Friday, June 05, 2009

Can it really get much worse for Gordon Brown? Has anyone ever seen a government crumble in front of their eyes before? No wonder the Westminster village is agog. Even beats the Thatcher defenestration, I suspect.

Here in Spain, President Zapatero has been able to pull a rabbit from the hat just before the European elections on Sunday. After months of rising steeply, the unemployment figures suddenly dropped last month, we’re told. But even the government-supporting El País finds this a tad hard to credit, pointing out the numbers were ‘early’ and hadn’t been seasonally adjusted. Needless to say, the Opposition merely accused the President of lying. But that’s what they say about all his utterances. And vice-versa. One irony is that quite a few of us were sceptical about the bad numbers, suspecting they were not as awful as painted. If so, I guess it wasn’t very difficult for the government to indulge in a bit of sleight-of-hand when it most suited it. But, that said, statistics are not generally believed here. Which is why it amuses me so much that they’re often given to two decimal points.

Contemplating my bad luck of the last two weeks, I got to thinking about how and why things go wrong in Spain. In a nutshell, it tends to be when you want some after-sales service, especially technical. As a Spanish friend said when I relayed my comment about good customer service here amounting to giving bad news with a smile, the reply was “No. Good service here is getting any answer at all.”. Putting this another way, thanks to very rapid growth, Spain probably lacks a depth of infrastructure commensurate with its wealth and economic ranking. But, anyway, all this got me pondering where Spain would have a competitive edge in international markets. And my inevitable conclusion was that it would be where products and services didn’t need any follow-up. In other words, things that are consumed, enjoyed and forgotten about, most obviously wine, food and tourism. All of which just happen to fit with the national obsession for having fun. Which I don’t suppose is a coincidence.

But this is just what it says on the label – a Thought from Galicia. I won’t be very upset if anyone shoots it to pieces. Honest.

One obvious exception has just occurred to me – Aren’t some excellent shotguns made here? Though I don’t suppose after-sales service matters very much once a beautiful piece has blown up in your face.

None of this is to say there are no excellent operators here in Spain, corporate and private. The plumber who worked at my house for eight hours this week was a good example of the latter. Almost impossible to tie down but superb when he finally turned up. I asked him if he were a perfectionist – there are some here – and he replied “No. For example it really annoys me I can’t do the brickwork as well as a bricklayer. But I do like to do the very best job possible.” I rest my case.

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