Thursday, December 31, 2009

Access to the net is still intermittent. So, later than they would otherwise have been, here are some Thoughts about Spain while driving between Pontevedra and Palencia, 23.12.09

So much of life in Spain is a mystery. This is hardly a new observation, I’m sure. But you can only begin to understand things here when you grasp the Spanish concept of time. Which is another way of saying their priorities.

Is it too much to say that Spain’s solid economic growth of the last 40 years – and especially the artificial boom of the last decade – has resulted in a politico-commercial complex which is redolent of the robber baron era of late 19th century America? Or the carpetbagger years of Iran in the early 70s? Or Contemporary Russia? Has money been made too easily by men of the ilk of the guy who heads the association of businessmen, who owns the just-collapsed Air Comet airline and who has defaulted on loans of 26.5m euros which he may well have fraudulently obtained in the first place? Or by companies such as Telefónica, which has made millions for its managers and investors in South America but which still declines to give you a phone line or the internet if you live a mere ten kilometres from town? Have these people and companies got fat during times when it was easy to exploit both employees and customers? Will they now struggle with the rather tougher challenge of managing low growth and even decline? I imagine so. Especially if and when the EU subventions tap is turned off in 2013. Can bad political and managerial habits really be changed quickly? I rather doubt it and fear for the consequences for Spain. Where it will now be rather more difficult to make an easy killing (the pelotazo) or to get something for nothing. Most obviously in the construction industry, I guess.

Incidentally, you can see Graeme’s profile of the above businessman here. You don’t have to be a socialist to agree with him on this issue. That said, I’m sure I must rank as left-of-centre in Spain and that the longer I live here the more likely I’ll vote for the PSOE.

Meanwhile, if you want another corporate example to go alongside Telefónica, see this post from David Jackson on his local electricity company, Endesa.

And talking of trying to get something for nothing . . . I recently posted a brief essay by my Dutch friend Peter Missler on the Spanish love of lotteries. Reader Alberto took exception to this and you can read his thoughts (and his after-thoughts) in the Comments to the post of 21 December. I’d just like to add the observation that not all forms of gambling are the same. Some of them – horse-racing and poker, for example – can involve a good deal of research and/or skill. Which, of course, reduce the odds against you. This is not true of a lottery. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to increase the odds in your favour. Which probably explains why it’s hard – impossible even – to envisage a professional gambler basing his career around buying lottery tickets. If he did, he’d be less of a gambler than a complete idiot. I think this is what surprises some of us most about the money spent on lotteries in Spain. If you really want to gamble, there are better ways of doing it. Though, as I say, these can involve hard work. And perhaps this is where Peter had it most right. Or was it someone else (John Hooper?) who said that the Spanish have a touching belief in the ability to get something for nothing.

Backtracking a bit . . . It is, of course, possible for an entire country to operate as a robber baron as well. As in the case of traffic fines in Spain. It’s been one of joys of being in France over the last week to drive along country roads where the speed signs are clear and consistent. And not deliberately misleading so as to facilitate state-sponsored theft.

Finally . . . I’ve often wondered why the Spanish virtually spit out the letter P. My comment about Palencia and Valencia the other day gave me the answer to this conundrum. If you don’t spit it out, it’ll be taken for a V or a B. As when a friend asked me to meet him in Café Van Goch and I spent half an hour looking for a place called Bangkok. Well, not really as there’s no P in either of these. But it’s nice little story . . .

And still on Spanish, can anyone explain when someone would “Cuando iba siendo . . . ” instead of “Cuando estaba . . . ”?

Happy New Year to all.

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