A viral video appeared on social media video a while back that took a humorous look at the nature of administration in Spanish offices.
All the issues in the video, the plethora of documents, the need for copies, the importance and finality of the rubber stamp, will be familiar to those of us who live here and bear the scars of many battles in the offices of local and central government, utilities and even many commercial organisations such as car-hire companies (which can be one of the worst IMHO).
An illustration of the frustrations associated with Spanish administration is my recent attempt to pay a water bill. How hard can it be? A lady knocked on my door and presented me with a 'notificación providencia de apremio' an urgent notification. This is a registered document which I had to sign for. Sent by the office that collects money on behalf of the water board, it contained advice of an outstanding bill. I've been in the process of trying to get the bill in my name and the money taken from my bank account for some years, but that's another story! Anyway, the notification doubles as a bill and contains a bar-code with which I can go to the ATMs of most Spanish banks to make the payment in cash. I was just off to the shops and since the bank was on the way I decided to strike while the iron was hot.
I went to the cash-point, scanned in the code and was greeted with the message 'The payment date of the bill has expired'. I laughed out loud. This was less than 15 minutes after I'd signed to say I had received the damn thing!! So the next day I had to visit the office to get another document. I took this one to the bank, scanned it into the machine and got another message saying 'Sorry but I cannot issue you with a receipt at the moment'. The message disappeared after a few seconds and returned to the previous screen inviting me to scan the document in. I was clearly in a loop as there was no option to escape by paying the bill without a receipt. Mired by thoughts of impending doom I entered the branch and joined the queue. After a quarter of an hour I reached the teller and explained I wanted to pay the bill but the machine wouldn't let me.
"I can't pay it here for you, you must use the machine" the lady replied.
From previous visits I'm familiar with her lust for automation which I presume she sees as work avoided for her.
"I've just tried, it doesn't work" I said, trying my best to appear genuine and pathetic at the same time, in the hope that she might take pity on me and actually choose to help instead of scowl at me which had been her posture so far.
"OK I try" she said and frog-marched me outside to the machine. She stood over me while I repeated the same steps I had previously taken and unsurprisingly achieved the same result.
"The machine is not working. You will have to use another bank." she said and returned to her lair. So I trudged off in search of another bank. First world problems I know but kill me now!
It's worth noting that this bar-code malarkey is relatively new. In the past one had to take such bills into the bank in person. Since the 2008 crash all the banks seem to have introduced measures to restrict the days and hours during which cash payments can be made, so one would, for example, have to wait until the next Thursday and join a long queue between the hours of 8:30 to 10:30 and deal with the teller face-to-face. It was a grim affair.
I recall an incident regarding this in Murcia a few years ago. Cutting a very long story short, I'd found a renter for a property that was just about to get its electricity cut off. He gave me a wedge of cash as a deposit, so I went to see the electricity people and got a chit to take to the bank to clear the outstanding bill. I took it to the Santander bank but the gentleman refused to take the payment because it was on the wrong day. I should point out the bank was empty except for he and me. I asked to see the manager. He said he was the manager! I remonstrated with him for a good ten minutes, pointing out the imminent demise of the leccie supply but he remained smugly resolute - he didn't want my money!! It was nearly closing time and, realizing that I was achieving nothing (other than entertaining this chap's fantasy of how he would treat people were he a guard in a Nazi concentration camp), I decided it was prudent to leave in search of another bank. Fortunately a nearby branch of La Caixa was more accommodating. I understand why banks have these rules to streamline transaction activities in order to reduce costs etc but Jesus wept, whatever happened to 'the customer is always right?'
Incidentally there appears something institutionally evil about Santander. A friend of mine visited the local branch with his elderly incontinent mother a while ago. She was 'took short' and asked if she could use the staff toilet. They refused. Her son pleaded but to no avail, so they had to forego their place in the queue so she could be taken elsewhere for a pee. The branch closed down some months after. Karma is believed to be the cause.
Another incident of bureaucratic madness got my gander up recently. Very kindly and proactively, the department of health in Andalusia sent me a letter offering me the opportunity to volunteer to take part in a regional colon cancer screening programme. I was thrilled to be included and immediately returned the letter signifying my agreement to be so. Soon after, I received a screening kit through the post. One is instructed how to take the sample (not a great deal of fun) and to return it to the local medical centre, recommending a Monday or Thursday. This I did. The medical centre lady quizzed me when I brought it in to make sure the sample was fresh - apparently it only lasts a day even when refrigerated.
Some weeks passed and I was sent another kit and a letter saying something had gone wrong with the previous specimen. So once again I waited until Wednesday evening, did my sample, popped it into the fridge and brought it to the medical centre the following morning, as again the accompanying letter said to return the sample Monday or Thursday. This time there was a huge group of people queued outside, but I caught the lady's eye in the hope of dropping my bag of shit and making a run for it.
"Can I leave this with you" I said,
"No" she said, and officiously tapped her Bic on a paper notice that had been sticky-taped to the door,
"Colon sample deposits Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 8:30 to 9:30" she said.
"You won't take it?" I pleaded. Then another woman in a white coat chimed in.
"Tell him to come back in the morning..."
Her colleague pointed out tomorrow was Friday so I wouldn't be able to come until Monday, by which time the sample would have expired. The other lady said it looked as though I would need another kit. Both health workers lost interest in me and drifted back to their business without really giving me a satisfactory answer as to what I should do.
Then an old lady in the queue took to scolding me, wagging her finger and reminding me it was 'Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday only - 8:30 to 9:30', as though this was blindingly obvious to all, however half-witted, not least the old hags like her who have nothing else to do all day save occupy queues at the local medical centre. I reveled briefly in the contemplation that due to her advanced years, the blight of her visitation on humanity would soon be at an end. Then I took my leave.
It's hard to nail a common theme in such anecdotes, though I submit that while the Spanish are normally the most lovely, kind, helpful humanitarians one can imagine, put them behind a desk (or a steering wheel, or handle of a Zimmer frame) and it's as though they have taken a large swig of Dr Jekyll's potion. Fronting such people with the straight-jacket of computer systems magnifies their power creating an edifice that at times seems completely unscalable. A friend recently remarked on how impenetrable Spanish Government websites are to human navigation. He's not wrong. A week of exploration has gone by and I'm still trying to figure out how to get my hands on another colon cancer testing kit!