It is also full of surprises: did you know it’s the second most mountainous place in Europe after Switzerland? Yes, more skiing available than in the UK. The food is great, what do you expect from the greenhouses which supply most of Europe’s fresh fruit and veg? So it’s no surprise that lots of Northern Europeans are choosing to change their lives and move here.
The problem is that your average ‘Northerner’, whether they are Brit, Dutch or German, doesn’t always know in advance what it’s like to get things done in Spain. Things most definitely don’t work like at home! Simple stuff, like paying bills at the bank, getting working Internet (and keeping it) and dealing with the state administration can get complicated and cause a lot of unnecessary stress. Here are some basic rules we suggest you digest:
The first rule is: never, never lose your temper when things get complicated or don’t work
This will be the first rule you will break. Don’t worry, that’s normal. The Spanish are an expressive people, they will emotionally argue in a social setting. You may see aggressive body language in heated argument between the best of friends. However, when it comes to getting a public servant or employee to help you, keep your cool. Getting angry will often mean the person you are talking to is less likely to be helpful. It might be the case that the person doesn’t have the authority to sort out your problem or the ability to let you speak to a superior.
You can shout, scream and bang desks, but often this will not solve your problem. On the phone this might mean someone hangs up on you. OK, now you’re really mad. You phone back and try to make an official complaint that you have been hung up on. Companies like Telefonica or Jazztell will then tell you to send a fax with your complaint; mmm, do you think that is really going to help solve your problem?
The second rule is: be patient and use emotional intelligence
The best way to get anything done is to appeal to the human side of whoever you are talking to. Be nice, call them by their name and make them happy to help you. Whatever the rules are, Spain is a land of exceptions and Spanish people are used to negotiating backwards and forwards to get things done. Follow their example. You need to find out how to fix your problem and then convince someone to help you do so.
The third rule is: plan at Spanish speed
When planning things, leave plenty of room for manoeuvre. If you are told it will take two weeks to get a phone line, plan for four. Things tend to take time to happen in Spain and the concept of fast customer service (or sometimes any customer service) is lacking in many companies. I asked a Spanish person why everyone puts up with it and was told – with a shrug – “¡Es lo que hay!”, that’s just how it is. If your ADSL provider messes up in the ‘North’ you shout and change provider. In Spain, you can be assured they are all as bad as each other, so changing may leave you even longer without working Internet…
The fourth rule is: sort your Spanish out
If you plan to live in Spain, you need to speak Spanish. There are of course many foreigners living here with hardly any Spanish. And yes, many people survive OK with just the basics, but in our experience those who make the effort to get fluent and comfortable with the language enjoy life a lot more. It is hard, but everyone can learn a language and the benefits are big. No more excuses, just get on with it. It will be very frustrating at times and you might feel you are never going to express yourself properly, stick with it – you will get there.
The fifth rule is: Spanish Bureaucracy always wins
Yep, you have no choice but to comply with the rules. There is a lot of paperwork that needs to be done and very few short cuts. Don’t put things off, make sure you find out what you need to do and get it done. Otherwise, you might rapidly find things getting even more complicated than they should be and that just creates more work.
The sixth rule is: get help if you need it, consider it if you think you don’t
Many Spaniards use a ‘gestor’ or ‘asesor’, a professional that takes care of administrative issues such as tax returns and other administrative tasks. The main reason they do this is that navigating though the bureaucracy is a bit of a nightmare. Their fees tend to be pretty good value (just try and estimate how long it will take you to work it all out) compared to ‘Northern’ countries. Make sure you shop around, find someone you are comfortable with and feel confident in; or get a recommendation. It is important you agree what is included in their basic fees. A good tip is to make sure you keep on top of what they are doing, check things, get copies of all paperwork and understand all of the forms and processes. If you want to go ‘solo’ later this makes it easier.
Rule number seven is: keep cool and don’t loose your temper
Yes, this is a little repetitive, but it will make you happier in the long run!
Advice to stay zen
One of the most common comments we hear from expats everywhere is, “it’s not like at home!” Try thinking about it the other way; the reason you are probably there is because it is not like at home. Everywhere has positive and negative points, once you accept the downside of life in Spain and stop getting frustrated, you can go back to enjoying all of the great advantages this country offers! Oh, and remember to learn more Spanish. ¡Qué tengas suerte!
By Simon Lynch
A website for people like you in Spain