I asked my First Certificate students to tell me their strengths and weaknesses during our last class. We were talking about how personality factors into the type of job you choose and your success in your profession.
My weakness? I am crazy impatient (an obvious reason to not teach babies). The problem with living in Spain, then, is the amount of waiting one has to do in order to be a productive human in society here. Even the simplest of tasks can take an enormously long time, and with the ongoing stream of budget cuts, there are less personnel in the office and more people free in the am to stand in line.
By far the biggest place you’ll waste your time in Spain is at the Foreigner’s Office. Getting a NIE is a three-step process, asking information requires parking it on an uncomfortable plastic bench for hours and arriving after 7am ensures that you’re likely to not receive a number. The hours (perhaps days) I’ve spent in the office – particularly when trying to determine my status in 2010 after losing the Ministry of Education grant – are immeasurable.
There are ways to make the whole experience a little bit better, but listening to people tell you their sob stories while you’re surrounded by one of Seville’s most enchanting plazas is just torturous. My advice is to arrive later in the morning, after all of the civil servants have had a chance to eat breakfast, bring extra photocopies of everything and to be polite, even when the funcionario sends you away for the third time in one morning. Being polite can go a long way to a civil servant who’s really just wishing you’d get out of her hair so she can chat with the guy at the desk next to hers.
Banker’s hours in Spain tend to be 8:15 – 14:15. This means, of course, if you’re a normal human being, that you can’t make it in to pay bills, make a deposit or complain that your card has been swallowed up again. What’s more, Saturdays and Sundays mean the place is chapá.
To avoid the line waiting, and banks for the most part, I’d sign up for either La Caixa, which offers great rates for students under 26 and a full-service ATM that allows you to do everything from deposit your check to top up your bonobus at any hour of the day. Likewise, ING Direct offers extended hours AND they’re open on Saturdays (you’ll just need a paycheck stub to open a cuenta nómina).
Another place you’ll wait in line, thanks to budget cuts, is the post office. In Spain, your address assigns you to a certain correos office. Mine happens to be a 15-minute bike ride from my house, while there is one not 250 meters from my front door.
While I was home visiting Chicago, I won a book contest put on by Books4Spain. The book was sent to my house, but no one was home to receive it. A notice was left in my mailbox to pick it up at the correos office, so I found a bit of time to go immediately the first morning I was back in Seville, arriving just as the doors opened. I was the fifteenth person in line, but still waited 45 minutes for them to tell me my book was returned two months earlier. Word to the wise: if a letter or package is not picked up within 15 days, it goes back to the sender, though if it’s not a certified letter, you can send someone else in your name, so long as they carry a piece of paper giving them the power to do so, signed by you with your NIE number.
Frustrated, I got a tostada with ham and a big cup of coffee. Even at the crack of dawn, the place was still packed!
Recently, I had to get a page of stickers with my IRS tax code on it. I walked into the Hacienda building at opening time on a Monday morning and was delighted to find only half a dozen seats full. I got a number and watched the screen. Only one person was in line in front of me, so I turned on my Kindle and began reading.
…and waited for nearly 45 minutes. When my number was finally called, the three women behind the desk were sitting, chattering away. I cleared my throat. Nothing. Being the cara dura I am, I finally asked for their assistance and a woman slowly rose and wordlessly took my passport. No more words were exchanged while I stood for an additional five minutes waiting for her to print my stickers. If only I could have used TurboTax Online, things would have been so much easier.
Let’s face it, I was cutting into her breakfast time. She had reason to be mad.
Be it Hacienda or even the Distrito office, allot way more time than you think necessary. And bring a book.
Supermarket on Saturday
Everyone is here, since they’re all closed on Sundays. Even I have thrown my hands up in an, “Ok, Spain! You win today!” gesture as I drop my potato chips and litronas of beer at the counter and walk out. I can wait if it’s important enough, but why wait for beer if I can walk across the street for a fresquita anyway?
Rules for Waiting in Line
People in Spain tend to ask the person in front of them to save their place in line. When I say their place in line, I also mean their place in line with their whole family, who will take turns standing their place.
Banks are utterly confusing if there’s a lot of chairs available. Whenever a new patron comes in, he or she will as for el último? and memorize that person’s face. It’s up to you to remember who you’re after and to be aware that people are ruthless when it comes to money matters.
There are VERY special rules for the abuelitas. They’ll come at you, all nice and calling you hija and corazón and mi arma, just one loaf of bread and some eggs in their frail little arms. Then, once you’ve given into the cuteness of little María de los Sietes Dolores, she’ll call over her granddaughter and the cart full of everything Dolores will need for the three weeks of winter she hibernates and cooks for her two dozen children and grandchildren. DO NOT, under any circumstances, give into an abuelita!
Have any more to add, Spain dwellers? Where do the rest of you expats wait in line in your respective countries?