Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 30.6.20

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*

Life in Spain: What has changed? 

  • Customer Service: In the light of my saga with Movistar and O2 - see below - I’m not really in the best state of mind to address this subject but, hey ho . . .  Once again, I first wrote on this in June 2001, after 9 months here: To date – while I’ve had exceptionally pleasant service in a many (small) shops, petrol-stations cafés, and bars – I’ve found little evidence of a belief that the customer is king in Spain. Certainly not amongst the protected fiefdoms (or medieval guilds) such as the pharmacists, notaries, opticians and the utility companies. Truth to tell, I have recollections of very bad experiences in my early years here with banks, utility companies and Movistar’s predecessor Telefónica. Or ‘thieves in white gloves’, as one one my new neighbours described them all. Particularly irritating was my chosen bank demanding a percentage of the proceeds of the sale of my UK house that I was proposing to deposit with them.** I think it’s fair to say there’s been an improvement with all of these operators, largely because there’s now more competition between providers. The internet has, of course, given them the opportunity to at least play at offering better customer service. But then there’s the bloody machines which answer your phone queries. Which is not unique to Spain, of course. There is, in fact, a consumer rights organisation - FACUA - and a national ombudsman but both of these seem to be weaker entities than in other countries, meaning that Spain remains behind the game in this area. Eighteen years later, the customer is still not king. Or queen. Though I return to my initial comment that you can get exceptionally pleasant service in a many (small) shops, petrol-stations cafés, and bars. Especially if you talk in Castellano of course. And smile when you speak it. 

** Solved in the traditional Spanish why of having a friend of the bank manager having a word with him.

Current Life in Spain  

  • The saga of a switch from Movistar to O2 . . . Today will be the 4th day without internet in my house and there’s no sign yet of being able to solve this problem. In short, I’ve fallen between the 2 stools of Movistar and O2, even though they are companies in the same group. Early this morning, Movistar sent a message to my phone suggesting I download their app and manage things through that. After 7 or 8 failed attempts to log in via my NIE or my mobile phone number and then a call to their customer service number 1004, it became crystal clear that - despite sending me the message re their app and despite have a breakdown report on their books from last Saturday, Movistar regard me as an ex-customer. Of course, getting hold of a real Movistar employee to discuss this is impossible as, in a catch 22 situation, I have to go through a machine which no longer recognises my direct line or mobile numbers as belonging to Movistar, so won’t connect me with someone. Assuming Movistar still employ real people. So, today I will attempt again to get  hold of someone in O2. Where they’ll doubtless decline to recognise the reference number for the breakdown given to me on Saturday by Movistar. Looking back, it’s clear that it was unfortunate that this breakdown caused me to get O2 to recognise I had a contract with them, leading to them ending my contract with their parent company, Movistar, just after I’d reported the problem. And it’s salutary to note that, if 4 weeks ago I’d applied to join, say, Vodafone and not O2, none of this would have happened. As of right now - because it’s been impossible to get through to anyone on O2’s customer service number of 1551 - I’m heading for the Movistar shop in town, after posting this. I have 2 expectations based on experience there - one high, one low. The first, that they won’t solve the problem; the second that I, the customer, will be blamed for the mess. Which, in a way, is fair - for being dumb enough to attempt a trouble-free switch of provider . . .  But ya veremos.
  • I’ve often wondered why saffron is relatively cheap here. Perhaps the answer has been given by a report in yesterday’s press that: Back in 2010, Spain exported 190,000 kilos of saffron, worth $50 million, but the country's total production amounted to only 1,500 kilos. At the time, a local farmers union reported that up to 90% of Spanish saffron exports were fraudulent. Shades of the massive flax fraud of 1999. It’s possible this sort of thing is still happening, leaving me wondering what I’m actually putting in my rice.
  • On Sunday - during our 4 days of rain - I saw the first 2 camino ‘pilgrims’ of our Adjusted Normal. They looked miserably drenched and - suitably attired pioneers as they were - they brought the words cape crusaders to my lips. 
  • I’ve said that the Tax Office ( La Hacienda) is one of the (few?) organisations not to extend their deadlines by 3 months because of Covid. Today is the last day for tax returns for 2019 and many (older?) folk would have spent June trying to get a last-minute appointment with someone in the national and/or regional tax office to complete their forms. This year, I read, this has led to greater problems that usual, with many people needing to have recourse to asesores (accountants) to get their forms submitted on time. This is important to those contribuentes - the majority - expecting a rebate of the amounts deducted at source, most obviously by their banks on the (miniscule) interest payments made to them.
  • My daughter and grandson are coming here by train on Friday. Hopefully, they won’t have to suffer the inconvenience inflicted on last weekend’s passengers of having to take a coach from Zamora to Ourense because the AVE high-speed train works weren’t completed by last Friday. And haven’t yet been finished this week . . .
  • Here’s María’s  Day of said Adjusted Normal. Rule bending.
  • English: Child gate. 2 words,  2 syllables. Spanish (according to Amazon, at least): Barrera de seguridad de niños, 5 words, 11 syllables . . . . No wonder they talk fast.
  • Another 3 refranes.  As ever, I can’t vouch for exactitude of equivalence:- 

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again: El que la sigue la consigue/Persevera y triunfarás.

-  If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride: Si con desear bastará.

-  If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen: Si, quítate en medio.

Finally . . . 

  • Here’s what my neighbour’s hydrangea (hortensia) looks like:-

And here’s what the sole flower on my surviving hydrangea looked like yesterday evening:-

At least it improved when I watered the plant:-


* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant. 

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