Friday, September 26, 2008

As I mention from time to time, I’ve lived in six cultures and become reasonably fluent in the language of each of them. Except that of North America, of course. But I was reminded yesterday it isn’t always the absence of language which leads to misunderstandings. Or the inability to grasp nuances of a new language. Often it’s simply because you and the person you’re dealing with are operating on the basis of different assumptions born of respective experience and cultural norms. The case in point centred on my asking Carrefour for details of a credit card charge of last July. The initial response was they couldn’t do it, especially as I’d left it rather late. Instead of adopting my usual strategy at this point – losing my temper, storming out and achieving nothing – I calmly asked why not. After a few more exchanges, it transpired that my ‘antagonist’ had assumed I wanted it immediately, whereas it never would have occurred to me to expect the immediate supply of data. So all ended well. I left them my details and they actually called me today with the information. Now, if I can just erase all the carefully accumulated assumptions upon which I normally work . . . I’d surely be a happier camper.

Reader Moscow has cited an article which suggests Spain is, in fact, quite a ‘clean’ place. And, if all goes well down at the cyber café, you can read it here. It’s certainly true that, if you take the construction factor out of the equation, the Spanish picture improves substantially. But, in truth, this is a little hard to do in practice. For, only this week, we’ve had the ex-mayoress of Marbella suddenly putting her hands on a million euros in cash to stop her house of similar value being auctioned. And the president of the Castellón province being accused of large-scale embezzlement. Plus the statistic from El País that 140 Spanish mayors are facing corruption charges. Not to mention the arrest of five Customs officers for abuse of their position. It’s really no great wonder that the perception of widespread corruption exists. Both domestically and abroad. The last point on this is that a Spanish columnist this week wrote that the real problem here is not so much that money disappears into the pockets of individuals but that it simply evaporates through extravagance and wastefulness [despilfarro]. Possibly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were commissions payable on its evaporation.

All that said, the truth is that Spain is a great country, full of wonderful people. One thing it isn’t, though, is a terribly efficient/productive place. In fact, of the ten or eleven major EU economies surveyed by the European central bank, Spain only ranked higher than Portugal against this parameter. Which rather takes me back to President Z’s possibly-rash boasts in New York this week that Spain’s per capita income – having already overtaken Italy’s – will be passing that of both France and Germany within the next few years. I know there’s no direct correlation between these but it does make one wonder whether major structural deficiencies are being tackled. Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure Spain still ranks number one for the ability to have fun, either because you have a job or are living with/off your parents. Which just about covers everyone, I believe.

Interesting to see that the celebrity judge, Sr Garzon, is now calling for the names of not just Republican victims of the Civil War but also for those of Nationalists killed by the Republicans in Madrid. Perhaps this is a sop to the Catholic Church to persuade it to cough up the information it has on the former.


Talking of extravagance and wastefulness, there’s a City of Culture on a hill outside Santiago which is generally regarded as a white elephant. And a monument to the long-ruling gauleiter of Galicia, Manuel Fraga, still active in his late 80s in the Senate. Taking a view on the status of the city, a UNESCO body has just upset its burghers by stating baldly that it isn’t really a good idea to be planning a cable car between the city and Fragatown. The rest of us possibly couldn’t agree more.

The football team of our coastal town, Villagarcia, is called O Ingleses, The English. This reflects the long connection the place has with the British navy. And, doubtless, the money spent in the town’s various establishments. Which practice has just been restored, after a three year lay-off. As it were.

Well, still no internet. And this after 25 minutes on the phone with today, ending when the technician said “Oops, our net has just gone down. Call back in twenty minutes.” Impressive, eh? Is it genuine or is it just a ruse to make you to spend even more time on a premium-rate call? One does get a little cynical and my guess is it’s the standard ploy for when you’ve gone through all the easy possibilities and can’t think of what else to tell the client. Much more consumer sensitive than just putting the phone down.

Finally – Super Bark Stop update: A quiet night suggests that placing the machine a couple of metres from the dog’s nose [and ears] is effective. But a sample of one is useless. So, on with the show!


David Jackson said...

