Friday, September 10, 2010

I’ve always rather envied people who can take up unequivocal positions at one end of the spectrum of attitudes around an important issue. Whether this is bullfighting or the state of the global economy. On the former, a couple of close friends are about to start a dialogue which I will observe as an ambivalent bystander. On the latter, I was pleased – well, relieved really – to read today that “One of Britain’s most successful industrialists” had admitted to a columnist that he had “no idea what’s really going on.” The writer went on to add that “The message from financial markets is horribly ambivalent.” Which was music to my ears, as I reeled from Charles Butler’s latest post over at IBEX Salad. I mean, I’m sure Charles is right but – not for the first time - I wish I could understand why. Or even the point he’s making.

Talking of both conviction and the Spanish economy, the Vice President responsible for the latter says she’s sure Spain won’t return to recession. So, does she know something we don’t? If so, I think we should be told. Perhaps she's been reading IBEX Salad and understands it. If not, God help us.

The Spanish I contend – are rather un-ruley, giving the impression they don’t have much truck with regulations they find personally inconvenient. Or as Angel Ganivet once put it “Every Spaniard’s ideal is to carry a statutory letter with a single provision, brief but imperious: ‘This Spaniard is entitled to do whatever he feels like doing.’” The other explanation, of course, is that they do comply with laws, but only those they think there’s a fair chance they’ll be penalised for breaking. I think of this whenever I see one of the (countless) drivers with a mobile phone to his or her ear. My suspicion is most of these simply don’t accept this is dangerous. But here we come up against an attitude towards and an assessment of risk which are rather more pragmatic than in Anglo cultures. Rightly or wrongly.

Another thing I’m confused about is the number of police forces in Spain and what they do. There seem to be at least four, possibly five, ranging from the very local to the very national. With the Traffic Corps on top of all these. I pondered this again when I read today that one police officer had fined another (possibly from a regional, provincial or local force) for not having his seat belt on when chasing some alleged gangster along a road near Sevilla. A propos – the Galician Nationalist party (the BNG) has just suffered another reverse in its campaign to establish that Galicia/Galiza is a real (de facto, at least) nation by virtue of the delegation from Madrid of responsibility for traffic control. I believe this is already the case in the Basque Country. And possibly in Cataluña as well. If not, it soon will be.

I’ve just checked and the officer stopped and fined was with a/the national police force and his nemesis was with the Civíl Guard. Tráfico Department, I guess. Not the most popular of folk.

Finally . . . As my blog-friend Anthea and I regularly say, the airport at Oporto down in North Portugal continues to thrive while Galicia’s three international minnows continue to struggle. Taking sensible (but irritating) advantage of this, the (bankrupt) Portuguese government is now putting tolls on all the fast roads to both Oporto and its airport. Worse, these won’t have pay booths. You’ll have to buy a ‘box’ and charge it with pre-payments before you make your journey. If not, you’ll be hit with a massive 600 euro fine. Understandably, the Galician Xunta sees this as an unfriendly act. So do I but I’m rather more worried about where/if I can get the box here in Spain and how to pre-charge it. Or, alternatively, how long it would take me to get to Oporto via the country roads. Which may now be rather more crowded than previously. Could be the bus or train to Vigo for all my future visitors.

Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published four chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being a novelist. And the father of a novelist.

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Anonymous said...

I also don't think Spain is going back into recession. Lowish growth yes, but no recession.

About your previous point that Britain is more meritocratic than Spain: granted there is the enchufismo thing in Spain but let's not exaggerate.
And Britain has the "class" issue which amazingly still persists - even if it has mutated and evolved over the years. I wonder whether that doesn't even out things a bit. I would say it does.

CafeMark said...

There is a huge emphasis on networking in British business circles, because it's "not what you know, it's who you know". The top directors, politicans, judges etc will always tend to have the public school/oxbridge connections. I don't believe it's different in any country tbh (although people tell me France is even more restricted by which school you went to), and so fail to see your point.

Colin said...

Hola, Moscow.

I was hoping you'd write. But not about this. I was hoping you'd, first, tell me (again) I'm an idiot, for not understanding IBEX Salad and then, secondly, explain it all for my/our benefit.

Anyway, you might be right about class in the UK but you're talking to the wrong person. I was born working class, lived on a council estate and rose to a high position in what was then Britain's largest company. As I might have said before, I have never come up against class barriers or snobbery in the UK workplace. But a sample of one, as they say, is useless.

Colin said...


Top jobs tend to go to the most able. In British society, these tend to go to private schools and the best universities.

But I have several (very able) friends in very senior business and legal positions who didn't.

But, anyway, my point was that the need to have a connection applies to all levels of jobs in Spain, even the lowest. What it usually means is that the best quaified don't get the job. Mainly because this isn't usually the primary criterion.

Minor example - you don't see many secretary/PA jobs advertised in Spain. Actually, there aren't many adverts in local papers at all. Unless you want to be a waiter/waitress or a whore.

moscow said...

"I was hoping you'd, first, tell me (again) I'm an idiot".
I have never ever even suggested anything similar. But you obviously like to box shadows.

