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Tumbit's take on Spain : Mr Grumpy

Mr Grumpy has lived and worked in Spain for 6 Years. He is self-employed and has a 3 year old Daughter that speaks better Spanish than he does. Despite the occasional moan about 'Spanish Bureaucracy' he enjoys the Spanish lifestyle and the warmth and friendliness of the Spanish people.

How To Classify Road Users In Spain
27 September 2010

If there is one thing in life guaranteed to make me laugh more than watching a fat woman chasing a parasol down a beach on a windy day – it's driving on Spanish roads. Or, more to the point, watching how other road users conduct themselves on Spanish roads.

It seems that there are seemingly endless categories and sub-categories of misdemeanors that rile me more and more every day, and here are just a few of the widely recognised genus, classifications and orders that these people fall into :

Parking : This genus can be split into 2 seperate and distinct sub-categories :

1.)The “Park Anywhere” Parker - This road user holds a firm belief that double parking on a Dual Carriageway is part of the Spanish Constitution. Equally so, zebra crossings are considered as “Emergency Parking Zones”.

2.)The Touch Parker - This road user is able to park accurrately with the use of his front and rear parking sensors (Also known outside Spain as “ Bumpers “), and see's nothing wrong in shunting cars backwards and forwards to make his own parking space a little more roomy.

Stop-Starting : Many Spaniards believe that it is actually written into their Highway code that they are legally able to stop their vehicle in the middle of the street and at any time without the need for any hazard lights so that they can strike up a conversation with any pedestrian of their choosing. There is not a time limit on this, and anybody in a vehicle behind them peeping to get past is simply deemed to be rude and impatient.

The Cyclist : Whilst not actually paying any insurance or road tax in Spain, or even being required to take a Safety (or sanity) test, cyclists are bound by the law to cycle at least 4 abreast in order to hold up any road traffic behind them. Contrary to what drivers of other road vehicles may think , they DO “Actually own the road“ and pulling forward infront of cars attempting to turn left at a T-Junction is perfectly acceptable. Points can be issued against other road users who mock a cyclist attempting to walk in their footwear (which I can only describe as clogs), or questioning their sexuality by always wearing lumious lycra clothing.

The Farmer : Not so much of an annoyance to other road users, as of course the Farmer is entitled to make any living he can in a rural community. However, he may have some consideration for the frail and elderly wife that he has thrown into the back of the trailer towed by what I can only term as a “Lawn Mower“, and is rattling around the back with half a dozen podenco's , numerous sharp tools and a couple of buckets of Almonds.

The Pedestrian : What is it about people over and above a certain age that makes them want to walk in the middle of the road when a perfectly good pavement is less than 5 feet on either side of them ? Maybe it's a permit that is awarded along with the pension that other road users are not yet aware of ?

The Multi-Tasker : Whilst I am still struggling a little with the exact translation, I believe that the highway code states that the Spanish Driver must have no more than one hand on the wheel at any time. His other free hand must be used for either searching for, lighting or smoking a cigarette ; using the mobile phone ( regardless of whether a hands free kit is fitted – this can only be used when the vehicle is parked ) or gesticulating wildly with his kids on the backseat. In some cases he is entitled to do all 3, which is a sign of status, wealth and masculinity.

The New Driver : Drivers who have successfully passed their test and purchased their first car must first undergo a regulation haircut (Short and spiky on top, long at back - the kind of style that would have graced a 9 Year old in 1982) and make numerous modifications to their Seat Ibiza (The exact nature of the modifications are to the drivers choosing, with the exception of the Stereo – this needs to be of sufficient wattage and ampage to temporarily deafen any pedestrian passing by too closely).

The Hire Car Driver - Very rarely Spanish – more often than not English or French, they can easily be recognised (apart from the obvious sticker in the back window) by driving too slowly, almost in the middle of the road, and by turning corners too widely. Roundabouts also have to be driven around a minimum of three times and it requires at least 2 people to park the car. It was only 2 years ago that it was decided to stop the process of having a pedestian walking slowly infront of the Hire Car waving a red flag as a warning to other road users was repealled, but there are rumours that this could be re-introduced in the very near future.

