Monday, July 31, 2006

Spain is a wonderful country [or nexus of would-be ‘countries’] and I love living here. But there can be no doubt it can, at times, be a high-hassle place. So, the basic rule of survival is – Keep Things Simple. For change is fraught with problems. Even if you move a small distance, the new people you deal with [and there will be a lot of these] will treat you as if you’ve just arrived from another planet. The local branch of your bank, for example, will regard its own affiliate as if it were a foreign bank in a another country and put obstacles in the way of even the simplest transaction. I wonder if this is one of the reasons most Spanish people never move away from their place of birth. It’s so much easier to deal with the same banker, gestor, notary, lawyer, etc. your family has used for generations. And with whom there is that most critical of factors in Spain - the ‘personal’ relationship.

Incidentally, because the personal relationship is so paramount in Spain, one of the worst things you can do is move away from someone you feel is giving poor service. This is seen as bad form and ‘unfriendly’. And you can certainly expect a frosty greeting – if you get one at all – on the numerous occasions you pass in the street. Not that us Anglo-Saxons worry about such things.

The Spanish don’t go in much for home entertaining. At least not for friends, as opposed to family. An Iranian friend commented this week “When my Spanish friends say to me ‘Let’s get together for dinner’ what they seem to mean is ‘Let’s have another lovely Persian dinner at you place which we’ll never reciprocate’”. Sadly – but with one or two very honourable exceptions – this has also been my experience over the last 5 years. So I no longer give the curry nights I used to throw. One tires, in the end, of the one-sidedness of it all. As my Iranian friend duly has.

My day started badly today, when my daughter’s arrival from Madrid was delayed 3 hours. But I took advantage of this not only to get 2 tyres changed but also to swap my pre-payment phone for a superior contract model. Naturally, I had to prove who I was at least twice and go back to the car to get my insurance receipt so they could photocopy both this and my identity card. But all went very smoothly and, at the end of an hour during which I was able to take a coffee, I had my new phone and 2 new tyres, fitted at the right pressure. So, things can go well in Spain.

But, of course, they usually don’t and the last paragraph is mostly untrue. The tyres were put on at a dangerously high pressure [just as in the previous shop] and, at the end of a long paper-strewn process, the pleasant young lady at the phone counter told me they couldn’t get a line to prove my credentials and so I’d have to come back tomorrow. No apology, of course, for this gross waste of my time. I said I wouldn’t return until I was told a line was available and she kindly offered to phone. Knowing this would never happen, I took her number and said I’d do the calling.

That’s enough about life in Spain. It’s only 2 o’clock but I’m already exhausted. Especially as I helped a neighbour change her tyre just now.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The owners of Galicia’s cafés, bars, restaurants and discos have had 7 months to comply with the anti-smoking law of Jan 1. Needless to say, the vast majority of them have done nothing at all. And won’t do anything before the period of grace expires at the end of August. In fact, the local disco owners have demanded, would you believe, a 2 year moratorium. They claim 1. the law is unclear, 2. the local government hasn’t yet brought in its own version and, most expediently, 3. the law is illegal because there’s a ‘clash of competencies’ between the state and regional government. The last one bears out the forecast I made some time ago that the power struggle between the state and the regions would certainly mean money for the lawyers, if nothing else. But, then, everything does.

Getting close to customer service.

I’d like to buy one of those [rat-catching] cages I saw in the window last week
We sold it
Do you have another one?
No
Will you be getting another one?
No
Can you order one for me?
Ermm. Better if you come in from time to time to see if our supplier has sent us one.

Getting even closer to customer service.

Have you got a replacement pad for this [small but not-inexpensive] leather notepad?
No.
Do you mean you don’t have one in stock or you don’t sell them?
We don’t sell them
But I bought this [small but not-inexpensive] notepad here.
OK. We can order you one.

Quote of the Day

These are extracts from a column by William Langley in today’s Sunday Telegraph. I felt they deserved a [fractionally] wider audience. Plus it saves me thinking of something to write.

Easily the worst thing about [a hot] summer is the determination of the British, now abetted by the full apparatus of nanny-statedom, to treat it as a disaster. The Health and Safety Gestapo, as you might expect, has been all over this heatwave like a sick grin. Its compendious advisory notices, compiled, published and distributed at your expense, include tips on how to avoid the sun ("stay in the shade"); dehydration ("drink plenty of water"), and glare ("wear a wide-brimmed hat"). . . The Department of Health, never knowingly out-nannied, has come up with its "Heatwave Plan 2006", which suggests splashing yourself with cold water several times a day and eating salads - with the added recommendation that anyone taken ill should see a doctor. "Mostly, though," says the DHS, "it's a matter of common sense. "No! You don't say! . . . The truth, sadly, is that the British have become a nation of weather-wimps. We stay at home with our curtains drawn and our fans buzzing. And this at a time when we should be out enjoying ourselves. . . our new dread of summer heat is - or should be - baffling. For, of all people, the British are unusually well equipped to deal with it. Our favourite drink is tea and our national dish curry. A cup of tea takes five times more heat out of the body than it puts in, while capsaicin, the active ingredient of chilli peppers, activates the body's own cooling mechanism, simultaneously sending happiness-inducing B-endorphins to the brain. Stoned on lobster madras, with a mug of tea to hand, who needs air conditioning? . . . We have never been unduly worried about sophisticated notions of hot and cold. This is the only country in the world where an entire lunch - from the gin and tonic, through the prawn cocktail, roast beef to the jam roly-poly - is served at the same temperature. In the days when we still had backbone, the British conquered some of the hottest countries on earth, and ran them for decades without ever breaking sweat or removing our jackets in public. No wonder it is said that the collapse of the Empire began with the first man to sit down to dinner in shorts . . Now, cowed by the new culture of killjoyism, we panic and run to hide indoors.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

It’s Saturday in mid summer, so it’s time for:-

1. A mention of Princess Diana’s naked body, and

2. Galicia Facts

There are more than 56,000 people unemployed in the province of Pontevedra. However, several posts are hard to fill. These include – solderers; pilots; pizza chefs; and [most surprisingly] selling agents and ‘models’.

Galicia’s population grew fractionally to 2.8m at the start of 2006. All of the increase of 2,000 [and a bit more] was due to immigration. Despite this, Galicia remains at the bottom of the relevant Spanish table, with only 2.6% of its population comprising foreigners.

Nationally, people over 65 form 16% of the population. In Galicia it’s 22% - the highest in the country. [Incidentally, I use these terms ‘nationally’ and ‘country’ in the sense they’re used throughout the world, other than in Catalunia, the Basque Country and Galicia.]

If you’re thinking of living in the windy, wet north-western tip of Galicia - in or near La Coruña – you might like to bear in mind it has the highest rate of childhood asthma in Spain.

Galicians like to believe they were never really conquered by the Romans, Visigoths or Arabs. So I was surprised to read this week that ‘In 584, the Visigoth king, Liuvigild defeated the rulers of the Suebic kingdom of Galicia and added it to his crown’. Another local myth bites the dust. By the way, I suspect Liuvigilid is the same chap as our old friend, Leovigilido. Of Toledo.

Friday, July 28, 2006

It must cause apoplexy in the church hierarchy but, in Catholic Spain, the rate of abortions is rising rapidly. Of these, 96% are performed in private clinics and about half are on foreign women. Can this be just a question of price? Or are the Spanish clinics perhaps slightly more flexible in their application of the law?

Throughout Spain, July has seen an impressive reduction in road deaths. Except in Galicia, where they are as high as ever. One of the reasons [excuses?] given for this is that the region has a disproportionate number of townships, meaning a lot of travel for the populace. In fact, Galicia is said to have over half of the country’s 40,000 municipalities. Another reason adduced is that the topography of the place means a lot of two-lane, curvy roads. I am more impressed by this one. It coincides with the local police announcing that, since all the deaths take place on the numerous alternative secondary roads used by drivers when they’ve been drinking, they’ve now had the brilliant idea to put checks and radar traps on these as well. The fact that they haven’t done this todate explains the ludicrously low rate of 1% which they’ve traditionally quoted for drunken drivers caught in their spot checks.

Rather to my surprise, it seems the Spanish government has bowed to pressure from Brussels and allowed the takeover of a local energy company by the German giant, Eon. Albeit with conditions. An outbreak of common sense. Not to mention legality.

And talking of the EU – Spain has been ordered to repay 46m euros of grants ‘misapplied’ to wine growers. This is a lot of cash but it pales against the 86m demanded of France. Neither country has a good record of taking any notice of these ‘fines’. Which is hardly surprising, given the blatant maladministration of the funds in the first place.