To be honest, I didn't understand Ibex Salad either.

Colin, perhaps you "were born working class", but I seem to remember that you went to private/public/catholic school and said you lost your scouse accent in early childhood, therefore, I assume you speak RP.
Then you went to one of Britain's top universities. I am sorry, but you actually are example of precisely the opposite of what you think you are - whatever means your parents found to send you to such school. Only 10% of people go to private schools in the UK. 50% of Oxbridge intake comes from private schools. I guess I don't have to remind you how many of Britain's top positions are held by Oxbridge graduates. It's not always who you know what counts but how much money your parents have certainly has an impact. And having the right accent helps. I would like to highlight out to you that 'having the right accent' is an alien concept in Spain, France, Germany, even in Russia.

I add to that that my own father - who died last year - was born during the civil war within a family of republican sympathisers of very modest means in a poor neighborhood. He rose to become a member of the board - at worldwide level - of a blue chip German multinational. I never heard him say that he was born working class and this - to ram in my point - is the difference between Spain (Europe) and the UK (or should I say England). The mere concept would have been alien to him.

I don't live in spain and have not for 24 years, but I find it hard to believe that jobs are given away as you suggest. I could fill the internet space with examples of the opposite. But I guess it would still be meaningless from a statistical point of view - and you would still insist in seeing a half-empty glass.

Spain's richest person, the owner of Zara, was born poor and rose through hard work and ingenuity to become what he became. Again, I bet it would never occur to him to use the phrase: "I was born working class".

Rudy Vinyl said...

You done Your home- work. 
Spot on. 

Colin said...

Oh dear, Moscow.

1. Google treated your message as spam. Happily, I rescued it.

2. "Do you know what you are talking about" looks like an accusation of stupidity to me. Well ignorance, I suppose.

3. Of course I never went to a private school. We were poor. My mother even sold our Coronation crowns the day after the government gave them to us in 1953. I went to a Catholic primary school and then a Catholic grammar school. There were no fees. And a lot of the kids there, from the docks of Birkenhead, were a lot poorer (and rougher) than me. I went on to the U. of London, on pure merit (my A levels) and lost my scouse accent there. Eventually. Though I probably had the edges taken off it doing VSO in the Seychelles(yes!)before I went to London.

Which all rather knocks a big hole in your argument in respect of me as an example.

Possibly you are confused by my writing that I paid for private education for my two daughters. Neither of whom opted for a high-flying profession or for business and are now both teachers.

This is the first time I have ever referred to my origins in my life. In response to comments here.

But make of it what you will.

I'm not the slightest bit interested in defending the UK against your comments/criticisms but am interested in what you say about Spain.

But, of course, isolated examples prove nothing - either way.

Colin said...


OK, now on to accent.

I most definitely don't have an RP accent. By which I assume you mean BBC/Oxford English.

I have what most would call a mid-Atlantic accent, and my origins have defied everyone whom I've ever met who's essayed a guess. More importantly, I still use the flat Northern vowels, unlike my first wife, who came from London. My daughters, having been brought up in the North, retain these vowels as well. Despite private education, interstingly enough. So much for all that money I spent, if you are right!

I never heard anyone mention accent during my 30 years in business. But what I have noticed over an even longer period is the growing proliferation of local/regional accents on the TV and elsewhere in the UK. These are clearly no real barrier to success.

I have no idea what would be the "right accent" you refer to. Though I imagine it is the one which my elder daughter used to ridicule from the Hooray Henrys she used to meet at Oxford. I can't recall any of the Directors of the main board of ICI displaying it but there might have been one or two.

Now, my thoughts/observations on Spain - I'd just like to make the point that I speak to very, very few foreigners here. There aren't a lot of us in Pontevedra. Nearly all my conversations are with Spaniards. These - along with my reading - are the source of my information and these form the basis of my observations. Now, the latter may well be wrong - and sometimes must be - but they are not based on foreigner perceptions but on the comments and complaints of Spaniards/Galicians. And, of course, on my own perception of what is going on around me. I guess John Hooper is the only foreigner whose views I read, and occasionally re-read. But it's a long time since I dipped into The New Spaniards. I wonder what he says about meritocracy, if anything.

Finally, if you want to make the point that Spain is a more equal society than the UK, then I'm certainly not going to argue with you. But you'll have a hell of a job convincing me that Spain is anywhere near as meritocratic as the UK or the USA. Both of which societies have alternative evils to contend with.

PS Wouldn't people in Madrid find a thick Andaluz accent funny? Even unintelligible? I've certainly heard this complaint from Gallegos.

Mike the Traditionalist said...

I haven't heard my "Spanish" relatives mention anything about accents but I have found that lekaning left or right is most important as to how people might accept you. Here in Galicia it would appear everyone is "socialist" but live the life where they have everything you can think of and don't hesitate to spend thousands on a First Communion or Confirmation party. I am always being reminded of how hard it was under Franco. I don't believe in socialism without the full responsibility that it entails towards your fellow man and as for communism, well, if you want to live in a monestary where you don't own the rags on your back go for it.