The Micro-Car Micro-Cars are the ones that are seemingly entitled to drive down Motorways – Half on the Hard Shoulder and Half in the slow lane. During urban use they are often seen parked on the pavement, when not being overtaken by Motability Scooters. They are only ever used by Drivers who can not afford a proper pair of roller skates.

 

Please feel free to jot your comments below if you feel that I have left anybody out !



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Spanish Regional Languages : Valenciano
17 September 2010

In writing my recent blog "Spanish Regional Languages – For or Against ?" I realised that I was completely ignorant of most of the languages of Spain, and like most of the English I simply stuck my head in the sand whenever it came to even attempting to understand anything other than very basic Castellano. This is getting more and more difficult today as my daughter attends a typically Valencian nursery in the village and is slowly learning more and more Valenciano every day and is starting to look like that before long Valenciano will be her first language, followed by Castellano - and finally, English.

All of her school meetings and parents evenings are likely to be held in Valenciano aswell and so whilst I have been succesful in ignoring the language so far, I realise that I am just delaying the inevitable by continuing to find excuses in learning some.

With this in mind, I have dug a little deeper on the some of the major Spanish Regional Languages to investigate both their origins and a few useful phrases that you might like to be aware of – nothing will get you acceptance into your local community faster than a few key phrases in the local language !

A recent study by the Regional Government found that most Citizens do not normally speak Valenciano. Apparently, out of the 6'600 people Interviewed 39.5% used the language at home, 33% used the language with friends and 18% used the language in larger department stores.These averages fell to single digits when the demographic was based just on residents of the major cities – Alicante and Valencia.

There is also some debate as to whether it is actually a language in it's own right – many academics argue the case that it is in fact a dialect of Catalan. Equally puzzling is the fact that Valencian is agreed to have 5 distinct “ Sub-Dialects” that have their own subtle differences !

 

Here are a few useful key words and phrases that it may be useful for you to know :

English Castellano (Spanish) Valenciano
Good Morning Buenas Dias Bon Dia
Goodbye Adios Adeu/Au
Please Por Favor Per Favor
Thankyou Gracias Gracies
Yes Si Si
No No No
Bread Pan Pa
Holidays / Parties Fiestas Festes
Happy Christmas Feliz Navidad Bon Nadal
Coffee Cafe Cafe
Water Agua Aigua
Petrol Gas Benzina
Beer Cerveza Cervesa
Wine Vin Vi

 

You will find that many of the words are exactly the same in Valenciano as they are in Spanish, and the ones that are different seem to be a hybrid of Spanish and French ( As does Catalan ).



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Spanish Regional Languages : For or Against ?
11 September 2010

Speaking as little Castellano as I do, it should probably come as no surprise to anybody that regional languages frustrate me. It seems to me to sometimes be a conspiracy between the native Spanish to raise the bar to ensure that to be fully accepted into the community you need to learn both Castellano and the regional language (Which you will be lucky to learn via a book or CD, or even to find a Dictionary and Phrase Book).

Spain is fiercely proud of its regional diversity and this is demonstrated in it’s attachment to the various regional languages that can often seem bewildering to the outsider. The languages are broken down into several different classifications: The Official Language (Spanish / Castellano) ; The Co-Official Languages (Catalan, Valenciano, Basque / Euskadi, Galician and Aranese ) ; The Recognised Languages (Leonese, Asturian) ; The Un-Official ( Aragonese, Asur-Leonese, Eonavian, Fala , Tarafit and also the Gomeran language that is made up entirely of distinctive whistling patterns ).

Add the fact that there are many immigrants from other nationalities living in Spain (Romanian, English, French, German, Dutch, Russian, and Moroccan being the main ones) and you can begin to see that there is a vast diversity of understanding – and misunderstanding!

Similar to the “Dead” British languages - like Cornish, these languages probably flourished centuries ago when people rarely travelled outside their local area and had no need to communicate on a national platform – and so just needed to make themselves understood in their own social group. With the coming of easier and popular transport such as the train, and increasing levels of literacy and wealth, it meant that in the UK everybody sought to communicate at a much wider level.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that this would be the case in Spain to a certain extent aswell. What did happen for certain, is that during the Franco years, that all regional languages were outlawed as an attempt to unify the country.

Whilst I’m not much of a historian, from my knowledge of the pop group Frankie goes to Hollywood’s massive number 1 hit record in the early 80’s, I do know that one sure way to ensure that the popularity of something explodes out of control – is to ban it or make it illegal.

This backlash against the Franco government seems to have brought about a new enthusiasm for these languages (and regional identity and customs as a whole) that is evident when you consider the Autonomous Regions of Spain. Unfortunately this does not seem to have a positive effect on business as a whole. Many of the larger towns and cities in a region will generally speak Castellano, whilst the smaller, inland and rural towns and villages will predominantly speak that local / regional language.

Many Regions also offer a grant to the various Ayuntamiento’s to encourage their local schools to teach more of their subjects in the local language – and it seems to be the Schools in these smaller, inland and rural towns and villages that, due to a lack of trade and commerce in the town, are reliant on the grant and so need to teach much more of the regional language than the national one.

I know of quite a few school kids that have been taught the regional language to a high standard, but who’s Castilian remains a little shaky – which obviously limits their acceptance into University and even limits their acceptance into most professions. So it seems a vicious circle – where the locals are often unable to speak the National language to a high enough standard (and therefore obtain a good profession and bring revenue into the Town) and as such the Ayuntamiento becomes more reliant on the Regional Grant, and in return has to put more emphasis on teaching the regional language!

My daughter, at 2 and half, is already showing signs of speaking and understanding more Valenciano than Castellano and I am concerned that this will continue as she starts her formal education - especially as I don’t have Spanish (Or English) TV that she can learn from.

Maybe as an “Extranjero” my view is totally invalid and biased, I accept that and I willingly open up the debate to hear some other points of view that I may have overlooked .....



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Who needs customer service ?
07 September 2010

I don’t expect a bowing and scraping sycophant to serve me whenever I enter a shop or some other business in order to part with my hard earned cash - nor do I expect gushing gratitude from the owner of the business, or his lackey. What I do expect is to be treated with a little bit of courtesy.

Having spent 20-odd years in the customer service industry maybe I am over critical of many establishments, but sometimes I can not help feeling that customer service is a notion that is completely alien to the Spanish.

In these times of recession it seems that business owners are pulling their hair out trying to find newer and more cost effective ways of getting the clients through their door - but they give no thought whatsoever on how best to look after their client once they are actually stood in front of them with a pocket full of cash.

 

Many Spanish businesses actually make you feel the need to apologise for interrupting their coffee and cigarette break whilst they shout at their colleagues (Spaniards rarely seem to converse at normal volume) in order to be served – that’s if you can actually find a shop that is open at a sensible hour. Like many English people I silently seethe when I find myself treated this way rather than remonstrate with them – and this is largely because being faced with a typically Mediterranean shrug of apathy and nonchalance just winds me up all the more. Instead I find myself voting with my feet and taking my business elsewhere in future – which often means patronising an English or other Northern European run business where I stand the chance of actually being treated like a spending customer !

In many ways this is a shame because I want to support to the local economy and integrate with the local community, but until the local tradesmen learn that turning up to do some work on time (even on the right day) is quite important – especially when you have taken a day off work to wait at home for them, then there will always be a place in the market for the expat tradesman.

Time and time again the local newspapers tell us to be wary of the expat tradesman because, although they are cheaper, they will almost certainly be working illegally. Whilst this does happen, there are also many legal, reliable and cost effective ex-pat companies out there who can offer a good standard of customer service – so it seems that this obstacle is something that the local Chambers of Commerce are pushing as a result of pressure from the various local businesses.

The newspapers also report that the Spanish Economy is one of the weakest in Europe and that exports to other countries are falling at a depressing rate year on year – and yet faced with this fact and a recession that is likely to last longer in Spain than many other Countries in the world, everybody seems reluctant to acknowledge the simple truth that the whole Economy stands on encouraging the consumer to put their hand in their pocket.

A little bit of courtesy, appreciation and remembering that the Customer is entitled to a bit of friendly advise and support goes a long way to achieving this.

If Zapatero needs a “Sir Alan Sugar “ to help move the economy along he can contact me via this page …



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Problems Learning The Language
27 August 2010

I have always considered myself to be fluent in the language. Unfortunately I (and those that I converse with) are a little unsure of which language it is that I am supposed to be fluent in.

