If you are going to be buying a property in Spain, or already own one, sooner or later you are going to meet an official of the Spanish Civil Service. It is highly likely that you will become frustrated and even hot under the collar, despite the air conditioning. You may put this down to the language barrier, but it runs much deeper than that. It is a cultural difference between attitudes of civil servants in Spain and in the UK.
The Spanish civil servant that you are likely to meet does not think for himself. He is doing a job. He's been told how to do it and that is what he does. Nothing more and nothing less. It is totally pointless to make some suggestions as to how things could be done better or ask why so many photocopies are needed. You will just be met with a blank stare and you will make no difference at all.
There is a similarity between the officials of the two countries - they will not admit when they have made a mistake. The Spaniard however will adopt an entrenched and haughty attitude and poor customer relations will become very bad indeed. Don't believe that this is a plot against foreigners; Spaniards are treated in exactly the same way.
The history of the Spanish civil service goes a long way to explain their attitudes today. Many people blame the dictatorship of Franco but it goes much further back than that. Spanish history shows many changes of regime and the administrators were the favourites of the rulers of the time. Rules were always changing and the civil servants made themselves indispensible by making everyone else's life as complicated and difficult as possible. By the time Franco came to power in 1939 the civil service was inefficient and corrupt. The dictator perpetuated everything that had gone before by appointing his cronies.
"Who you know, not what you know" is still very much part of Spanish life when dealing with officials. The use of the "Enchufe" (Plug) is still common practice. This family member or friend is the insider who ensures your application goes through smoothly or your case gets to the right people. Foreigners do not generally have such insider connections so are at a definite disadvantage, but becoming angry about it is no solution. The system does not operate in the same way as in Britain so accepting and adapting are the best way to proceed. Getting your own insider is probably a much better plan.
Here are a few tips on dealing with officials in Spain:
- Don't expect people to speak English. Many do but if you don't try to speak Spanish, why should they make an effort?
- Remember that the person you meet isn't the one who makes the decisions.
- Don't be intimidated, just persevere.
- Don't get angry. If you lose your temper, you will lose the game.
- Don't be fobbed off by lazy officials. Stand your ground if you can.
- If despite that you aren't getting anywhere, leave and go back later when someone else will deal with you.
- Do things in person. Spain has a face to face culture and letters have a habit of getting lost. Fill in forms by all means, but don't write letters.
- Never, ever try to bribe anyone in any way whatsoever.
- Learn to be flexible. Spanish officials can be black and white if they want to but if you don't anger them, they probably won't bother.
Many of these tips may not be necessary in your early days as you will have your agent and lawyer to guide you.
Just be aware of the differences in cultures.
Watch this highly-rated video recorded for a Spanish film festival: