Sunshine & Siestas: The Spanish queue
No patience for queuing? Then you'll need a good book in these five places in Spain where you can easily spend hours waiting in line.
One of my greatest weaknesses is that I'm crazy impatient. The problem with living in Spain, then, is the amount of waiting one has to do in order to be a productive human in society here. Even the simplest of tasks can take an enormously long time, and with the ongoing stream of budget cuts, there are less personnel in the office and more people free to stand in line.
By far the biggest place you'll wait in line in Spain is at the Foreigner's Office, called Entranjería. Getting a residency card is a three-step process; asking information requires parking it on an uncomfortable plastic bench for hours; and arriving after 7am ensures that you're not likely to receive one of the numbers given out that day. The hours (perhaps even days) I've spent in the office – particularly when trying to determine my legal status after losing the Ministry of Education grant – are countless.
There are ways to make the whole experience a little bit better. My advice is to arrive later in the morning, after all of the civil servants have had a chance to have their morning coffee, make sure you bring extra photocopies of everything and be polite, even when you're sent away for the third time in one morning. Being polite can go a long way to a civil servant who's really wishing you'd go so they can chat with the colleague at the next desk.
Banker's hours in Spain tend to be 8:15 – 14:15, far less than those of my home country. This means, of course, if you're working normal hours, it's difficult to make it in time to pay bills, make a deposit or complain that your card has been swallowed up by the ATM machine again, until the next morning. What's more, Saturdays and Sundays mean the place is closed completely, so make sure you don't get your card stuck in the machine on a Friday afternoon.
To avoid the line waiting, and banks for the most part, I'd sign up for either La Caixa, which offers great rates for students under 26 along with a full-service ATM that allows you to do everything from depositing a cheque to topping up your bonobus at any hour of the day. Likewise, ING Direct offers extended hours and they're open on Saturday mornings (you'll just need a paycheck stub to open a cuenta nómina).
Another place you'll wait in line, thanks to nationwide budget cuts, is the post office. In Spain, your address assigns you to a certain correos office, and there is no way of changing this office. Mine happens to be a 15-minute bike ride from my house, while there is one not 250 meters from my front door.
While I was home, I won a book contest and though the book was sent to my house, but no one was home to receive it. A notice was left in my mailbox to pick it up at the office, so I found a bit of time to go immediately the first morning I was back in Seville, arriving just as the doors opened. I was the fifteenth person in line, but still waited 45 minutes for them to tell me my book had been returned two months earlier.
Just so you know, a letter or package that is not picked up within 15 days goes back to the sender. Though if it's not a certified letter, you can send someone else in your name, so long as they carry a piece of paper giving them the power to do so, signed by you with your NIE number.
Even at the crack of dawn, the place was still packed!
Recently, I had to get a page of stickers with my IRS tax code on it. I walked into the Hacienda building at opening time on a Monday morning and was delighted to find only half a dozen seats full. I got a number and watched the screen. Only one person was in line in front of me, so I turned on my Kindle and began reading...
...and waited for nearly 45 minutes. When my number was finally called, the three women behind the desk were sitting, chattering away. I cleared my throat. Nothing. I finally asked for their assistance and a woman slowly rose and wordlessly took my passport. No more words were exchanged while I stood for an additional five minutes waiting for her to print my stickers.
Be it Hacienda or even the Distrito office, allot way more time for your visit than you think necessary. And bring a book, a long one.
Supermarkets on Saturday
Everyone is here on Saturdays, since they're all closed on Sundays and festivals. Even I have thrown my hands up in an, "Ok, Spain! You win today!" gesture as I drop my potato chips and litronas of beer at the counter and walk out. I can wait if it's important enough, but why wait for beer if I can walk across the street for a fresquita anyway?
Rules for waiting in line
1. People in Spain tend to ask the person in front of them to save their place in line. When I say their place in line, I also mean their place in line with their whole family, who will take turns standing their place.
2. Banks are utterly confusing if there's a lot of chairs available. If you're the new patron coming in, you have to ask for el último? and memorise that person's face. It's up to you to remember who you're after.
3. Be forewarned: there are special rules for the abuelitas. They'll come calling you pet names, with just one loaf of bread and some eggs in their frail little arms. Then, once you've given into the cuteness of little old María de los Sietes Dolores, she'll call over her granddaughter and the cart full of everything Dolores will need for the three weeks of winter she hibernates and cooks for her two dozen children and grandchildren.
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Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago for the olive groves of southern Spain. Six years, four jobs and a daily craving for Cruzcampo beer later, Cat runs a small language academy and blogs at Sunshine and Siestas about life for a guiri in Sevilla. She's also adding small business owner to her CV as she sets up a consulting firm.
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