A long, long time ago in a country far, far away called Britain, there was a wise and antiquated state educational system. This education authority believed that Britain was the centre of the world, and as such there could be no possible need for anybody to learn any other language, as most of the people from all of the other countries would need to speak English anyway. However, after a short while they found that they needed to fill a small gap in their curriculum and so, as a concession, decided that teaching pupils over the age of 11 the French language for an hour and a half every week would be more than enough to ensure that Britain educated itself adequately.

It was decided that only pupils over 11 should be taught a new language, because as everybody is aware, those under this age are completely incapeable of learning a new language – equally so, 2 x 45 minute periods were chosen because this would be more than enough to ensure that this language could be spoken to the highest of standards.

The French language was chosen as a matter of default – it was completely inconceivable that anybody would wish to venture further abroad for their holidays, and even the largest of corporations would not trade abroad much further than France. Even if they did (Gasp!), then obviously it would be expected that their clients would be grateful enough for the opportunity to trade with the mighty British Empire to speak English fluently anyway. So, the French language was decided upon half heartedly – and in any case might just come in useful when watching re-runs of “'Allo 'Allo“ on the BBC.

Sarcasm aside, I think you will get my point.

At the age of 36, although I am not incapeable of learning a language, I do not have the luxury of having a sponge-like mind, and the time and resource of being able to be taught a language in a formal and structered environment like at school. How I wish that my Grammar school taught me a useful language to a half-decent standard instead of insisting on teaching me Classics and Latin, which have served me no end of use through the years.

Yes, I fully accept that I have the opportunity to leanrn Spanish – especially now that I am living in Spain, however I suffer from the English disease of being terminally lazy, finding excuses too easy to come by, and embarassingly not undertsanding the grammar of my own native language too well also. How can I do justice to learning a language under these circumstances ?

I have decided that in the new year I will put aside a full week of my time and take an intensive residential course somewhere away from home where I will have no distractions and be put in an environment where I simply have to learn the language. I know that in a formal and structured environment, where I can be taught 40 to 50 hours of the language, I will be able to raise my level of spoken Spanish to a standard where I am not embarrassed by my language skills at some point in the future. My daughter has just gone 2 years old and can count to ten and knows the names of shapes and colours in 3 languages, whereas I struggle in just the one.

I would strongly advise that anybody in a similar situation does the same – it is the only way that we can get ourselves out of the rut we as English people find ourselves in !



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My Favourite Airline Strikes Again !
17 August 2010

It seems that flying economy now means that you waive all rights to be treated with courtesy and to expect a decent standard of cutomer service. Nor should you expect that you should be able to take any luggage or even sit down apparently – according to latest reports of how one particular economy airline is expected to evolve over the next few months.

My particular favourite economy airline (# Sarcasm Alert #) last week announced that with immediate effect they would be ceasing to provide any check in desks at their airports. Instead, they report, passengers should check in on-line and take no more than the stipulated 10 kilos hand luggage. If they require to take any additional luggage (Gasp !) then this would need to be checked into the hold, via the special luggage drop desk, and pay a 30 pounds sterling surcharge for the privelege of doing this. Furthermore – if the passenger forgot to check themselves in online (or failing that, did not have access to the internet),then they would also need to use the same special check in desk to do this – and be penalised a further 40 Pound sterling for doing this.

If, for any reason, the passenger had a querie or question that could not be answered on-line (Such as "Can I book an extra bag into the hold on just the Inbound leg of a return flight?") then you have to call a customer service call center, be placed on hold for 15 minutes and pay 10 pence per minute (40 cents if you are calling from Spain) - only to be be told No! - What a money-spinner !

To get back on point – it seems that by charging fines, penalties, surcharges and numerous other “extras“, that there will be no such thing as a cheap flight any more. Even if this said airline does advertise a flight for “ Free “ , then the additional taxes and charges will snowball and when everything is totalled it will cost roughly the same as a similar ticket from a premium airline. That's putting aside the fact that in many cases the airport of your chosen destiniation is usually a disused potato field in a rural backwater town - miles away from anywhere : Their “ Barcelona “, for example, is listed as an airport, when in fact it is actually situated in a town called Reus and is infact located 109 kms outside of Barcelona itself. The true Barcelona (Ref BAR) is a totally different Airport to their "Barcelona" (Ref BCN)- so you need to factor transfer cost into your ticket fees aswell !

