Friday, December 31, 2010
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Thursday, December 16, 2010
Culture Spain: living in Spain with officialdom (‘make ‘em larf!’)
It is a moment of relief tinged with dread! You are living in Spain and encounter officialdom. This a part of Spanish culture that can challenge the best of us. However, if you are living in Spain then, somehow, you will need to find a strategy that works…
Imagine, after waiting for what usually seems like hours, your number finally comes up in lights and you walk across that large space separating the waiting area from the chair that has just been vacated. No matter whether it is Telefonica, Endesa, Hacienda or the local town hall, the look on the waiting face says it all.
You don’t have to be a mind reader to interpret that, ‘Oh God, another ****** guiri (foreigner) with a sheaf of papers, this will take hours’ look. No doubt the offical is thinking that they will be late for their coffee break or actually have to do something – all because of this unwelcome intrusion into what they had hoped would be a morning’s light workload.
What should have been a simple bureaucratic exchange becomes, inevitably, a confrontation, with the official doing all he/she can to show the foreigner, even the ones with good language skills, that this is Spain. Not just ‘this is Spain’ but ‘this is how things are done when you are living in Spain’ – however illogical it may appear to the uninitiated.
In the worst type of encounter, voices become raised and only the fear of disciplinary action stops the official from throwing you out of the office.
However, I have a formula that usually works…
Before each encounter with officialdom, I make a bet with myself about how long it will take to get the first smile or the first laugh.
As a first step you have to weigh up the opposition, but there’s plenty of time for that and while waiting you will be able to predict whether that spotty youth in number 4 will succumb to your wit more quickly than the well-endowed matronly lady in number 2. (Forget the bald but with side-hair-combed-over-the-top-of-his-head guy in number 3; he will never smile, much less laugh). And watch out for how they interact with their fellow countrymen.
In a large town or city officials will probably not recognise the person sitting face-on, but in small towns they will certainly know their cousin, ex-, mother, cousin, son/daughter. This makes my formula easier to operate, even guaranteed to succeed in such places, although I admit I have never had the opportunity to try it out in the great urban centres that are now as impersonal as the USA or the UK – but a sense of humour is a sense of humour wherever you are.
The trick is to make that grim, unsmiling, face lighten up and for the first time look at you as if you may be something other than a stupid guiri.I am not boasting when I say I can usually crack it in the first 60 seconds from sit-down, but then I have had a lot of practice and have studied officials’ Achilles’ heels, humour-wise, for decades.
Of course, when dealing with officials, you have to stretch the truth a little. I have never seen a football match in my life (sorry Clive!), but who knows that – apart from my wife and a few kindred souls? Therefore, when you ask the boredom-personified official shuffling his papers in front of you, “Didn’t I see you at the Málaga match last Sunday?”, he will prick up his ears.
Quite likely the official doesn’t like football either and, almost certainly, he was not at the match (nor were you!) – but he may just be an aficionado and that fact will allow him to react to what he believes to be another aficionado, at least with courtesy. I promise you will get a smile and, if you can follow it up with a remark like: “Actually, this was my first football match and I was taken by some Spanish friends….” Then the chasm reduces to a crack.
This is only an example. There are many such remarks that will melt the ice and that are critical to anyone living in Spain.
I asked a lady at Hacienda (the Spanish tax office) the other day whether it was true that they were all going out on strike in sympathy with the air traffic controllers and I got more than I bargained for. She broke into guffaws of laughter, nearly fell on the floor, and shouted around the office what I had just said – with a correspondingly gratifying response from her fellow bureaucrats. They will never forget me there.
It won’t always work though. I was stopped at a police checkpoint the other night and asked to take a breathalyser test. I made some obviously inadequate remark to the young officer about: ‘was it true that the government cutbacks had reduced the number of hours he had to be out late chasing drunken drivers like me (I had just left a funeral)?’
Unsmilingly, he told me: ‘Pongase serio! (‘Be serious!)……’
It was a rare failure. However, if you intend living in Spain then it really is important to understand Spanish culture and recognise that dealing with officals here is an art form and one worth studying carefully – if you want to succeed quickly in getting anything done!
RELEVANT INFO: How to Move Safely to Spain
Written by Andrew Linn who has lived in Spain for over forty years. Andrew also writes for Spanish wine and food – a Blog for anyone with a passion for Spain, Spanish wine and the food of Spain.Share and Enjoy:
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010
CULTURE SPAIN: THE SPANISH ECONOMY (FIT FOR PURPOSE OR HEADING THE SAME WAY AS IRELAND’S?)
An analysis of the Spanish economy (Part 1)
There has been much speculation in recent weeks that, after Portugal, Spain is about to join Greece and Ireland in requiring a bail out from the EU/IMF. Naturally, Spain’s politicians deny this is the case, wax lyrical about the austerity measures they have announced (under duress), the strength of the Spanish banking system and that market speculators are the problem.
As a result, there have been innumerable articles about Spain’s economic and financial situation and a lot of disparate information published. As an Anglo-Spaniard with a financial services background and many years of doing business in Spain I have had, for a number of years, serious concerns about Spain’s economic management and the strength of the Spanish banking system (I wrote back in March 2009 how the Cajas in particular were a disaster waiting to happen and look what has happened to them).