The Telefonica engineer did not return today. My ADSL supplier has suggested I call them again on Monday, if nothing has happened by then. As if I wouldn’t!

Spain has a high rate of work-related mortality, especially on construction sites. A glance at the photos below may help to explain why. Not even a hard hat.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Spanish government has said it will legislate for the removal of the remaining echoes of Francoism that – surprisingly – still dot the country. These include not only statues of the Caudillo himself and squares named after him but also streets in the name of some of his most notorious military colleagues. Hard to see anyone putting up an effective protest, despite the significant percentage of people in their 60s and above who remain rather sympathetic to a regime which responded so brutally to the chaos of the Second Republic.

In its latest flight of fancy, the Galician nationalist party [the BNG] has demanded the Preamble to the region’s new constitution contains 5 or 6 references to Galicia as a nation. Its senior partner in local government – the socialist party – seems content to refer to the region as ‘The nation of Breogan’. He was a mythical Celtic king and so all this is even worse than the English wanting a constitution defining England as ‘The nation of Boudicca’. At least she actually lived in the place. And I suppose the Scots would want a reference to Robert the Bruce. And the Welsh to Llewellyn. . . Laughable. Or it would be if the politicians didn’t have things far more serious to deal with. Such as the fact Galicia is ageing far more quickly [and expensively] than anywhere else in Spain while her relative economic position is deteriorating. Fiddling while Rome burns.

I finally got a visit from a Telefonica engineer today. He tested my ADSL line, confirmed it was poor, cut it for 5 hours, worked on it, restored it and then went home. The speed of the line now is exactly what it was before – 50 to 100kbps, against the 1000 I’m paying for. Perhaps he will come back tomorrow and start again. And perhaps he won’t.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Just as the dust settled after President Zapatero’s partisan remarks about the Mid East conflict, another senior member of the governing party accused the Israelis of deliberately targeting civilians in Lebanon. This was quickly apologised for and excused but we await the next diplomatic gaffe with some interest.

Spain’s population at the start of this year was around 43m, 3.5% up on 2005. Foreigners now comprise almost 9% of the total, with the Moroccans - at 535k - representing the largest group. After these come the Ecuadorians [400k], the Rumanians [382k] and then the sun-seeking Brits [274k]. But almost a quarter of the Rumanians are here illegally and seem to spend most of their time roaming around Madrid and Barcelona picking pockets. Or perhaps this is just an urban myth.

Of these 43m Spaniards, a good 70% - we're told - are very concerned about the environment. This is a tad surprising, given that 60% don’t know what the Kyoto Protocol is about and 63% aren’t aware that petroleum is the principal source of energy. Somewhat less surprising is the finding that very few of them are prepared to see taxes rise in order to safeguard the environment, even though they regard it as the government’s responsibility to do this. Words are always cheap.

Today’s good news is that the President of the Government of Castile y La Mancha will veto the construction of the housing development on the site of the Visigoth findings outside Toledo.

But the really good news is that my ADSL speed has doubled and is now almost a tenth of what I'm paying for. And my supplier called today and confirmed what I told them 3 weeks ago, viz. that the modem doesn’t work in any of the phone sockets in my house. So they're sending a technician ‘mañana’. I will sleep soundly tonight.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Although all of us Johnny Foreigners may regard the Spanish as a nation [or even 5 or 6 nations] of rampant individualists, it seems they see themselves as conformists. Or this, at least, is the inference to be drawn by a survey carried out by El Mundo into attitudes towards the Franco regime. To the question ‘Do you think this lasted 40 years because it was repressive or because the majority of Spaniard felt able to conform with it?’ a surprising 57% plumped for the second reason. So, can the Spanish be conformist and individualist at the same time? I guess so. Faced with a pervasive government bureaucracy and inefficient/corrupt local government, they can be very conformist. But, faced with parking rules, they can be very individualist. And perhaps the latter is a consequence of the former, with impotence around large matters breeding futile protest around small matters.

Talking of bureaucracy, I still owe a reply to the reader who asked me to explain the British resistance to an identity card. My incentive to do will surely rise if someone Spanish can tell me why on earth – when talking to my ADSL [semi]provider this morning – I was obliged to supply not only my name, my phone number and the number of my contract with them but also the number on my identity card. In other words, can anyone advance a plausible reason for this last bit of information?

