Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Things Spain Could Improve

I love Spain. I would love to live here (oh wait...I DO). I took the above picture while I was sitting in my local park, which is in an old riverbed, doing some work by the water in a sundress. It was maybe a couple degrees warmer than England right now. Although my time in Spain may seem all sangría and sunbathing, I have been able to identify some things Spain would need to improve before I took up permanent residence. You hear me Rajoy? Sort it or I will do a Depardieu.

Shop opening times
Are you or are you not a nation of lay-abouts, Spain? Because it is pretty hard to contest the general stereotype about people from hot countries when shops take a siesta during the afternoon, close on Sundays and banks shut at 14h30 every single day. I know someone who was turned away from paying his enrolment tax because the bank only accepted money the following day or before 11am on Tuesday. Which is fair, that's a specialist service for a BANK.

Days when shops aren't open at all
I've mentioned the Sunday thing, which seems to be common to the Catholic countries of Europe. But I'll mention it again because it is bloody annoying. I am only just starting to remember to buy food on a Saturday, and only because of the many Sundays I've spent foodless and miserable. Then Valencia had Fallas and then Semana Santa a few days afterwards. I have never appreciated Russia's 24/7 culture so much.

Dog faeces
It is just everywhere. Even more than in Madrid. There appears to be no fining system or dog bins to encourage owners to be responsible, but I've seen teams of 6 city workers at a time maintaining a small patch of park in the middle of a road. Perhaps Valencia needs the jobs more than to shell out the money on plastic bins, but arguably transferring maintenance workers to being faeces inspectors along with the collection of the fines would be more lucrative, surely? Or maybe no one cares. Either way the metro platforms do not need regular mopping in London, if you know what I mean...

Glove fascism
It's obligatory to put on disposable plastic gloves to handle vegetables in the supermarket. Which I then remove, put my germ-riddled hands on the keys of the weighing machine and everything else I touch in the supermarket, then go home and wash my vegetables. Great for the environment and for my blood pressure.

Old ladies who can't queue
Back of the line, señora. My elbows will not touch my sides until my produce is on the belt. Conversely, the other day I beat an old lady to the queue by a good couple of minutes. I didn't realise she was even headed there, she was so slow. When the till next to us opened up we had a brief politeness dance until I went ahead with my bottle of water and that's it. She proceeded to stare at me and just audibly rant about people who always had to be first, then more audibly to the cashier once I left. Snooze you lose, lady! Sorry I wasted fifteen of your precious seconds that I would happily give to anyone else with one item. Briton, out. 
Cañas shaped like branded pint glasses 
Look: I'm English. At first your beloved cañas appalled me. However, now I can understand that it's a good amount of beer, which you can drink without the shame of ordering a half-pint in Britain, or punishing yourself with more Foster's than you would ever want. But really Spain, you are pushing me too far with your doll-sized pint glasses. How can I not make fun of you? How can I befriend your people when you insist on looking like giants dwarfing a normal glass? 

Wine bottles with corks
I am no connoisseur, Spain. When I buy a bottle of wine for 1Euro50 to put in my pasta, I do not expect my worst nightmares to be realised when I get back to my flat and have to look for the corkscrew. Most children have more wrist strength and dexterity than me. It's like you want me to hurt myself. Also I then have to make new bottle-stoppers out of kitchen towels and I can't lie them flat in the fridge...you're ruining my life! Cut the pretentiousness*.

Jars with stiff lids
I can't yet confidently point the finger of blame at you, Spain. Especially after what I did to it trying to open that last olive jar. It may just be my medical inferiority or general incompetence, but this is getting on my nerves. The other day I spent thirty minutes of my life battling with a salsa jar to a YouTube tutorial: I tried a tea towel, clingfilm, a rubber glove, a knife, banging it with a wooden spoon, bashing it on the counter, heating water to submerge it in, submerging it again, bashing it again and finally microwaving it. And then it was warm...you cabrones.
You know what goes great with fireworks? Children. Thankfully, Fallas is over now and so is the worst of it, but it can be very disconcerting to see parents teaching their mini-mes to throw explosives around. Particularly around you. Granted, they've clearly been trained well: they plant them securely, run away to a safe distance...I've even seen a little boy hug his scared brother as one exploded. But they've also been thrown in front of me. Overall, I would feel safer if the kids were kept away from the gunpowder.