The same airline expects to net over 650 Million Euros in 2009 on these "Hidden Charges" alone, and if their current request with the Irish Aviation Federation is approved, they may increase capacity on their short-haul flights (Such as UK > Spain) by over 50% by introducing new "Bar Stool" type seats instead of the traditional recliners !

So who do you trust and respect ? - An airline who is upfront and honest about the cost that you should pay for a ticket and the quality of service that you can respect in return, or an airline that will only advertise the initial cost for the ticket – leaving you to find out the true cost as the various surcharges come to light. An airline who seems to place cost above value ?



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Problems opening a currency exchange account !
09 August 2010

 I already held a currency exchange account with a different broker, but for whatever reason, I had taken the decision to place my business with a broker who had a better understanding of my circumstances. My old account with the previous broker had been open for over 5 years whilst I was resident in the UK, and as such a combination of apathy and complacency led me to carry on using them over the years.

I had completely forgotten the rigmarole involved in opening up a new currency trading account. Sure, I understood the need for such complete security to crack down on ID fraud and money laundering etc... , and yes, I understood that these were conditions laid down by the FSA, and not by each individual broker (and therefore the application process would be the same wherever I chose to take my business).

My problem was this (and I suspect that many other people resident in Spain will have the same Problem too!): In order to open an account certain documents are required in order that the applicant can prove that he is who he claims to be, and that he resides at the stated address. So far so good !

The documents required are:

- A copy of a passport (photo ID page only)

- A bank statement

- A utility bill (NOT a mobile phone or landline)

My House is an old finca that has recently been restored. As such I am still in the process of waiting for my cedula to be granted , which in turn means that I can not get mains water or electric. This means that only have “Builders Supply” and as such no statement is provided.

 

AAdditionally, my bank account is held in joint names with my partner – and for some reason it is just her name that appears on all of the statements (No big problem until now, so we have never queried this)

 

All of my correspondence is sent to a Buzon – Does this count as proof of an actual address?

I am self employed, so I have no wage slips and no employer to "Vouch for me".

When I pointed all of these things out to my chosen broker – mentioning that I could forsee that there would be many other people living in Spain in similar circumstances, he was sympathetic, but could not see that there was any movement in the FSA regulations to do anything.

All I have been able to do is send copies of what documentation I have and hope that my chosen broker can plead a case for me with the FSA compliance department.

The documents that I managed to source were:

- Copy of Passport (photo page)

- Copy of latest municipal tax bill

- Copy of Residencia (Inc NIE No.)

- Copy of mobile phone bill(I know they said not applicable, but hey!-you never know)

- Copy of landline bill (Ditto!)

- Copy of a UK private pension statement posted to my Spain address.

I then managed to get the back of all of these papers signed, dated and stamped by my Asesor to verify my details and vouch for me as a fine upstanding member of the tax-paying public (or at least I think that's what he wrote).

The documents have been posted out today so I wait with baited breath to find out the outcome .Of course many people in Spain with have the benefit of receiving mains utility bills and have their bank statements in their own names, so this should not be a real issue. Likewise for those who still have a UK address that they are receiving Bills at. I only hope that the FSA realise that the whole system is a joke - after all, If I were a Criminal looking to launder some money, then what would stop me from using my OLD account? - It is only registered to an address that I have long since moved away from in the UK.

# EDIT # Yay ! it seems that my efforts have paid off - my account has now been opened and activated and is ready for use !



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My Currency Exchange Nightmare !
30 July 2010

A couple of years back, in my wilder and more Niave days, I sufferred a completely avoidable nightmare when undertaking a currency exchange.

It was perhaps my 4th or 5th such exchange that I had done as a staged payment in buying a property and this was to be the largest and final of the payments.

Everything proceeded as normal, as did the transfers before it. I called up my broker to agree a rate, signed the documents and reserved the agreed fee on the understanding that the transfer would take place within the following 4 weeks. This ensured that I had peace of mind that if the exchange rate should plummet I would be protected – as long as I could transfer the funds to them in the agreed time.

I logged onto to my on-line saver account a week or so before the agreed deadline to transfer the funds to my brokers account – as I had done with the previous transfers – and received a message on the computer screen (which was also e mailed to me) thanking me for my business and confirming that my instructions were being carried out.