So what do the numbers and various reports tell us about Spain’s economy?
Looking at the Spanish economy as a whole, based on various measures, e.g. growth, unemployment and productivity, Spain is in a very weak position (as the EU’s 4th largest economy) versus its peers.
Well, for a start there has been an over reliance on tourism and construction, especially residential property, while Spain has a small manufacturing base as a percentage of GDP versus the EU average. In fact, since joining the euro which led to the property and consumer driven economic boom, very few efforts have been made to diversify the Spanish economy via the development of other industries (the main exceptions being banking and clothes retailing).
In fact, the vast majority of businesses in Spain are small, i.e. 10 employees, with no critical mass to compete internationally. Many are family owned business serving the domestic and, in many cases the very local market, e.g. bars and restaurants. Apart from a few exceptions, exports of value added physical products have been extremely poor – quality, competitiveness and a lack of export culture being the main culprits.
Just in terms of competitiveness – Spain’s productivity has gone backwards versus its major competitors. Culture, e.g. nice lifestyle and restrictive working practices are major reasons for this but, for me, equally important factors are the quality of education and bureaucracy, an over complex and inefficient legal system and endemic corruption. In fact, a recent World Bank report placed Spain 25th in the European league of countries with favourable climate for entrepreneurial activity and 147th (out of 183) for the high cost of closing a business. Hardly an incentive for people to start a business.
Looking at education, a recent IMF survey placed Spain’s quality of education below the average of leading EU countries with one of the highest drop out rates from secondary education – 30% versus 12.9% for Germany, 17.3% for Holland, 23.1% for Italy and 23.4% for France. Language skills are essentially zero versus major competitors – without going into detail this is mainly due to censorship (under Franco who didn’t allow foreign language films or TV programmes); teaching methods (emphasis on grammar and learning by rote); and a lack of interest from much of the population – why do we need to speak another language when we have Spain and Latin America.
At the same time, there has been an emphasis on encouraging people to get a university degree – with the consequence that the quality and relevance of degrees has suffered. Also, the quality of Spanish university education seems to be pretty poor – there are only 3 Spanish universities in the European top 100 .
In a recent report by Everis, a leading consulting firm based in Spain, 100 experts stated that urgent changes were needed to the Spanish education system to focus on developing knowledge, innovation and talent. They said that the Spanish education system should be more transparent and focused on finding an adequate balance between quality and quantity; university and professional education and training; and classic competences versus modern competences. They also commented that there were big socio-cultural obstacles to change.
One of the indicators of the failings of the Spanish education system, along with poor economic management, is the fact that with an unemployment rate of more than 20%, 49% of the unemployed are less than 25 years old while the level of unemployment amongst the 45+ age group is also very high. This amounts to a talent gap which will take generations to solve – even if the correct policies are adopted.
So, in short, Spain does not have the human capital to compete effectively in an increasingly globalised world and many of its most talented and qualified people, e.g. doctors, engineers, architects, have left the country to work abroad. Interestingly, as I finished writing the first draft of this article, the Spanish government announced a five year “Integral Industrial Plan” which will involve an investment of €83bn between 2011 and 2015 to:
o improve industrial competitiveness;
o encourage R&D;
o foster growth and dynamism of SME’s;
o encourage exports; and
o strengthen strategic sectors.
So, at last, there is recognition of where some of the long term problems lie within Spain and an important step in the right direction. Nevertheless, there is still much to do especially, as noted above, in the area of Spanish education..
Robert Tenison is an Anglo-Spaniard with over 30 years experience of doing business in Spain across a number of sectors. He has been living in Spain for the last 9 years and is the author of the novel Deadly Secrets, a story based in southern Spain about corruption, bribery and murder related to the urban planning process.Share and Enjoy:
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Monday, December 13, 2010
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This is a great post about lifestyle in Valencia
A Few Thoughts on Lifestyle
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010
I have just got this email to my esteemed self so it must be genuine right?
"I am David Garfield, Chief Campaign Officer of the PRINCIPAL CAMPAIGN
OF DEMOCRATS: OBAMA 2014 INC ID: C00411934.I write to seek your sincere assistance in transferring the sum of £28M GBP 28
million Pounds sterling.I discovered my office has some excess funds amounting to 10 million Pounds
recovered from donations and grants from democrats around the world during our
election campaign and pleas for support for our incumbent president Barack
Hussein Obama, According to plans, The excess funds was to be used in clearing
debts owed by Mrs Hillary Clinton during her campaign programs.I thought there
is a better way of expending this funds.I want this money to be used to
alleviate the poverty and sufferings of children in Iraq and Africa and donate
to Charity organizations around the world.My plea to you is that you assist me get this funds out of the United Kingdom
where it is presently lodged safe and for your assistance ,you will
have a fair
percentage of the total money and all investments shall be under your
supervision.This simple transfer process could be arranged in less than 3 working days.I await your sincere response,David .A. Garfield.
Chief Campaign Officer,
Barack Obama Campaign Office."
How can you do this to us Barack. I knew you didn't think much of Hilary but let her pay her debts!
(For those of you who think I don't get it by the way... I do)
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
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