Is it really that bad in Spain?

A Frequently Asked Question throughout my trip to England. Yes, I would reply, it  really is. I’ve lived it, I can see it all around me, and the figures don’t lie (they just manipulate). Yet, the doom, gloom and apathy doesn’t help.  The UK is out of recession, but it was grey for nearly the entire time I was there. I’ve returned to a beautiful, light, and sunny Spain, but to a pessimistic atmosphere for the year ahead. Right now the country needs active risk-takers, people willing to invest their time if not their money in new projects; people open to moving around and travelling. There’s no place to live like Andalucía but other regions and countries have a lot to offer too – economically, culturally, socially and even politically. Later, young people can bring their experience, skills and maybe money back to Spain where, deep down, most of them really want to live. It all sounds so simple right? I know that it’s not. These are complex, despairing and even tragic times for Spanish people.  Especially for older people who somehow have to provide for their families.  I would only ask that people are patient, positive and proactive – that we club together to think up new and imaginative solutions, and that we can still smile and be thankful for the sunny Spanish winter mornings (y las tapas, la gente, las risas etc etc…).

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Spain a Pessimistic Nation?

This morning I did my declaración de la renta (tax return). Just as I was saying politely to the funcionario (civil servant) attending me, Perdone, tengo una cita previa a las 9.40 (Excuse me, I have an appointment at 9.40), the man turned round to greet his colleague behind him: Quillo, ¿ya te has fumado un cigarro?” (Mate, have you had your ciggy break already?). I didn’t get a, “Good morning”, a “Just a second Madam”, or even an acknowledgement…

When the man turned back to me, he gave me a number, which one of his other two compañeros (colleagues) would call out when it was my turn…

Rather than pessimistic, I would describe Spain as conformist. The Spaniards are mostly deeply fond of their country and culture, both of which are extremely charming and attractive. Spanish people know how to enjoy life, and they have the climate, geography, food and traditions to do so.

A sizeable percentage of entrepreneurial Spaniards, do enjoy taking risks. Yet, as a nation, the Spaniards are not generally risk-takers. Why would they want to put at stake what they highly appreciate, when there are few incentives to do so?

Other nationalities are more prone to leaving everything: families, friends, and loved ones for a professional opportunity. This extreme is not desirable either.

However, in Spain, up until now, the greatest aim of many has been to become a funcionario. They are on average the best paid jobs, and once you pass the long, harsh and painful exams ‘Oposiciones’ (many Spaniards have to repeat them for years…) to achieve one, it becomes “A job for life”; it is virtually impossible to get fired…

Hardworking and passionate civil servants do exist, but there are also countless funcionarios like my ‘friend’ this morning. The system does not give them incentives to do the best they can, and this affects productivity and quality in some of the main public services

Conformist, yes. Pessimistic? Not in every sense. How could a country that is so beautiful, cheerful, culturally rich and talented at sport (ignoring last night’s performance!), be pessimistic?

Let’s open a Tapas Bar in London!

With top quality, authentic Spanish food. Not these frozen tapas you get in La Tasca (the Spanish MacDonald’s, according to my friend)…

British people do love a bit of Spain.“Oooh! I just love some Tapas!” cry the people who come to visit me.

I understand. The idea of ‘lots of different bits’ of food to share is very appealing and novel to us Brits.

Yet, some ideas the Spaniards have about British alimentation are funny. Talking about the Tapas Bar. My friends: “We’ll have to take Olive Oil with us, you can’t buy it in England”. Me: “Of course you can!!”

My friends: “Pero aceite de OLIVA?? Most British people cook with butter, and if not they use vegetable oil!!” At my university we all cooked with olive oil – a couple of quid from Tesco :).

Tapas

Another classic: “And of course, we’ll serve cold beer! Nada de esa cerveza caliente!” Me: “We don’t drink warm beer, you’re getting confused with Germany. If our beer’s warm it’s because we drink pints, and once you get half-way through”…

I laughed and suggested that perhaps we should concentrate on the food.

That was when we realized… none of us are actually capable of producing “Top quality, authentic Spanish food”. No pasa nada. We’ll learn ;).

I’ll study… mañana.

Spaniards are famous for postponing everything to ‘mañana, mañana”. Is this fair? Hmmm. They are generally more relaxed and less obsessed with ‘their careers’ than the British for example…

However, times are changing and with ‘la crisis’ it’s productivity or loss. Spaniards work for some of the longest hours in Europe, but they are not up there on productivity… Not currently, anyway.

One thing the Spanish do leave for tomorrow is English. El inglés: La asignatura pendiente.  Adults have learned English since they were small but many are embarrassed to say more than “Hello, how are you?”

Spanish TV and films are dubbed, which doesn’t help. But with digital TV and the web 2.0 this is now changing.

Besides, Spanish companies now demand that their employees know English, and many Spaniards want to move abroad to find employment…

Can a ‘mañana, mañana’ mentality survive in our fast-paced, crisis-stricken world? Spain wouldn’t be Spain if, to some small extent, it didn’t :(.