Great, job done !

After a couple of days I called my broker to advise them that I had made the transfer and asked them to confirm receipt of thefunds and let me know when I could expect the euros to be deposited in my account in Spain. They advised me that the funds had not yet arrived, but undertsood that in some cases a transfer could take 3 Working days, which although was sailing close to our agreed deadline, should just make it in time. I logged into my On-line sterling account and noticed that the deduction had not been made from my account, which sent alarm bells ringing. By this time it was past close of play for another UK working day.

Calling back the next morning I was informed by my bank that I had made no such transfer – I had, they said, entered my account and started to make a transfer but not actually “ confirmed “ the request for a transfer, and as such one had not been made. There had apparently been a change of proceedure to their systems to help the client avoid making any mistakes and as such they had put a saftey net in place asking the client to confirm all transactions before the bank actually proceeded with any instructions.

Ok, I said, let's just get the transfer made to my broker ASAP, as the funds are required in their account in the next 48 Hours, or I stand to lose a 10% holding deposit on the transfer that I agreed – not to mention having to book the currency trade again at an unfavourable rate !

The bank informed me that there was insufficient time to guarantee that this could be done..

In short I lost my 10% deposit in full and had to make the transfer again at a rate of 1.36 as opposed to the 1.42 rate that I had previously booked in good time !

I felt that I had a strong case for complaint against my Bank - for one they had made a significant change to their banking proceedures without making it clear, but most importantly, why had they e-mailed me to inform me that my Intructions were being undertaken – did that not suggest that the transfer was being carried out ?

The Customer services representative, or whatever title they award themselves these days, assured me that they had not displayed any such message on the screen - let alone sent me an e mail, however, given that I had printed a copy off for my own records I was able to e mail a scan over and also advise them their unique confrmation code.

In short, after much time and phone calls, and threats to talk to the banking ombudsman, I was lucky enough to receive my money refunded back to my account.

The moral of the Story ? - If you agree with your broker that you will make a transfer by a given date then it is your reponsibility to ensure that this is done. Generally the Broker will bulk book a good rate for a huge sum in advance with the Bank of England and your transfer will be just a small part of this. If for any reason you can not proceed with the transfer then they will incur penalties which have to passed over to you. In my case a third party (My Savings Bank) badly let me down – don't let it happen to you !



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The Pitfalls of Flying Economy
23 July 2010

In nearly every line of business throughout the world there is a high standard of regulation to prevent mis-representation and false advertising. Why is it, I wonder, that the airline Industry (With one particular Irish culprit being worse than most) is seemingly unaffected by this ?

As most Ex-pats living in Spain do, I make several trips back to the UK every year, and like everybody else I always get suckered into searching like an idiot for the cheapest flights. Which in short, means that I nearly always begin my search with the Irish lot.

I like to think that I am Intelligent(ish) guy, and keep telling myself that you only ever get what you pay for – so why is it that every time I fly with them I tell myself that is the last ?

When I booked my 10.99 Flight last Month I had to pay a Credit Card fee of 4.00, an on-line check in Fee of 15.00, and an airport Tax of 29.99.(And that's just one way !) On-top of that they tried to make me pay an extra 15.00 for a piece of Luggage ( That I didn't want to Take ) and 15.00 For Travel Insurance (That I hoped I wouldn't need). The first 4 Charges were compulsory – so why not just tell me that the total cost of the flight would be 59.98 in the first place instead of messing me about ?

To make matters worse the cardboard mug of insipid, brown, gritty, lukewarm water on the plane cost me the best part of 3.00, and as of May next year they will be charging 1.00 for the use of the Toilets (Probably in the hope that the reduced demand in them will allow them to remove one of the toilet cubicles to cram in another row of seats). I would imagine that this would result in the most of Steerage class foregoing the usual 4 cans of Stella Artois in order that they can keep cross-legged just to save a quid, and as a result the fall in the demand for the beverage trolley would mean that financially the airline would be no better off for doing this.

Earlier this week those cheeky Irish chappies have announced that they will be charging anybody who has the temerity to try and re-claim their lost luggage or personal possessions 10.00 for the privilege of doing this ! - How is this legal ? - In the UK, and most other European Countries, if you found a handbag in the street and contacted the owner to tell them that you would return it for a fixed sum this would be deemed as blackmail and as such would be a criminal act – How is this any different ?

