less foreign than pesky and uppity Catalans. Or perhaps it’s just a question of the Spanish public realising what they would be in for, if a domestic company gained anything like a national monopoly of gas and electricity supply. The regional monopolies are bad enough. Actually, there already was a very Spanish aspect to this takeover saga – much of the public felt the socialist government’s over-indulgence towards the hostile takeover reflected its reliance on the coalition that forms the Catalan government. So, interesting times ahead. And lots of coded language, I guess. The first example has been along the lines ‘It may be Catalan but it’s not German.’ On second thoughts, there’s not much coded about this. Query: How do you play the ‘national’ card when there are so many ‘nations’ lying about?

Very a propos – a commentary in El Mundo today suggests that the unification of Spain normally attributed to Ferdinand and Isabella is a myth and that, given the numerous divisive events in the 500 years since then, how could Spain help being what it is today. Things could be worse, the author concludes. One wonder quite how, in the 21st century.

My water bill arrived today. The meter was actually read on 16 September last year and the invoice prepared on 12 January this year. But this isn’t why I mention it; they can be as slow as they like. No, it features because the company issuing the bill is the 4th different outfit since I came here 5 years ago. And, as with the others, no one has advised of the change. Mind you, nor have we been told why the rubbish-collection component has doubled in 5 years and the unit price of water quadrupled. But perhaps I missed something in the local press. Or a notice pinned on the parish church door. Or maybe none of the companies has ever heard of customer relations. Or – the truth – is a monopoly.

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