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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.

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 !

Like 0        Published at 12:59   Comments (0)

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.

Like 0        Published at 18:53   Comments (3)

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 !

Like 0        Published at 17:28   Comments (3)

Sky TV - Legal in Spain or not ?
08 July 2010

Ask any of the armchair experts propping up the bars around Spain for their advice on anything concerning British TV and how to get it, and I'll bet you will be bombarded with a multitude of varying Information. The problem is that you will not get a definitive answer as to what exactly is considered legal or illegal, despite what any of the Installation companies will tell you is the case, and all but a small number of them are only looking out for self-interest anyway.

The unofficial line, and the most practised one, is that by installing a 2.4Mt dish and registering your Sky card to a UK address, you can continue to use sky in exactly the same way as you would in the UK. There are also a number of companies that re-broadcast Sky via number of different methods, including a smaller dish or Microwave transmitter; however your contract then would be with the Re-Broadcaster.

The popular held belief is that although it is not legal to receive Sky outside of the UK, that Sky is essentially turning a blind eye  to this. They know it happens, and as long as the user is registered to a UK address they seem happy to ignore the fact that the user is breach of the terms & conditions of their contract. Receiving Sky TV from a re-broadcaster is not only highly illegal, but it is open to abuse by the Installer and you will often find that a number of months down the line the signal will be corrupted after you have paid your money out, with no comeback. Recently the Guardia have been raiding and shutting down such businesses, which leaves the customer with no TV at all, even if they have paid up front for a service in good faith.

I scoured the net for a definitive answer as to exactly what the situation is , to no avail , and contacted Sky directly also. I received a reply on e mail, which basically did absolutely nothing to clarify the situation and just served to further my belief that they are avoiding the issue. My belief is that they are simply biding their time until they receive a licence from the Spanish Government to broadcast legally over here, by which time they will already have an established database of users ready to take revenue from. As it stands, by assisting their users to bend the rules, (and even to invalidate the terms & conditions of their contract, that Sky themselves have laid down) they can still take revenue with full deniability if - and when things should go wrong.

As a legal alternative, Spanish digital TV in many cases also provides sub-titles for programmes and films that were originally produced in the English Langauge. This is a particularly good option for anybody wishing to learn the Spanish Language but still has the benefit of having many programmes available in English.

Unfortunately I can’t offer any advice other than not to listen to anybody who claims that they have a definitive answer as to what can and can not be done legally.

Like 0        Published at 17:26   Comments (2)

Common Sense Triumphs Over Health & Safety !
01 July 2010

Anybody over the age of 25 will doubtlessly be able to look back at their childhood with dewey eyed nostalgia - to a time when a ball and a cardboard box held more interest than a game boy. Growing up in the 70's, a game of football was often held with nothing more than a broken bottle and a pile of dog-mess as goal posts, on a pitch in the local park with more rough gravel than grass to play on.

Like most people of my own age, and older, it seems to be a favourite pastime to be able to shake our heads at the younger generation and lament that "Things weren't like this in my day", and I suppose that this has always been the case since the beginning of time.

On reflection I think that it is unfair to criticize these younger generations because it is in fact the generations that have gone before them that have brought about a nanny state governed more by Health & Safety issues and a fear of litigation than by common sense.

I  have just returned from a local fiesta in the Town Square. Two or Three times a year a full day will be dedicated to entertaining the kids and today the Town square was filled with a number of inflatable water slides and bouncy castles,and so on, for the kids to be able to cool down on. This was all paid for by the Town Hall.

I would imagine that the normally quiet square was full of three hundred or so parents & kids and the bars around the square had probably not seen as much business on a Sunday lunchtime for quite some time.

It got me thinking : There was no way that anything like this would be allowed to happen in the UK. As soon as any local Council would decide to host an event like this at some point either a Lawyer or Health & Safety Officer would crawl out of their bubble and have to enter the "real world" to get involved and do a risk assessment and somewhere down the line – probably after some months in the planning and at considerable cost to the tax payer thus far – they would decide that the risk to the public would be too great and the event would not go ahead.

As I looked around the square I noticed a few things : That the tables and chairs from the bars were perilously close to the Inflatable's; there were no crash mats at the bottom of the slides or around the Castles themselves; the Kids were running across bare tarmac to take a run up the slides and games; Nobody was supervising the games; Occasionally an attendant would spray a high pressure water jet over the kids - whether they liked it or not ; and the various compressors and water hoses were left hanging around for all and sundry to bump into or fall over. Other than a sign in the Bar window asking for glasses to be kept inside the bar as plastic glasses were available for outside use, there was no indication of any Health & Safety anywhere at all.

... And guess what : Nobody fell over, nobody stubbed their toe, and nobody sued the Town Hall !

What did happen was that every parent took responsibility for supervising their own child, everybody drinking in the bar acted responsibly and asked for a plastic glass if they were intending venturing outside; The Kids themselves took care when they were running about and watched where they were running and were rightly told off if they started to meddle with any of the equipment.

It seems that the British Government could learn a thing or two from Spain rather than impose a nanny state on everybody – To the best of my knowledge everybody had a great time and nobody got hurt, because everybody took responsibility for their own actions. I would rather my daughter grew up aware of the dangers around her and being able to recognise them and act accordingly as opposed to growing up in a bubble and never having the opportunity to enjoy her childhood.The culture of blame in the UK has a lot to answer for.

Like 0        Published at 12:13   Comments (1)

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