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Thoughts from Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 8 July 2020
08 July 2020 @ 10:22

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 this century?  

  • Another long re-post, of something I wrote in mid-2001, after I’d lived here for a mere 9 months. On the subject of Bureaucracy:-

The ugly sisters of bureaucracy and inefficiency

There are two negative aspects of life which hit you very quickly when you take up residence in Spain - bureaucracy and inefficiency. Of course, these are connected, in that a bureaucrat must be inefficient if he is to achieve his sole objective of retaining and expanding his job. But inefficiency in Spain ranges far beyond the boundaries of government offices and State monopolies. There simply seems to be the absence of a belief that efficiency is a good thing. The impression gained is that it is actually regarded with suspicion, as something which threatens Spanish culture.

I can’t say what it’s like to seek residence in the UK but I do know how easy it is to arrange connection to the electricity, gas or phone suppliers. Here, these take hours of your time, a good deal of leg work and small forests of paper. The goals of all this appear to be, firstly, to ensure continued employment for the less-than-friendly-and-helpful ‘functionaries’ with whom you have to deal and, secondly, to totally eradicate the possibility of risk for the suppliers.

The most obvious visible evidence of all this bureaucracy is the photocopying shops (‘copisterías’) which one finds on almost every street corner. Or sometimes all in a row. These all possess the most impressive machines and appear to be the busiest (and conceivably speediest and most efficient) places in Spain. Certainly one of the cheapest, reflecting the volumes of paper with which they deal. Then there are the numerous express photo shops, who will provide you very cheaply with the endless copies of your picture that you need.

Another reflection of the complexity that results from untrammelled bureaucracy is the existence of ‘gestorías’. These are high-street offices whose sole purpose appears to be to help you through the interstices of the Spanish system. To shine a torch where there are only darkness and dead ends, not just for you and me but also for millions of Spaniards. They seem to be a cross between a solicitor, a tax accountant, an insurance agent and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Needless to say, these are the last people in Spain who are going to rail against bureaucracy and inefficiency, even if they seek and achieve the latter themselves. Which, naturally, they don’t.

Then there is the ‘notario’, (the notary), who is there to put his stamp on such things as your property purchase contract. The nice thing about this is that he serves as an agent of the State, acting for both parties and ensuring that legal niceties are observed. Even so, it is usually the buyer who pays all the fees. Of course, if the State didn’t insist on his existence and involvement, nobody would have to pay him.

As well as the notario, there is the asesoria. This seems to do for companies what the notario does for private individuals but I couldn’t swear to that. I only know that my British friends with language schools here (always called ‘academies’), spit when they have to use the word.

Finally, there is the need to carry your identity card with you at all times and to quote your tax number for a variety of transactions, including connecting to each the five utility companies you will have to deal with. I  have never been anywhere in the world where my identity has had to be proved so often when using a credit or debit card - including each visit to the supermarket. And I refuse to believe the standard line that it is all for my benefit.

The most puzzling aspect of all this is that everyone seems to tolerate it with complete equanimity.  No-one seems to question whether things couldn’t be done more efficiently. Or whether things should be done at all. I seem to be the only person in my street who finds it amusing but odd that the mayor of my local district should send me a personally signed and stamped confirmation that I am connected to the water company. And no-one in Spain appears to have realised that there is an alternative to the frustrating system of multiple, separate queues in banks and post offices. As I say, it’s as if they believe that introducing the efficient single queuing system prevalent in other countries would strike at the very soul of Spanish culture. The thin end of the wedge. And maybe they are right. Certainly, if efficiency became the totem it is elsewhere, it would create a rip in the fabric of Spanish society that could well grow quickly. I suppose the real question is how long – in a competitive world – can they hold out against the god of efficiency? Maybe they have already given up in Madrid and Barcelona.

Meanwhile, I love to provoke the look of complete bewilderment on the faces of people when I tell them that nobody carries proof of identity in the UK and that no-one there seeks it when credit cards are presented. This is quite simply beyond their comprehension, so inured are they to the way things are done here.  

The verdict: I don’t think much has changed. In fact, for Brits things got worse with the abolition of our tarjeta de residencia and its replacement by a paper certificate, useless because it’s sans foto.  The upshot of this was that for several years we’ve had to carry either at least a Spanish driving licence or, worse, a passport at all times. 

BUT . .  relief is on the way . . . See below. 

AND . .  . There’s now sensible queuing in most offices. 

En passant, I’ve found the (unavoidable) notaries to be among the most inefficient people in Spain. Or some of them, at least. With 2 or 3 things I’ve had to do, I’ve needed to make several trips before getting what I wanted. I guess they don’t have to try very hard, it being compulsory to use them for so much.

Current Life in Spain: Living La Vida Loca . .   

  • As of this week, we cardless Brits resident here can apply for a new Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE), just for us. And it’ll carry the necessary foto.
  • But, as of this morning, no one is answering the number at the offices (the Comisaría) where I need to make an appointment to get an application form.
  • My daughter was advised yesterday morning that her package had arrived late at night on Monday in a depot in the nearby town of Porriño and would be delivered by 6pm last night. It wasn’t. And the advice from Amazon was that was because of ‘bad weather or a natural disaster’. The local news stations seem not to have heard of either of these. And it was one of our warmest, sunniest days yet.**
  • María’s chronicle of our Adjusted Normal Day 23.

That's the lot for today, folks. I'm clocking off now as Grandparent duties are calling again . . .  

Plus I need to keep calling the bloody Comisaría every 5 minutes. No use going there to talk to try to talk to someone about an appointment. I tried that on something else a couple of weeks ago for something else and was sent home by the police on the door with a flea in my ear.

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

** The book was originally due to be delivered on  3rd July. And then yesterday, the 7th. Amazon have just told my daughter it'll arrive 'by the 12th'. The excuse is now 'Covid'. Which we thought had boosted Amazon's business. We could drive to Porriño to pick it up within 30 minutes!

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