Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 22.2.18

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.

  • Blimey! I've learned from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas this morning that a brave/foolhardy Dutchman has written a book - It is not what it is. The real (S)pain of Europe - which lists these 7 national shortcomings:-
  1. We lack information about what is happening around us
  2. Our ethics don't measure up to "Western ethics"
  3. We don't have a financial culture 
  4. No one assumes responsibilities 
  5. We don't take risks when it comes to new undertakings or adapting to change 
  6. We are short-sighted and decide things on the fly 
  7. The services offered by our companies and public administrations are a real disaster 
  • An immediate riposte has come  from Esteban Hernández in El Confidencial, entitled Why does the Anglo-Saxon world call us lazy? There's a Google translation of this below, tarted up only where it didn't make much sense. He makes some fair points, of course. The fairest being his final one, viz. that perhaps Spain should stop giving ammunition to her critics. BTW . . . I hope it isn't churlish to point out that a Dutchman doesn't merit the honour of being called 'Anglo-Saxon'
  • No specific mention is made of corruption. Which is a tad odd, given how prevalent it is in political and corporate circles, and how much it distorts things here. It might explain that, as Lenox points out: The 6 largest Spanish banks (Santander, BBVA, CaixaBank, Bankia, Sabadell and Bankinter) together have not paid a single euro for corporate income tax since the onset of the economic crisis, despite having earned €84,000 million in the meantime. On reflection, I guess corruption comes under the criticism of not sharing Western ethics.
  • Another negative is right-wing PP censorship. Of which this and this are the most recent examples.
  • And I wonder if the Dutch author deals with the decline of objectivity in the media here. Lenox Napier today makes a point I've heard from several seasoned readers - both Spanish and foreign: El País, created to be a centre-left newspaper, is now so beholden to its corporate owners that it prints fervently pro-conservative stories as a new standard. 
  • And then there's government large-scale mismanagement, for example in the area of pension funding. As Don Quijones says here: The national pension fund’s payout ratio (pension as percentage of final salary) is the second highest in Europe after Greece, but that is about to change in a very big way.
  • So, yes, there are things about Spain that the Spanish need to think seriously about. But, for now, let's be more positive . . . 
  1. Spain is doing its bit to ensure the survival of Ladino, the language of the Jews expelled in 1492.
  2. And here - from The Local, of course - are 6 reasons unrelated to the Alhambra for visiting Granada.
  • So President Fart's solution to the problem of too many guns is to have more guns. School staff should be armed, he says. Why not the pupils also? Needless to say, the NRA plans to take advantage of the Florida tragedy to strike a deal in which they agree to tighter checking in return for people from states which allow 'concealed carry' being able to continue to hide their weapons when passing into states where it isn't. You really couldn't make it up. Even in your darkest dystopian moments. Or maybe you could.
  • Spanish justice is not famed for its expeditiousness. Here in Pontevedra, we have the added inconvenience of an indefinite strike among court staff. Already 3 weeks old. Cases are being postponed until 'next year'. Or the 12th of Never.
  • If you have a fire on your rural property - and it's said that 85% of these are started deliberately - the law says you can't [profitably] change its use for 30 years. But the law is being comprehensively ignored up in the hills. Where 700 landowners have proceeded to rapidly apply for a change of use. Possibly successfully. 
  • When I first came here, it seemed that every second family was adopting a Chinese child. Yesterday I read that adoption of foreign kids soared between 2000 and 2007, from 70 a year to 332. Then, during La Crisis, the number fell back to reach 48 in 2016, but is again on the rise.
  • Looking at 2 overweight ladies walking beside their bikes yesterday, I marvelled at the genius of an industry capable of persuading millions that, not only must they buy an unnecessarily expensive bike, but must also deck themselves out in utterly ridiculous gear before they take to the roads. Or, more usually here in Spain, the pavements. As someone - probably not Barnum - once said: No one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the public.
  • A warning about Amazon Spain. Last year I unwittingly signed up for Amazon Prime but got most of my money back when I later complained about their inertia selling. Yesterday, this happened again but I've no idea exactly how. This time I realised immediately and cancelled the subscription right away, only to receive a message that they'd be taking c. €20 from my account and returning it in 5-7 working days. So, be on your guard when ordering. And be very suspicious if the checkout statement shows no delivery charges. If so, and, if you then click to order the item(s), you'll have subscribed to Amazon Prime. They are well aware that there's chicanery at work, of course. Hence the willingness to give you your money back without argument.
Today's Cartoon

Me on a Spanish terrace, attempting irony . . . 


Why Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world attack Spain and call us lazy: Esteban Hernández

Vincent R. Werner has opened Pandora's box of prejudices. Our country is again portrayed as a well of laziness and vulgarity. But there are also self-interests behind it.

Vincent R. Werner's book It is not what it is. The real (S) pain of Europe (or more precisely the interview in which he summarizes his thesis) has generated conflicting positions. It describes Spanish vices such as lack of ethics or a financial culture, the non-assumption of responsibilities or the lack of entrepreneurialism, among others, and does it in the manner of a troll. The problem is not his perception, each one of them has his own, nor the fact that some of the deficits he points out may be true; not even that, if we compare ourselves with Holland, his birthplace, maybe we would emerge as the winner. Werner acts like a troll because it amplifies the ills of a country and makes them its essence. If we turned the clichés of each of the Western countries into their only qualities, they would all come out badly.

