Saturday, September 02, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 2.9.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain
  • The French president this week said that France was the only major economy in the Europe Union that has not beaten mass unemployment. As someone has commented, M Macron seems to be unaware that the jobless rate is 11.3% in Italy and 17.1% in Spain.
  • I cited a list of Spanish curses and swearwords on Wednesday. As it happens, I've just read this in a novel about a family in Mojácar, recommended to me by Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas, who's lived there or thereabouts for more years than he'd probably care to admit. It's a comment on the wife of the main character:- His mother had only one defect, stemming from her past. And, despite the efforts of his father, she hadn't been able to overcome it over the years. It was true that she didn't drink alcohol or smoke, despite having done so as a young woman. She'd also kept her pre-marriage to his father never again to sing or dance in public. But she'd never been able to control her tongue. She swore constantly, even to the extent of blaspheming, wheresoever and in front of whomsoever. Nothing was ever perfect: "I shit on god and the virgin!" or "I curse the milk that Jesus sucked!" were phrases just as much in daily use as "Fucking communion host!" and "Cunt!" and so on  . . . Quite a woman, then.
  • See below for my second day of dealing with Spanish bureaucracy.

In the USA in 1960, 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats said they'd be displeased if their son or daughter married a member of the other party. In 2010, the percentages were 49 and 33 respectively. Which rather fits with the article below on the deterioration of public discourse in the UK.

Guess with which word the folk of Wisconsin have greatest difficulty spelling. Yes, it's Wisconsin. According to Google Trends, anyway.

There was an interesting new development on Facebook yesterday. Not one but two (very) scantily dressed young women said to be living here in Galicia (Ourense and Ribadesella) invited me to become their friend and offered me their web pages. Needless to say, I didn't take up either of these and 'reported' the ladies to FB. I wonder if anything will happen.

Finally . . . For those readers confused as to why I and other Brits aren't give a plasticised residence card (tarjeta de residencia) as ID here in Spain, here's the explanation I gave last night to my La Coruña friend, Eamon: What happened is that several years ago a group of stupid Brits protested against being forced to have an ID card. So the Spanish government said, "OK. You can have/keep your NIE number but we'll stop giving you cards and give you just a certificate." This doesn't have a foto and says explicitly on the top of it that it can't be used to prove identity. Instead, Brits have to carry a passport or a driving licence or the like. Cards ceased to be issued after 2011 or thereabouts but I kept mine and have still used it since then. In 6 years, only one person - a notary - queried it, after noticing it had expired. Luckily, I had on file a colour copy of both sides of my card. So, yesterday I cut the bits out and glued them together, and then had the 'card' laminated. I used it 4 times this morning to prove my identity. As you say the NIE number is the same as it was on the tarjeta de residencia and as it is on the (useless) A4 size certificate now given to Brits instead of same. I wish I knew who the stupid Brits were so that I could put a contract out on them. Reader Sierra has opined that they were the original moaning, non-integrating Brexiteers but, then, I've begun to  suspect from his comments that he has a rather one-dimensional idea of those who want the UK out of the EU. Perhaps less so after he's read the article below.

Today's Cartoon:


10.30: I set out for town, armed with my new (fake) ID card and the 5 copies of all the documents I made on Thursday morning.

10.40: I present the Xunta/Sergas form to the woman in La Caixa bank, along with the €10.10 payment for a new national/regional health insurance card. Naturally, she asks to see my ID. She then stamps the 3 copies of the form and tells me one is for me and one is for my medical centre. I have to go back there and give them this so a new card can be sent to me. I guess this is because no one is trusted to take the cash there and so avoid me having to go back and forth. But I am happy because I have today done in a couple of minutes what I wasn't able to do in 30 minutes in the BBVA bank the previous day. And didn't even try to do in Santander.

10.45: I present my new debit card to the bank's ATM and am relieved to finally get some of the cash I need to pay back my about-to-arrive daughter. I am now even happier.

10.47: On the way out, I realise this isn't the bank that I waited in 15 minutes the previous day. That was the next-door A Banca. No wonder the woman there was non-plussed when I asked about their current account and - thinking I was in one of their branches - stressed that my daughter was happy with La Caixa bank.

