Thursday, January 29, 2009

There was a ninth Spanish element to our experience at the Caixa Galicia film show the other night but I kept it back as it had nothing to do with the national tendency to ignore both rules and the interests of strangers. The room of around 100 seats was set up in a horseshoe of three sections, each of them with its own large TV screen. When we arrived, there was only one person in each section but, fifteen minutes later when the film started, most of the 17 people were concentrated in just one of the sections. And the majority of latecomers also found their way – in the dark – to this side of the horseshoe. The reason for this is that – in absolute contrast to the Brits – the Spanish will always gravitate to where there are already people standing, sitting or – in the case of the beach – lying. I believe they do this without thinking and I guess it’s a reflection of their immense sociability. But it’s a bit of a bloody nuisance in a restaurant when you’re the first two diners and the next couple or foursome to enter automatically sit at the table right next to yours, depriving you of the peace and quiet which, as a Brit, you were rather hoping for.

In a superb BBC podcast on the history of history I listened to today, one of the contributors said it was a thing of marvel that, of 100 fiercely independent cities in ancient Greece, 30 of them managed to get together to defeat the invading Persians. God know why but I suddenly thought of modern Spain.

Anyway, the cost of renting properties in Spanish cities has fallen by 7% in the last year, though not here in Galicia, where it’s actually gone up by 8%. I’m mystified as to why this should be so but – given the number of flat blocks springing up all over the capital city, I wasn’t surprised to read that rates have declined in the Pontevedra province. Meaning, of course, they must have risen by more than 8% in the other three provinces of the region.

On a day when it’s reported that the IMF expects Britain’s recession to be worse than anywhere else, it’s good news that The Times’ financial pundit insists the ‘more-flexible’ Anglo-Saxon economies will climb out of the slough of despond quicker than others. The bad news is that he has an appalling record for accuracy with his forecasts. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wrong and several commentators have pointed out, for example, it’s mistaken to say the UK has no manufacturing businesses surviving from the Thatcher era and so is woefully dependent on the devastated financial sector.

Spain’s Consumers’ Union confirms that I’m not the only person in the country to have received an inordinately high electricity bill this month. One suggestion is that we’ve all had [excessive] estimates of consumption now that billing has become monthly, on top of a 3.5% increase in the unit price. But, as a letter in one of papers pointed out a couple of days ago, this goes nowhere near explaining increases of up to 100%. The Consumers’ Union complains that the electricity companies have provided insufficient information but my preferred word would be ‘nil’. Which, I’m afraid, is par for the course. And my guess is it’ll be decades, rather than merely years, before competition means that consumers are treated as people who have a choice.

Talking of electricity . . . There were massive power cuts throughout Galicia during the recent storms and some poor folk are still without power three or four days later. It got me thinking it would be more appealing for the current administration to promise that every home in the region would have a fixed phone and uninterrupted electricity throughout the year by 2013, rather than a GDP equivalent to the EU average. But I guess this would be to admit that, after four years of them being in power, there are still parts of rural Galicia more akin to the Third World than to Western Europe.

Finally, I was amused to read that “Colchester Council has started charging for sacks given out for recycling garden waste after these were spotted being used as saddlebags on a donkey in Spain.” This sort of entrepreneurship is surely what the British economy needs right now.


mike the trike said...

Each household in Colchester was issued with three white bags which had two loop handles and to be used for grass, leaves etc. When the dustmen picked them up they never bothered to return them to the correct house and left them strewn around and on windy days you could find your bags half way down the road. Colchester was written on the sides and a place for writing the house number. The bags are quite strong and can hold a lot. Just right for saddle bags.

Colin said...

I've always wanted one or two of these . . .

Midnight Golfer said...

Again, your observations have put into words those things I've noticed since moving here, without knowing how to explain.
You made me think of a business in Spain that I always appreciated (when I could afford it): the movie theatre in Madrid, Kinepolis, assigns you your seat on your ticket stub, and if you come early enough you can choose which row they assign you.

I wonder if there are any two countries, with such different cultures, that get along so well as Spain and UK?
I am sincere. I think it is a tribute to modern western civilization.

Canada and US don't count. The language and culture make it too easy to expect.

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