Viernes el decimotercer (part two)
By Parson Thru
Wed, 11 Nov 2015
A new notebook – always something to savour, but especially in these straightened times. The other one is just about filled with random scribbles and the observations of a man who, as his optician advised, is “on a journey”.
I’m trying my new purchase over a caña in Plaza Manuel Becerra.
Where better to test the performance of a new product?
I reckoned I deserved the book and the caña after two days of grappling with Spanish bureaucracy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those self-appointed slayers of officialdom – there are enough of those. But maybe there’s a balance to be found between those who would trample us all underfoot and those whose “rules are rules” regimen ensures that nobody gets above their station. Or maybe I’m just overanalysing.
Anyway, up until today I thought that as an EU citizen I was entitled to move between countries and work with the minimum of fuss. Not here, it seems.
I smile as I think about how our own island race berates itself about its uncaring and inhospitable approach towards foreign workers. But I’ve heard first hand anecdotes about translation services weighing heavily on public bodies: twenty-six languages catered for in Tower Hamlets Primary Care (research interview in 1998); forty-something, I was told more recently by a friend working in another inner-city borough. In the Comisaría de Extranjería Y Fronteras in 2015 there’s one – Spanish. British services fall over themselves to provide information to “customers”.
I spent a whole day yesterday sifting through government and third-party Websites, using Google Translate and its Microsoft cousin to navigate the system for NIE registration – just a simple number that says the state acknowledges I’m here to open a bank account or pay my tax. People had been telling me that an NIE was all I needed to live and work in the country, as the Residencia was now defunct.
Not so, I found out today at the Comisaría, when I was instructed to cross-out any reference to work on the NIE application. To work, you need a residency certificate. To remain in Spain, even as a citizen of the EU, for more than three months, you need a residency certificate.
The trip to the Comisaría had begun full of hope, with some trepidation. I’d read that you need to arrive early, prior to nine a.m. and get into the queue before the office opens. I was in the queue by eight-thirty – about the tenth person to arrive. Sure enough, the line was soon all the way up the street. I didn’t look back too often in case it appeared that I was gloating.
I needn’t have worried. At nine o’clock prompt, a woman passed along handing out numbered queue (delicatessen) tickets. I showed her my NIE application form. “No.” she said, simply, and moved on. Almost the entire queue filed past into the office, leaving just ten of us again standing outside on the pavement. So much for advice.
Once we were in, a lone policeman stood at a desk issuing forms – two for the NIE itself and one to take to a bank to make the payment. I filled in the NIE forms – both identical – and the bank form using what I’d picked up from the Internet the day before as a guide. I’d actually downloaded them and filled them in, but stuck with the process and used the ones I’d just been given. There was no guidance in the office and no one spoke English apart from the mixture of applicants and the paralegal help some of them had brought along.
The policeman was pretty helpful in the end and I waved the forms at him a couple of times to check I was going in the right direction. Once I had them right, I headed off to the bank to pay the fee. I tried a branch of the BBVA that I’d passed on the way in. I was greeted by a man who seemed to know what he was doing, who took a numbered ticket from a machine and pointed me at a screen to wait for my number to come up.
As I was settling in to wait, he came back to explain something that seemed like a problem. Something only happened on martes and jueves and definitely didn’t happen on miercoles (today). Ah!
So, “Hay uno banco, cerca de aqui?” straight from BBC Intermediate Spanish.
He waved into the street, beyond the door. “Santander.”
I took it he meant the bank, rather than the city.
Santander was very welcoming and efficient. I paid my nine euros and returned to the Comisaría. The policeman gave me a numbered ticket. I sat and watched and waited.
Life was going on all around me: people coming in clutching their documents and a numbered ticket, paralegals dashing around, scribbling notes and making excuses to leave their clients alone in the queue. Civil servants ploughed steadily through the workload.
I sat reading “Slaughterhouse 5” for the second time. I’m having a second-time-around phase with books at the moment and enjoying them more at the second reading.
Number 34 flashed up on the LED panel. With a rush of excitement, I grabbed my things and approached the desk. The guidance was that this would be easy as long as I had the forms, a couple of photocopies and a valid passport. I had these and more. I handed them across the desk, apologising for my lack of Spanish, and held my breath.
He scanned the form (in duplicate) and told me that my motive was wrong. I’ve been looking for that kind of analysis for years.
Apparently, work is the wrong motive for an NIE application – in fact, it’s not allowed. Thinking back to the Internet advice, I tried the “password”.
“I need to open a bank account.”
He smiled in acknowledgement and asked me to cross-out the offending words and replace them.
I heard the key enter the lock.
He stamped both copies of the application form and asked me to sign and date them. He tore a counterfoil from the payment form and gave me it as a receipt. Before handing me a copy of the application form, he wrote on the top “Recoger a partir de 13/11/15”.
It seems I have to go back – Friday the thirteenth. I asked “Certificado?” He nodded. So much for advice – the brief from the Internet was that I’d have it the same day.
However, the helpful public servant had given me an information sheet with details of how to obtain the residency certificate. Well, actually, the sheet was about the size of a Christmas postage stamp carrying a URL and a list of bullet-point links, the final one of which had changed on the site. More by trial and error, I found an online form to book an appointment and a page of downloadable forms, one of which (EX-18) was the one I needed – except it wouldn’t download. An hour and a half later I found it on a third-party site. Then, after completing it in manual duplicate, I realised the version had been superseded. More searching and I finally had the right one.
I did manage to book an appointment for the residency interview – two, in fact, due to a problem trying to print from the browser. They’re on 11 January 2016. Mmmmm.
If only the bureaucrats would listen, I actually do have a plan. Not a bad one. It’s to train as a language teacher and obtain a certificate (now done – awaiting certificate), walk some Camino and spend time in Andalucia with N (done), improve my Spanish with an intensive course (under investigation), and find a teaching job by January (pending ). And I’ve saved hard to do all this without burdening the Spanish state.
After another afternoon of wading through government sites and free advice, I’m becoming something of a reluctant authority on registering to live and work in Spain. I’ve decided, against advice, to apply for a temporary stay – all I need is to be issued with a residency certificate, if I have to reapply in a year, so what? I’m doing it my way.
While I was reading “Slaughterhouse 5” in the Comisaría, the years 1967 and 1968 came up in the author’s time-travelling reflections. It just happens that 1968 is the first year that I can remember. Not my earliest memory, but the first time I was aware that there was a year and that it was called 1968.
I often think it was because of Apollo 8 which, fortuitously, had an 8 in its name, too. I was even aware that Apollo 8 only went as far as orbiting the Earth, rather than shooting for the Moon. Everyone was a space fan then.
But what I think fixed the concept of “year” in my head was my first “Beano” annual. “The Beano Annual 1968”, which I think might still be stored in the garage back in the UK, unless it’s one of those my mother recently deemed to be old and threw in the bin. I can still see its red and yellow lettering, like a boiled sweet or stick of rock.
I think that’s where the idea first came, with things like Apollo 8 and whatever else attaching themselves – many more doing so later through some kind of deduction. I remember rediscovering “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in the Seventies when it found its naïve counterpart drifting as an environmental memory – a ghost – in my adolescent mind.
All of these were a stage on which the little things – the local things – were enacted in my childhood. When I think of them, I see bright new brick walls, green “North Riding County Council” lorries, red buses and Peter, the postman, swinging a leg over his red bicycle. All long-gone, but part of a deep longing for the simplicity and naivety of those days.