It makes me wonder how far they will be allowed to take things ? - Maybe when a Plane looses cabin pressure, instead of the masks falling from the ceiling, the “ Waitresses of the Sky “ will walk up and down the Isle selling them ? - Or maybe life vests will be charged out at 5.00 a time as passengers jump out of the sinking fuselage ?

Tempting as it is to fall headlong into the trap of opting for the cheapest flight, nearly everybody that has flown with them will tell you that it is a false economy and you always up paying the full, true cost in the long run – why not just accept this at the outset and fly in comfort with a "non-economy" airline for a few quid more ? - At least that's what I tell myself I will do next time.



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The joy of dealing with Telefonica !
13 July 2010

Anybody who has been living in Spain for more than a few weeks will know that Telefonica is a dirty word. Even my Spanish friends know that they are a fantastic example of how not to run a company and how to alienate your customers.

After living in Spain for a number of years, and relying on mobile phones, we felt that it was time to get a land line – more for the benefits of having an Internet connection than anything else. My neighbour has an office at the bottom of my garden with 6 telephone lines, and as he only uses 2 of them he said that I could take one of them on for myself ( “Why not get your own line ?” - you might rightly ask – apparently the number of lines permissible at our local exchange is finite and has long since reached full capacity, and as such asking for a new line would be a no-no - at least not until the exchange was upgraded, and they couldn't tell me when that was likely to be ! ).

So with a length of 2 core cable and some hose pipe to sleeve it through I ran the connection across my garden, and with a quick call to Telefonica to tell them to change the payment details on that particular number, everything was up and running.So far so good.

The issue became complicated when after a couple of years I wanted to upgrade my line and get Broadband. My first step was to visit the Telefonica website ( which is not in English ) to see if my Number was able to be upgraded so it could receive broadband ( It was ! ) and so I applied for the upgrade on-line. After going through the 5 or 6 steps to apply, the system kept throwing me back out and telling me to call customer services to resolve this. Telefonica provide an English speaking service, and simply by repeating the word “ English “ the automated system recognises this and forwards your call to an appropriate operator. Or at least that is the theory - In practise anybody requesting this service gets sent to the back of the queue and eventually their call is responded to by somebody who more often than not does not speak much English and seems surprised that the client is even requesting to be dealt with in English.( I'm not saying that English people living in Spain should always have the option to be serviced in their own language - just that Telefonica should either offer the service, or not – not a halfway house ) After a number of attempts and still not getting any joy I decided to try to speak to a Customer Services Operator in Spanglish, with a little bit more success, however I ran into 2 Problems :

Firstly, I was unable to upgrade because apparently my Number did not exist. Having made and received numerous calls over the last 12 Months ( And Indeed been paying the Bill ) I stated that I was pretty certain that it did. She went away, calling me back several hours later stating that yes, ok, maybe it did exist - just that my address did not exist. Again , I felt pretty sure that it did having lived their for the previous couple of years. Once again, away she went to check the details and came back a couple of days later to advise me that the address listed was actually the exchange and not my house, and by simply correcting my address then yes, I could upgrade.

Secondly, when the bill came through it was completely different to what I had been advised on the website, so naturally I called up to query this. You can imagine my surprise at being told that the price advertised on the web was a special offer for those who applied on the web, rather than made a call through to the customer services department. Fine, I said, but the system would not allow me to apply on-line and referred me to call the customer services department instead ! - But such rationale is frowned upon at Telefonica and as such I either had to Pay the sum demanded or cancel the service !

Since July of last year Telefonica have lost their status of having total exclusivity in Spain ( As did BT in the UK in the late 80's ) and it doesn't seem to have dawned on them just yet that the vast majority of their clients ( Spanish and English ) will vote with their feet as soon as the various other Telecomms providers make themselves , and their offers known to the public. Perhaps when they have lost 50% of their business they will start to up their game by improving their customer services, and cutting their costs to regain or even keep some of their clients.

I'm a great believer in the saying “ Better the devil you know ... “ , but in this case anybody with a half an idea about customer services and fair spread of reasonably priced products gets my thumbs up !



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