Monday, July 31, 2006

Spain is a wonderful country [or nexus of would-be ‘countries’] and I love living here. But there can be no doubt it can, at times, be a high-hassle place. So, the basic rule of survival is – Keep Things Simple. For change is fraught with problems. Even if you move a small distance, the new people you deal with [and there will be a lot of these] will treat you as if you’ve just arrived from another planet. The local branch of your bank, for example, will regard its own affiliate as if it were a foreign bank in a another country and put obstacles in the way of even the simplest transaction. I wonder if this is one of the reasons most Spanish people never move away from their place of birth. It’s so much easier to deal with the same banker, gestor, notary, lawyer, etc. your family has used for generations. And with whom there is that most critical of factors in Spain - the ‘personal’ relationship.

Incidentally, because the personal relationship is so paramount in Spain, one of the worst things you can do is move away from someone you feel is giving poor service. This is seen as bad form and ‘unfriendly’. And you can certainly expect a frosty greeting – if you get one at all – on the numerous occasions you pass in the street. Not that us Anglo-Saxons worry about such things.

The Spanish don’t go in much for home entertaining. At least not for friends, as opposed to family. An Iranian friend commented this week “When my Spanish friends say to me ‘Let’s get together for dinner’ what they seem to mean is ‘Let’s have another lovely Persian dinner at you place which we’ll never reciprocate’”. Sadly – but with one or two very honourable exceptions – this has also been my experience over the last 5 years. So I no longer give the curry nights I used to throw. One tires, in the end, of the one-sidedness of it all. As my Iranian friend duly has.

My day started badly today, when my daughter’s arrival from Madrid was delayed 3 hours. But I took advantage of this not only to get 2 tyres changed but also to swap my pre-payment phone for a superior contract model. Naturally, I had to prove who I was at least twice and go back to the car to get my insurance receipt so they could photocopy both this and my identity card. But all went very smoothly and, at the end of an hour during which I was able to take a coffee, I had my new phone and 2 new tyres, fitted at the right pressure. So, things can go well in Spain.

But, of course, they usually don’t and the last paragraph is mostly untrue. The tyres were put on at a dangerously high pressure [just as in the previous shop] and, at the end of a long paper-strewn process, the pleasant young lady at the phone counter told me they couldn’t get a line to prove my credentials and so I’d have to come back tomorrow. No apology, of course, for this gross waste of my time. I said I wouldn’t return until I was told a line was available and she kindly offered to phone. Knowing this would never happen, I took her number and said I’d do the calling.

That’s enough about life in Spain. It’s only 2 o’clock but I’m already exhausted. Especially as I helped a neighbour change her tyre just now.

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