Home News Spanish News THE ‘CAN’T DO’ BUREAUCRAT


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The unhelpful and miserable looking man at the counter, a ‘can’t do bureaucrat’ if ever there was one, took a cursory look at my documents

I hate wasting time, and Spanish bureaucracy is one of the greediest when it comes to pointless time wasting activities. In my experience, the bureaucrats of all nations are two distinct species, the ones who ‘can do’ and the ones who ‘can’t do’ – in other words, jobsworths.

This more depressing of the species is also part of the ‘my glass is half empty’ rather than the more positive ‘my glass is half full’ bureaucrat.

Mobile phone networks are one of the few things that I dislike about life in Spain. By all accounts, this view is not restricted to Spain, but is a common criticism of phone companies in other countries too. During the years that I have lived in Spain, I have tried all the networks and each time have suffered poor quality service, high pricing, together with a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude to customer service.

For expats, the fun and games often plummet to new lows when it comes to the termination of a mobile phone contract. Several years ago, it took me six months to terminate a contract that had already ended.

I promised that I would never again be caught by a mobile phone contract in Spain. As a result, I usually purchase an unlocked mobile phone in the UK and use it with a prepaid Spanish sim card. Several years ago, a good friend advised me to try a new company that offered fair pricing, good coverage and a no nonsense approach to its business.

I have been with them since the service began, albeit by obtaining a card from my friend living in the Peninsular, as the service was not, until recently, available in the Canary Islands.

A smart new 4G phone, together with 4G coverage in my area, means that I have been finally tempted away in favour of another company, since my current company is unlikely to offer a 4G service for some time. However, before I can access the delights of 4G, I have to have a contract, without a new phone, with the company as part of the deal. I decided to forget my earlier promise, and headed off to the nearest shop to sign up and collect the new sim card for my phone.

Knowing how Spanish bureaucrats have an unhealthy greed for all paperwork, I took my residency document, national identity number, copy of my passport (notarised by the police and a notary), bank details, utility bills, together with details of my existing phone service to the mobile phone shop.

The unhelpful and miserable looking man at the counter, a ‘can’t do bureaucrat’ if ever there was one, took a cursory look at my documents, sniffed and muttered that I needed to get a copy of a paid utility bill from my bank before he could give me a sim card. I headed off to the bank, queued for the obligatory 90 minutes, and was eventually issued with what I was told was the correct document, which would satisfy any mobile phone company.

I headed back to the phone shop and cheerfully presented the document. Again, the ‘can’t do bureaucrat’ took a brief glance at the piece of paper, shook his head and said that it had to be officially stamped by the bank, which it was not. I drove back to the bank, where I adopted the Canarian technique of importantly moving to the front of the queue with a “Will you just?” question. No one appeared to mind too much, my document was stamped, signed and dated and I headed back to the shop.

The ‘can’t do bureaucrat’ examined my documents, smirked, shook his head and told me that I needed to bring my original passport to the shop. Now, I have been caught by this one many times before and since being robbed and relieved of my passport in Madrid many years ago, my passport is securely locked away and never sees the light of day until I leave the island. I use a notarised and police verified document, which is always accepted without question. However, this time was to be the exception.

With my patience now stretched to the limit, I returned to the shop with the original documents. The ‘can’t do bureaucrat’ examined all the documents once again, gave a brief nod, but then told me that he didn’t have the very small nano sim cards in stock and that I would have to wait for a few days until they arrived from Barcelona and return to the shop to collect the card. I collected my documents, told the ‘can’t do bureaucrat’ to forget it, returned home and completed the entire transaction on line in a few minutes. The sim card arrived by courier two days later.

This entire experience took the best part of a day and once again reminded me of the horrors of mobile phone contracts, as well as how easy it is to fall into a Spanish bureaucratic nightmare. My best advice is to stick with a prepaid sim, or if you must have a contract and are computer and Spanish language savvy, do it yourself on line.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ (ISBN: 9780992767136). Available as paperback, as well as on Kindle, iBooks and Google Play Books.

iPhone/iPad and Android Apps: ExpatInfo, CanaryIsle and CanaryGay now available.

© Barrie Mahoney

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