Spanish bureaucracy, part 1, – settling in

2008/03/01 § Leave a comment


Now after roughly a month in Spain I have learned something about bureaucracy. If you are a German, Irish or Swedish you may think you know about bureaucracy- you certainly think you do, don’t you- but believe me, you have not the faintest clue unless you have experienced a five hour queue outside in front of a police station just to learn afterwards, you did not have to queue at all. But when you asked the gigantic police man at the entrance you were denied entry and harshly asked to wait outside in the cold, with the 5 hundred or so other foreigners, who seek to apply for a Spanish social secutity number.

Now the thing was that I had already applied in Sweden. It seems this possibility is not commonly known to the Spanish officials, hence the 5 (five) hours of standing outside, just to hear what I knew beforehand when I finally arrived at the desk, hungry, thirsty and angry: “No you are wrong here, try upstairs…”, and by the way: why did I wait again (5 hours, did I mention it?).

Well, in order to understand the situation I should mention that it is not because I am a foreigner, that I have been treated with ignorance. Fair is fair, and also my spanish friends were all successless in their attempt ot convince the big-mac-police-man at the door that I did NOT have to wait.

Anyhow. Now I got this social security number and I was sure that my worst experience with Spanish bureaucracy was over. But I could not have guessed that the ministry of finances with its division to take tax from me was a worse nightmare alltogether. One huge difference however, they do not make you stand and wait, they prefer to send you aroud their mother-f*** huge building, pick a number ticket for wiating from a machine to be told that you at the wrong counter again. So off to another floor, another waiting line and another wrong- again- counter.

At least no-one speaks english. So a typical foreigner as me is tempted to blame it all on the language problem. Right? Wrong! When guarded and guided by a spanish experienced and native-bureaucracy fighter you do not get things faster. In fact, as my boss noted probably correctly, in that situation I even lose the little bit of compashion bonus and the little bit of motivation the staff might have to help out of a feeling of pity for me, standing there with my big brown eyes, looking all confused and scared (which is a fasade; my real feelings are of course anger and suicidal-bomber tendancies- they know why they have scanners like they have at the airport at all of these buildings!).

Anyhow. After queuing at the right counter the lady stamed on the paper and said that we had to go to get a signature somewhere else, but that it was not going to be processed within the next 2 weeks. One must understand that without this from being processed I would not have been able to get my salary in any straight forward fashion. But o our way to get the signature this lady breathlessly cought up with us, ripped that form out of our hands and explained (in Spanish of course) that she had maken a mistake. Instead of form 481 she thought we had form 482 (which is the form she is responsible for). So this dragon-like lady turned into a pussy cat and guided us to the right counter where we did not even have to take a queing number.

Now just the signature, and off we go: “the man who is responsible for signing form 482 is not in house at the moment, and wont’t be in anymore today.” It was around 13:00, just for the record. Now even my boss who had accompanied me got a bit uneasy. But even her persistence did not help us. We would be able to get a stamp, but not the signature. Nobody else in house (I would estamte a total of 2000 employees) was authorised to sign the form.

But, lucky for us, we could already get form 118 signed, which we needed for the employer (my university). Form 118 was already printed by my university and I had filled in all details. All I needed I thought- was the authorized person who had the stamp to stamp it and – with a bit of luck- even the guy who possessed authority to sign the damn thing. When we got to the desk after walking another 15 minutes, searching the right place an then waiting another 30 minutes for our turn (which we almost missed, because the ladies who were responsible for our inquiry left for lunch, and we almost did not notice that our number suddenly appeared somewhere else almost out of our vision) we learned that it was not form 118 my employer needed (even in contrast to what my employer obviously believed and wanted) but 056. And I would not get anything else than 056 either. At least I got that, and on the way back both my both and I had to stop over for a lunch-beer to calm our nerves. Anyhow, now the worst was over, right?

We went to the university where I planed to sign my work-contract. Well, unfortunately the person who would be able to sign the damn thing had gone for lunch, and again, no one else was allowed to sign it. In fact, they did not even have the access to the computer system to sign the damn thing. We had to wait for him to come back. To my amazement I learned that he was authorised to print and sign, but before signature someone else had to stamp the contract. Luck has it that the lady with the stamp was not sick, not out for lunch nor on maternity leave, but in the office and willing to do her duty! I was employed from that moment!

I just needed that signature from the tax-office, which I went to get after a couple of days. By now they had completely forgotten about me again (even thought they had said: “do not call us, we call you, when we are done”). Anyhow, I eventually played my puppy-charm on the female staff and got what I need. The form, stamped and signed, that is.

I was amased that this time I did not even need a copy of my passport and pass-fotos. That is the key to everything you do in Spanish bureucraca, I have learned now: you want to buy this loaf of bread? Sure, please sign this form here and here; now we need to get 6 pictures of you and a copy of your passport, and your Spanish social security number. You got all that? Great! Now, let me go to the back and see if I find the baker. I got to get his stamp and signature, then the bread is yours.

Do I sound bitter? Not at all! When I went to the FOREIGNERS OFFICE yesterday, to register as a student in order to learn some Spanish (I still hold the naive believe actually speaking the language is more usefull than puppy charm) I lived another chapter of Spanish office humor. No one in the “foreigner’s office” spoke anything but Spanish. And that is the place where you enroll to…you guessed right…to renroll to learn Spanish. And- correct- the forms (with one exception) are in Spanish. Now they charge you 430 Euros (discount price- originally 500) for a 2 month course. I better know Spanish after that, else they will get to know some German-anger!

I was stupid enough to belive that I just needed to enroll by filling out the forms and handing over the money. Well, let me say it like this: I forgot the 6 passport fotos and that you of course can not pay there, but only at a branch of the university’s bank. At the bank you can not pay with credit card of course. Only cash. Of course- what was I thinking this is only a BANK!

Alright. Now I am not going to tell you about the fact that I tried to get money from an ATM with my Swedish bank card, and that they booked of my money without ever giving me the cash (my bank investigates). I also won’t tell you about the fact that my Spanish bank was supposed to transfer money to my swedish bank, but that money never arrived (my bank investigates).

Fortunately for you the plane I am on lands now… 😉

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