10.55: I present myself at the library and ask re a new card. Naturally, I'm again asked for my ID and then given a form to fill in, even though my details are on the computer – as we've just established after the usual confusion as to which are my names and which is my surname. I fill in the form and return it to the librarian. She then asks me for a photo. Needless to say, I am prepared for this but wonder why on earth it's necessary for something as trivial as a library card. She takes it, writes something on the back of it and then gives me the good news that I will get it back when I come to collect my new card next week. I am overjoyed but tell her it hardly matters as I have 20 of them.

11.15: I go again to Banco Popular to see if I can talk to one of my previous advisers about returning to Popular/Santander. One of them is there this time but is with a client. So I take one of her cards and say I'll write to her.

11.25: I present myself to guy in Mapfre and ask for a new health insurance card. He asks for my ID, enters the computer and then gives me certificate with all my details on and advises the new card will be sent to my house. He then reminds me we've chatted before about car and house insurance. I fob him off with an assurance I'll come and talk to him again next April, when my car insurance comes up for renewal. He gives me his card.

12.04: I take a ticket from the machine at the (crowded) office of El Tráfico, so that I can enquire about an appointment next week to seek a new driving licence. It has the iconic number 1066. . . After 20 minutes I'm called to the Information desk. The woman there tells me I need to phone to make an appointment or to go on the web page. She gives me the number and the URL typed on a little bit of paper. This obviously isn't the first time she's done this. I tell her I've tried on the web page but fallen foul of the fact that I don't have an electronic ID. To my pleasant surprise she asks for my ID, goes onto her computer and then – after a chat with 2 of her colleagues about something unrelated – she gives me two A4 pieces of paper. One is details of my appointment next Friday and the other is the form to fill in. Another success. Sometimes – well, nearly always – it's a good policy in Spain not to take No for an answer. Unfortunately, this is the standard passive Brit approach. Which I've learned to slough off.

12.45: I arrive at my regular bar and order my breakfast of a coffee and a slice of cake. All in all, it's been quite a successful morning. And I can relax until Monday, when I will go back to the medical centre and to the railway station to try to get a duplicate of my discount card ahead of taking the night train to Madrid in a week or so.

I am most happy that my fake ID card has been accepted 4 times in one morning. But I had expected that, based on the experience of the last 6 years. Now – advised by reader María - I'm contemplating doing the same with my (expired) driving licence. Apparently the police are happy to use this to check on their computer that I have a current licence. Meaning I don't have to pay to get another one until the expiry date on it. Whatever that is.


Our national political discourse has reached a new low: I name the three guilty parties

Naively, after the referendum, I thought it would improve. Instead, it’s getting worse by the day. 

Political debate has become noxious in Britain, from the Cabinet table to the kitchen table.

Politics has always been fractious. In recent times, however, it’s become truly ghastly. One could trace this trend back to any number of causes, but high on the list of culprits must be the fashion for “safe spaces”.

These were meant to be there for serious, personal matters – the shrink’s couch, the doctor’s office, the battered women’s shelter. But now, pious university students have expanded the idea much further, making it a guiding principle for public debate.

A hallmark of this trend is that the politically active surround themselves exclusively with affirmation and agreement, allowing them to dismiss challenging views as hurtful, malevolent or simply idiotic. 

This requires citizens to become neurotics, whereby political opponents are not people of alternative experiences and attitudes, but agents of corrupt influence, peddling their evil ideas in bad faith.
Depressingly, the current Cabinet seems to be living up precisely to this image, fighting their bitter battle for power in plain sight.

Scale it up and you have a whole nation believing the worst of its neighbours. You have student “equality” officers, like Jason Osamede Okundaye at Cambridge University, who can declare, apparently without irony, that “all white people are racist”.

You have the efforts of Momentum, the Corbynista activist brigade, whose latest video invites us to hate a well-to-do family of English hypocrites as they quaff prosecco and criticise ordinary people for liking Corbyn over dinner in a suburban garden. Text periodically flashes up: this one inherited money from his father, it says. He’ll be first against the wall, it means, but doesn’t say.

It would be comforting to think that this is a disease confined to the Left. But it isn’t any more, if it ever was. The Brexit campaign helped to spread it on the Right, too. Leave campaigners made a deliberate choice to impugn the motives of all who favoured Remain not because they really believed that every Remainer was, at heart, a corrupt shill in the pay of Brussels, but because it polled well.

They took a germ of truth (that the liberal establishment was locked into a pro-EU groupthink) and turned it into a widespread calumny. This presented the referendum as a straightforward choice between virtue and sleaze, rather than a decision between various principles and risks.

