Bureaucratic Constipation

There are times when everything seems difficult. When you have multiple balls in the air and none of them are coming down. Ugh. My historical fear and loathing of Spanish bureaucracy is well documented here. It truly is an art form. Yes, it’s head-shaking. But there moments when I think ‘Damn, they just performed some death defying high-wire administrivia there. 🤔Respect.’

Since moving here, I have had to learn to slow down. Getting angry is pointless. Emotion should never enter into the equation. What’s called for is relentlessness. That dogged determination, and a commitment to never giving up. It has served me well in this life. I’ve had people at government buildings in Spain cave when they see me. Because they quickly learn I will out paperwork them. And I will continue to turn up. Forever. They just want me to leave. I’m not rude or mean. I’m just a rash that will never go away until the ointment that is a piece of paper with an official government stamp soothes it.

There are friends who have returned from trying to perform one operation or another at the ayuntamiento, or similar government agency, and are frustrated. ‘They turned me away. I’ll never get this done.’ My answer is aways the same. ‘So you pitched a tent and waited them out, right? You gotta go back. During your appointment, if they hand you more forms, you don’t leave. You bring a trolley of office supplies with you, including tape, paper clips and a stapler. Always a black and a blue pen. Don’t tell me you don’t possess these basic supplies for tackling Spanish bureaucracy head on. And a fat plastic folder. It can be filled with old phone bills or flyers from Correos. But if they think you’ve come equipped with documents, they are more likely to lower the bar of what they will randomly ask for to try to trip you up and make you go away. It’s like a game of cat and mouse. And it’s all theater. Never blink.’

Lately, I’ve had a list of bureaucratic nonsense that needed to be tackled. And like a top athlete, it requires some training, and some psychology. You do your research. But, also, you need to time your first strike in a way that will be most beneficial to you. Check their schedule. Most offices, both governmental and private, close for lunch between 1-3:30. Never be the last appointment before lunch. They want you gone and you’ll be dismissed no matter what you need to get done. Don’t be the first appointment of the day, either. They might be running late, their kids were cranky. A host of reasons. And the first appointment after lunch is a nonstarter, as well. They are in a food coma, late returning, or irritated to be back at their desk. The best time is 11am or 4pm. Not hungry and not in a hurry to rush off anywhere. Speaking of hungry, eat and hydrate before hand. You’ll last longer. And stretch before you go inside. Will others stare at you? Yes. But who cares. It will invariably be a very long wait and you’ll need all the physical stamina you can muster.

I’ve had people try to push me off. Like the guy at the Vodafone store today who refused to assist, while advising me that Vodafone wasn’t going to help me with a billing issue, then told me to go to the Diputación and denounce the cellphone company. ‘Write a very long letter explaining everything. Submit it to the government. It’s the only way Vodafone will do anything for you.’ At that point, I pointed to his bright red shirt with Vodafone emblazoned upon it. ‘You know you work for them, right?’ To be fair, American mobile phone company ‘customer service’ is no better.

But, in general, I find most people in Galicia want to help you. And often here, help comes from unexpected people. After Vodafone, we went into the Diputación de Lugo. It’s an old grey stone building inside the Roman wall in the old city, with the remnants of the Mercado do Nadal (Christmas market) out front. We entered and spoke to the guards.

In the US, when you purchase property they automatically transfer all your taxes, title, etc. when the purchase and sale agreement is signed at the title company upon closing. Here? None of that happens. You just have to know who you are supposed to file additional paperwork with, like the Concello or the Hacienda or the Diputación de <enter province name here>. And how did I learn all this? By not doing it and having the sellers contact me to ask me why I didn’t do it. For every single document, individually, as they received the notices. So, yeah. But now I have a checklist of all the people you reach out to after you purchase property and/or move provinces in Spain. It’s not a small list. And today, after eight months, I had one final paper to file.

Back to the guards at the Diputación in Lugo, I stood in the vestibule and struggled through with my ever evolving español. My vocab is coming along nicely so we got there in the end. One of the wonderful guards nodded, then left and went to the counter and got everything I needed, forms, etc. and he stood outside in the freezing covid-free wind and instructed me on how to fill out the paperwork, and the number to call to get an appointment to file it. With Covid, it is understandable that we need an appointment. What I found remarkable is that a security guard would go out of his way to help me sort out something I would have never been able to sort out on my own. Security guards in the US have not historically shown me this kind of courtesy.

I skipped the Vodafone guy’s suggestion to file a denunciation of his own company while I was there. It felt like that should be the very last resort. There had to be a better way. So on the way home I decided to roll the dice as Jeff drove. My español is coming along. I called the Vodafone customer service line and spoke to them en español. I know, right? I explained how I cancelled service in September, yet they keep billing me. And I need it sorted out. It took nearly an hour. They had to go back through call logs and more. But we finally got it and unwound the convoluted scenario that got me in this situation. I explained that I had been advised to denounce Vodafone while in Lugo today, but had decided to try yet one more phone call and test my language skills. The very nice woman thanked me for not doing that and she took care of it. Pride. I felt it. I’m not ashamed to say it.

Now, I just need to slow down, take a breath, and remember that if I think something should take a week it will take three or four. One hour will quickly become three. And seven phone calls are de riguere. It’s like the conversion from imperial measurements to metric. There is a rule-of-thumb calculation there somewhere. But today, I didn’t even need to whip out my Spanish bureaucracy office supply trolley. So that’s progress. And just like that, I’m back in compliance with the authorities, and it seems that suddenly all my paperwork is flowing again. Deep breath….and exhale.

8 thoughts on “Bureaucratic Constipation

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