Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A couple of years or so ago, the Spanish government introduced new benefits for family carers. Or, rather, they introduced a scheme and then, as far as I can make out, left the regional governments to get on with implementing it. Or not, in some cases. As with the anti-smoking laws of 2006. And, presumably the tougher anti-smoking laws of ‘sometime this year’. Now, you might think the most nationalistic regions would be the worst at sticking two fingers up at Madrid; but the prize for being the most contrary must, it seems, go the Madrid region, which surrounds the capital city. Whether this is a political issue or a financial issue - or the former dressed up as the latter – I really can’t say. But it does make you wonder just how governable the increasingly pluralist Spanish state is.

And then there’s the infamous land abuse laws and practices which President Zapatero this week implied were really something we couldn’t expect him to do anything about, no matter how much Brussels threatened sanctions, if not. So, sometimes Madrid proposes and the regions dispose. And sometimes it’s the other way round. Either way, important things fall down between huge cracks. And yet there are still some apparently sane people who aspire to be President. Must be the perks.

In more than nine years here, I can’t recall a single shopkeeper ever saying to me “No, I’m sorry. We don’t have that. Can I order you one?” The conversation normally runs:-
Do you have one of these?
Can you order me one?
Yes. (Takes a number you know will never be called).
(Wait a few seconds)
So, when is it likely to be in?
Try in a week or so.

And still on customer service . . . A Dutch friend tells me an American friend of his asserts it takes an average of three visits to your bank here to get something done. Well, this was certainly my experience with one of the two banks I mentioned last week. And the information promised at the second visit still wasn’t available. I like to think they drew a lesson from my decision not to place money with them. But I rather doubt it. I felt sorry for the young lady, who did her best but was let down, she implied, by regional management. Who may be a bit too far from the coalface. At least when it comes to impatient Anglo clients.

But some positive customer service news . . . Given my unhappy dealings with the Spanish subsidiary of Carrefour over the years, I wasn’t looking forward to asking them today if they could give me a copy of the bill for an item on my credit card statement. But they were pleasant and ran off a copy within a couple of minutes. Of course, today’s technology makes this very easy but I was still as impressed as I was pleasantly surprised.

Sometimes you wonder if what you’re reading in Spain can really be true. It’s been said that cheating at exams is a way of student life here but it was still breathtaking to see Sevilla university were planning to soften their attitude to this and allow examinees caught in flagrante delicto to stay on and take their exams again. Again, perhaps it was a finance-driven decision but, anyway, they’ve now seen sense and reversed it. It’s one thing to condone skulduggery but another to do it officially. They say , of course, their announcement was ‘misinterpreted’.

Finally . . . Some friends of mine last night told me I pronounce the local place names with a Gallego accent. Which means, if José is right, that I must be that most miserable of creatures – a dyed-in-the-wool Spanish nationalist who speaks like a Galician nationalist.

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