Does not exist. See above for why I specifically need earplugs.

Lack of police at night
This is not just because I live out of the centre of the city. While there are lots of police around in the daytime, there are few to none at night. I'm sure I'm not the only woman/person who would feel safer walking home alone at night and knowing there were some flashing blue lights around. Nobody likes a night shift, but this really should be spread out more.

Fast food places
Spain's clubbing and general nightlife is structured differently to in the UK. People usually have dinner at 10, go for drinks at 11 and get into a club around 2. By the time you leave you're usually ready for breakfast. But for those of us who don't stick it out till 7, it would be nice to have the option of some disgusting food to soak up the alcohol. I think, as with the chains of well-stocked pharmacies, there is a real gap in the market here. Shame I can't be bothered to fill it.

Poor business acumen
There is a distinct lack of tipping culture in Spain, which usually I would be very happy about, especially in contrast to America's fake smiling, peppy, bothersome slave system. However, sometimes service goes beyond nonchalant to plain sloppy. On one Sunday (see point about everything closing), we were forced to get lunch in a shopping centre that was filled with other forgetful people queuing out of every door. Our chosen restaurant had a seating policy of first come, first serve, which meant that our group of four had to wait for the two groups of eight ahead of us to be seated before we could sit down ourselves. Meanwhile, the few staff on duty had failed to notice the four clear tables that we were irritatedly eyeing. Maybe it's just the former waitress in me, but they would have been cleared, pushed together or filled with a smaller group because English people would not stand for that. They wouldn't say anything about it, but they would leave. Though I guess that's the business advantage of Sundays here (you have no choice).
Spending lots of money on things that don't give you a good return
I don't claim to have ever worked closely with a regional Spanish tourism board. I'm no expert, I know. But it seems to me that if you have a millenia-old relic left in your town, the last thing you need to do is renovate it. You didn't pay for it! Just leave it there. It's free money. Maybe change a couple of things so it doesn't actually endanger people, but I'm pretty sure no one turns up to a Roman theatre and exclaims, 'My god, this place is delapidated! I will be having words with the mayor!' No. You expect it to look run down. Don't go paving over history. 

Furthermore, can you see the above estimated cost of the restoration of three sectors of the Sagunto Castle wall? 536, 123.39 euros is just of a bit of restoration that hasn't happened yet. If I were you, Spain, I'd charge people a little bit to go in. 1 euro? 50 cents? Anything to recoup a bit of that investment, no? 

Walking properly
Just a disclaimer: I am from London. I walk very quickly, mainly because I hate people being in my way, even other Londoners, most of whom have been trained from birth to dart through crowds and get out of whatever crazy weather we're having. I appreciate that in sunny cities, especially ones with a beach, things are more laid-back and I am learning to deal with that. However, I still get irked when groups of people taking up the entire pavement stare at me blankly as I have to walk in the road or shove them out the way so as not to get hit by a cyclist. 

I have seen ridiculous crowds and pedestrian jams during Fallas, with angry, frustrated people who seem very confused as to why they're not moving. Yeah, something actually slower than you people walking - stationary people. Although this is to be expected at a festival, why is no one questioning the fact that there is a four-person strong crowd going in one direction along the pavement, while in the other, people can barely squeeze past along the barrier one at a time? That's just stupid. And so is the old woman in the fatcat direction who kept trying to push us underdogs into the barrier. 
So ends my first post about things Spain could improve...but you have not heard the last of this grumpy old lady. Coming soon: Things England Could Improve!

*Author's note: putting wine in pasta sauce is not pretentious, it is delicious. Naysayers.

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