Now, with the battle for Brexit still going at full throttle, a certain minority of the Brexiteers have morphed from Eurosceptics into Eurocynics. Rather than casting a sceptical eye on politics, as befits a sophisticated voter, the Eurocynic judges every move by the reductionist philosophy of “us” (the true believers) and “them” (the quislings).

In this outlook, Brexit gradualism cannot possibly be the product of calculated trade-offs in a very complex situation, but part of what Nigel Farage calls “the great Brexit betrayal”. This conveniently ignores the voices of many reasonable Brexiteers, like Michael Gove, who are trying to deliver Brexit in a cost-efficient and legally sound manner. As with the hard Left, the priority is ideological purity, not sound policy, and to disagree is treason.

This doesn’t exist in isolation, of course. There is now another, newer group of purists entering the fray, the group I currently find most galling, perhaps because of their novelty and prevalence in London, where I live. These are the self-defined “centrists”, or the rabid “stop Brexit” types, who have forgotten that “the centre” isn’t just where you wish it to be; it relates to what people in the country actually think.

These anti-Brexiteers seem determined to marginalise themselves by their breathtaking displays of contempt for anyone who disagrees with them. Whereas the hard Leftist deploys shame and the Eurocynic talks of betrayal, the rabid “centrist” shuts down debate with sheer derision. Her opponents are dismissed simply as morons – or racists. What makes this group all the more irritating is that they aspire to ideals that their behaviour routinely contradicts. They are, in theory, open to debate and nuance. They say they are guided by evidence and facts. Being proved wrong, however (on the immediate Brexit recession, for example), does not even give them pause. Fixated on the lies told by Brexit campaigners, they are hardly conscious of the long, grand lie of the EU, which claims that it isn’t trying to build a superstate. Having so much credibility staked on their position, they cannot back away.

This position is not just guided by facts, though. It’s a profoundly emotional reaction to losing control of our politics, a deep-seated sense of unease about the values and mores of their countrymen and an anxiety about what they see as an attack on their identity as global citizens.

Being the most internationally connected, this group both feed and are fed by a similar contempt for Britain abroad. God knows, with our government making such a fool of itself, this isn’t hard to find – but it goes beyond mere mockery.

When foreigners proclaim that Britain is about to start institutionally persecuting Poles or stifling judicial independence, these hard Remainers believe and propagate these absurdities, filled with fear of their own country, which they barely know.

This, then, is the state of our public discourse: three Balkanised groups hating one another. The majority might well lie between them, the people of all stripes who remember how to engage meaningfully with their political opponents, but they are shouted down by the fervent extremes.

The toxic atmosphere is making reasonable people withdraw. The soft leftists I know are leaving politics. Brexit-divided families have banished political chat from the dining table. Encountering a dogmatic specimen of any type, I myself have become reluctant to engage, weary of the tidal wave of opprobrium coming my way.

This isn’t good for a democracy. It is no doubt enabled by sophisticated technological tools allowing us to build our own online, echo chambers. Everyone needs to commiserate with their political compatriots sometimes. But beliefs aren’t sacrosanct.

They must be argued for, rather than being protected by the delusion that all dissenters are cruel, stupid or corrupt. Otherwise, when all the reasonable people quit politics, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.


Sierra said...

Beware with driving licences - Trafico no longer send out renewal reminders.

Meanwhile, a dim light at the end of a long Brexit tunnel, albeit "provisional":

Colin Davies said...

No, but the company which makes money from testing me will!

Colin Davies said...

And the medical cover development was inevitable, in my estimation. The British government has alwats paid for this, of course - contrary to the perception of most Spaniards. it's not a charge on the Spanish taxpayer.

Sierra said...

...and it's probably cheaper overall to pay the Spanish healthcare costs than having pensioners returning to UK and adding to the NHS problems

Colin Davies said...

Yes, indeed. Another bit of reality!

Lenox said...

I'll send you the name of the Brit - some fellow from the Costa Blanca.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

My heart bleeds for your loss, and for the Odyssey through a bureaucratic East Med that it condemns you to. But are you absolutely sure that your wallet was stolen? I have this 'intuition', let's say; and so I know that guys of our age and drinking habits frequently put things away in unexpected and unremembered places. So, did you check your bag of dirty linen, for instance??


Eamon said...

Sorry to pop your balloon PsychologicAl but guys our age can't even remember if we have a wallet.