Lazy spendthrifts

However, what Werner says is not subjective, but is part of a vision about Spain that is much more rooted than it seems. A few weeks ago, 'The Times' published a denigratory article about our country that reflected a series of topics installed in Great Britain, that territory whose nationals insist on coming to ours to practice 'balconing'. But also, and especially during the time of the crisis we were pointed out in Europe as vague and spendthrifts. At that time the journalist Hans-Günter Kellner was counting on the idea that "the Spaniards have lived beyond their means" had become very popular in Germany, and that our image there was that of "funny people, eager eternal holidays, obsessed with good wine and quality food ". In Holland it was clear what was the cause of the problems, since the idea that they were paying us the crisis, "something that is not accepted because it is believed that the Spaniards spend the day of celebration, had penetrated. The prejudices about Spaniards being lazy were always there, but now they have come back stronger than ever. "

The countries of the south were rebels and needed leaders to apply the hard hand. We were unmanageable because of our character and our culture

It is not been the first time in history that that the prejudiced Protestant north has viewed the Catholic south with all kind of misgivings. It has its continuation in recent times.

As insisted Charles Powell, director of the Elcano Institute, figures like Kissinger were anchored in these reductionist visions. When all of Western Europe was governed by democracies, except for the south, where we had the military, the central idea of ​​the people who led American foreign policy, like Kissinger, is that such rebellious countries needed leaders to apply a hard hand. We were unmanageable because of our character and our culture. According to Powell, "Nixon was worse than Kissinger, since throughout his life he developed quite primal and very xenophobic sentiments. Kissinger also had them, but realism predominated in him. The important thing was security and stability, and the rest left it in the background. "

Anglo-Saxon superiority

When the crisis broke out, these misgivings were exacerbated. Partly because, as Powell pointed out, "in the Anglo-Saxon world there are still many prejudices against us. You have to understand that they look at the world from a defendant complex of superiority, which sometimes, as in the pages of 'The Financial Times' or 'The Economist', disguises itself as irony, but that is still there. And the crisis has fueled those latent prejudices that southern Europeans are better at partying and napping than at hard and steady work. That is doing a lot of damage to our economy. "

That was the dominant thesis, and it is the one reproduced without blushing by Werner, perhaps following in the footsteps of his compatriot Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who said that the problems of the southern countries were arose because we had gone partying and now we were asking for money to pay booze and women.

The north and the south

But let's leave these banalities and go to the serious matter. In these prejudices appear two elements that we must take into account. One is generic, and it indicates a class disdain that favored ones have with those who are not. The dominant discourse on the euro zone is that the countries of the North are more productive and are better prepared for a global scenario, while those of the South are no more than a bunch of louts suffering from endemic problems that force us to become a country of sunshine and drinks.

It is typical of our times to suggest that losers are the cause of their own problems, and Spain is among the losers group.

Because we are lazy and lovers of the good life, it is impossible for us to know how to measure up to the times. It has nothing to do with the fact that most of our resources go towards the payment of a debt that was contracted to return to the creditors (German banks among them) the amounts that they had irresponsibly lent to the savings banks, and that leaves us without resources for many things, such as investment in R&D. Nor with the policies of the European Central Bank have favored the economies of the north instead of those of the south, those that cause political actors to claim that the countries of the north live well precisely because we live badly here. But no, everything is caused by our limited ability to adapt and our lack of disposition. In short, drawing those who lose as causes of their own problems is typical of this era, and Spain falls within the group of losers.

Investors against Europe

Secondly, it is worrisome that this mentality has also taken root in financial environments, those that have the power to influence radically the economic life of a country. There are many big investors who still think that the euro is quite weak, that its weak point is the south, and that is why they put their finger on the wound. The last one has been Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. It has bet more than 6,300 million euros in short positions in the German stock market, which adds to the 3,000 million that it had invested against the main Italian companies and the 1,500 million against Santander, BBVA, Telefónica and Iberdrola, in addition to different short against French companies.These ideas about the character of the Spanish, Italians, Greeks and Portuguese are self-interested.

Maybe we should not encourage them

The darts that Dalio has thrown may hurt him, but he is one of the financiers who are clear that the euro will suffer and that the south is the weakest point. If Italy falls, the group will do it, and that's why they put their money there. We can find many causes that justify these positions, almost as many as not to do so, but we must not forget that these prejudices also have a role in investments, and that politically there are interested in the EU getting into difficulties. Or to put it another way: in this context, many of these ideas about the character of Spaniards, Italians, Greeks and Portuguese are self-interested. Maybe we should think twice before giving them encouragement.


Sierra said...

Amazon Prime in Spain is still reasonable if you order 5 or so items a year - you also get Prime Video,Photo storage, etc. - the same costs £79 in UK

Colin Davies said...

Yes, very true. AndI think you made this point a year ago. But I tend to order my books from the UK so don't have 5 items a year from Amazon Spain. That said, I've bought shirts on line for the first time recently and was happy with them. So, maybe I can now justify it . . . But I do hate the inertia selling, especially because it makes me feel like a fool when I fall into their trap.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

What do these Dutchmen know? Just because they kicked out the Spanish pepperbellies in 1648, they do not make expert Hispanologists. A country which is a speck on the globe, below sea-level, at the mercy of a bunch of dykes, where they eat raw herring and drink crude gin, consider Chinese noodles a national dish, clad themselves in orange at any national event even though no oranges can grow in their miserable climate, ride bicycles in spite of foul weather and a perennial lethal flatland breeze, have more canals than roads and more marihuana plants than tulips, are proud of ONE sort of cheese and state in their national anthem that they are of German blood even though they hate the krauts for the WW II occupation, is NOT the place to take the measure of a decent Mediterranean country, which still floats in spite of all its shortcomings!

As my good friend Voltaire remarked after only a few months in the wretched place: the Netherlands consists of 'Canaux, Canard, Canaille'!

Take it down a notch, ye imitation Germans!


Colin Davies said...

My dear Alfie, I fear some dastardly Dutch woman has rather upset you. . . .