While on the comment in inefficiency and lack of joined up government...
Yesterday I heard a minister suggesting that everybody should only buy Spanish made toys for Christmas, and whereever possible buy Spanish made products to "stimulate the national economy".
Today, a complaint from the Spanish Textile Industry, saying that the Guardia Civil are buying their 2009 uniforms from China, bypassing the Spanish industry. At least it should make up for banning all milk based Chinese sweets.

Anonymous said...

Well, I hope both cases you mention are the extremes of the figure. Marbella City Council had become what is told here "una casa de p...." :-D . Allowing that situation for so many years would be the current equivalent of the famous Casablanca scene of the police exclamating "I'm shocked! Gambling is going on in here!"

And I presume you are talking about Carlos Fabra in Castellón province. I think that "cacique" (What would be the English equivalent? ) falls extremely short if you look for a description. He is from a race of its own. If you noticed the funny jokes about Chuck Norris spread over internet (i.e. "Chuck Norris Facts") you will understand another funny adptation, "Carlos Fabra Facts". You can read Escolar blog (from the director of the left-winged journal Público), and figure out the whole thing:

These are extremes, although I had to agree that everyone here assumes that there is at least a low-level corruption associeated to each city hall. It has also relation with the construction business. But, in the other hand, it is not a widespread phenomenon in all fields. For example, I think there would not be noticeable differences with other countries in, say, police, customs, health system corruption. Well, to be honest, it is only my supposition, and I certainly have "poco mundo" :-D

Changing the subject, there are more evidences of the English influence in Villagarcía. ¡They have a rugby team!

Finally, I'm also suffering a poor quality ADSL connection these days, and this could be one of the causes:

Nonetheless, in your case, to hold several days without connection is not reasonable in any way.

Colin said...


Yes, I agree with you [and with Moscow] that corruption is essentially absent from everyday life but that there is nobody who doesn't think it's present in their town hall. The real problem is that they seem to think this doesn't affect them.

I very much appreciate your comment re We did ask them whether there was a 'general' problem but they denied it. My computer tells me everything is OK with my hardware and there is a connection but I cannot connect with's servers, perhaps because of the DNS problem.

Pontevedra has a rugby team as well! Quite a good one, I believe.

Colin said...


Yes, I saw the news re the uniforms this morning. Quite amusing.

Tom said...

There are bits of Spain, and Spanish companies, that are at the forefront of technological, business and financial development. As someone who works for a successful Spanish company, I understand the reference to Spain's economic position but I do wish that Spain would be more proud of its many success stories. This is a country which offers many opportunities.

Colin said...


Thanks for this.

I appreciate that Galicia is not Catalunia nor the Basque Country, where things are generally said to be much more efficient. As in Madrid, I guess.

As for companies, I, for one, would be interested to hear which Spanish companies/industries rank as world beaters. Inditex [Zara], of course, I know. And Banco Santander is obviously riding high. Telefonica is extrememly active and profitable but I feel about it exactly as I used to about BT before the UK market was opened up.

Other companies have a high-ish profile but essentially because they've madea apile for construction and gone on a spending spree. Ferrovial, for example.

I'd be perfectly happy to cite a list of forefront companies in a future blog. I'm aware of a tendency towards negativity . . . .

moscow said...

List of companies, all of them active internationally, some leaders in their field of action, none of them are, stricly speaking, in construction or banking, or are privatised utilities, all of them are fairly large:

1) Mango
2) Acerinox
3) Abengoa
4) Isofoton
5) Irizar
6) Mondragon
7) Roca
8) Indra
9) Ficosa
10) Antolin
11) Nicolas Correa
12) Mapfre
13) NH hotels
14) Porcelanosa
15) Gamesa
16) Mecalux
17) Sol Melia
18) Barcelo
19) Puig
20) Cie-automotive
21) Amper
22) Prisa
23) Consentino
24) Zeltia
25) Ebro-Puleva
26) SOS-cuetara

Anyone one can add to this list, if she/he so wishes. Colin, Sure Spain is no Germany or Japan, but it still is the world'd 8th, 9th,
10th (doesn't really matter) largest economy, and that with a population of only 44 million, and virtually zero natural resources to speak of. Because you have never really worked in Spain, you have a stunted view on things. I find it extremely prejudiced.