Friday, 23 January 2009

The unwritten laws of Spain

Spain, being the epicentre of malfunctioning rules, inefficient bureaucracy and generally a culture of disinterested chaos, survives mostly through instituting rules and customs that are essentially unwritten but must be followed at all times. To truly fit in here you must follow the etiquette. Some important things to remember are as follows:

Firstly, during the Winter months, it´s required that you comment on how cold it is constantly. At a minimum this should be done every time you enter or leave a building. On entering the building you must point out how cold it was outside. As you remove your multiple garments - scarves, hats, coats, more coats, jumpers etc - simply make a shuddering gesture, look your companions over, then remark ´ay, que frio, eh?´ This is for the benefit of the people around you. When exiting a building and going out into the cold, you repeat the same routine, only this time you say it to yourself, rather than your companions. Failure to do this will result in the catastrophic effect that no-one know that it is cold, or be informed that the weather is, in fact, appropriate to the season.

Secondly, if you are old and Spanish, especially if you´re are old, Spanish and walk incredibly slowly, more slowly than any human being really should be able to without the universe collapsing in on itself, you MUST walk in the middle of narrow pavements. As you wobble gently from side to side (your bottom half for some reason is considerably wider than you top), you cannot allow other, more rapid, pedestrians, to pass you. You are in fact part of a complex training programme demonstrating the Spanish way of life to interloping foreigners. Without your assistance they will never learn the correct way of walking on Spanish streets (the gentle amble which results in everyone being late for everything) and will forever be laughed at as the sad, inept foreigners that they are. Now, the selfish pensioner, unmoved by these arguements, might ask why they should be expected to shuffle so wearily around the city in this manner, selflessly enlightening the unitiated outsider. But by way of recompense they receive a reward whereby every Sunday young Spanish people are obliged by law to take an old person for a walk. Preferably this should be a relative of some kind, a grandparent if you´re of that age or a parent if you´re a bit older. If not, you should find an unattached one and adopt them. They´ve earned this reward for years of patient wobbling.

Finally, you should look out for "la broma burocracia", a practice that to the outsider might seem infuriating, but should be borne with a phlegmatic shrug, simply being the way things are done. The system works like this: you will be set a reasonable deadline by which to register someone or something (everything must be registered with 15 different agencies, in different parts of the city, none of whom share any information), after dwelling for the regular quantity of time on it, you will decide to make an appointment at whichever of the three million governments departments is in charge of it. This appointment will inevitably be after the deadline. You will have no choice by to take it. Some months later the department that set the deadline (as opposed to the one that fulfils it) will mention that non-compliance with their instructions will incur a hefty fine. When you (not unreasonably) point out that it is their own system that lacks the capacity to carry out their mandates, they will shrug their shoulders and fine you anyway. Then, when you actually go for the appointment, you will discover that didn´t really need one anyway (you just needed a place in the short line) and as the final insult, will be told that you´ve actually already done whatever you needed to do and they could have just sent you the correct piece of paper in the first place.

But like I said, don´t get wound up. It´s just how this place works.

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