I’ve never read much about vestiges in Spain of the Visigoths who ruled the Iberian peninsula between the Romans and the Moors from North Africa. So I was pleased to see a headline today referring to the site, just outside Toledo, of the capital of two Visigoth kings, Leovigilido and Recaredo. Names familiar to us all, of course. But the content of the article brought me down to earth; the authorities there are planning to construct a housing development on the site.

I suppose if you call your golf club the Royal Liverpool the media around the world are naturally going to think it’s in that great but maligned city. But this would horrify the residents of genteel Hoylake on the Wirral, where it actually is. Things could have been worse; it might have been in even-more-genteel West Kirby next door. And even more confusable with the notorious Kirkby district of Liverpool.

Monday, July 24, 2006

For some time now El Mundo has been concerned [one might even say obsessed] with the investigation into the Madrid bombings of last year. As far as I can make out, they believe some sort of chicanery is going on around the explosives used. And my impression is they believe the government is doing its utmost to hide any possible link between the Islamic terrorists and ETA. If any Spanish reader has a good handle on this subject, perhaps he/she would be good enough to post a short summary.

If you’re reading this in Spain, you might want to rush out and check your tyre/tire pressures. I had a puncture fixed today and the mechanic made a great thing of doing me the favour of pumping all my tyres up to 2.5kilos. This is, in fact, 20% more than the recommended level. And dangerous. As this is the 4th time I’ve had this happen, I’m inevitably left wondering what percentages of Spain’s high road mortality figures can be attributed to this negligence/lack of professionalism. It was a Goodyear shop to boot so I wonder what happens at the places where there’s no training . . .

Solomon Burke wowed Pontevedra last night. All 375 pounds [171 kilos] of him. This is 26 stone 11lbs to us Brits. They closed the curtains when bringing him on stage, where he sat throughout the performance on a sort of throne of rather large proportions. I don’t know how he actually got on it but it may not be unconnected with the disappearance of the crane that was lifting the vast granite blocks outside my house.

You’ll all want to know that my ADSL speed is about one twentieth of what I’m contracted to receive. So it’s good to know prices in Spain are only 25% higher than the European average

Sunday, July 23, 2006

It’s perhaps going a little too far but a senior opposition politician today suggested the current Spanish government displays several of the divisive aspects of the disastrous Second Republic that preceded the Civil War of 1936-9 – marginalisation of the right wing party, suspension of consensus, anti-clericalism and alliances with the ‘nationalist’ parties of Spain’s regions.

And talking of the last-mentioned, El Mundo today had a useful list of all the disputes currently taking place between Spain’s muscle-flexing regions. Most seriously, this includes a battle for water resources but, down at the other end, there’s the inclusion by Andalucia in its draft new Constitution of a reference to flamenco as one of its ‘exclusive competencies’. In between these extremes are the language-related fights picked by the Galician ‘nationalist’ party with its neighbours in Asturias, Castile y León and Estremadura. When you read this, you could be forgiven for thinking that, as Spain drives relentlessly forward economically, it is going slowly backwards politically. I don’t know about France, Germany and the USA but, in the UK at least, it’s impossible to imagine these sorts of disputes between counties. And very difficult, even, to imagine them between the constituent countries of England, Scotland and Wales. The question is, will things get better or worse when Spain’s current economic boom comes to an end? Depending, of course, on how you define ‘better’ and ‘worse’.

And still on Spanish politics – this week will see the start of the process under which the opposition party takes the new Catalan Constitution to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it conflicts – in numerous provisions – with the Constitution of the Spanish state. Interesting times. Possibly.

Referring to the demands of the EU that Spain’s government get out of the way of a takeover by a German company of one of its energy operators, the relevant minister has pointed out it’s not true to say the EU has a free market in this area. Only the UK and Spain, he claims, have liberalised their markets. The question implied is why should Spain allow a German company to do what a Spanish company wouldn’t be allowed to do in Germany. It’s a fair point. And surely one which can rely on French support.

As one who has long believed history will be very unkind to the government of Tony Blair, I was rather gratified to read this comment this morning - It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Blair years have been a period of jaw-dropping government incompetence.

Galicia Facts

Galicians eat the lowest quantity of pre-prepared foods – 6 kilos a year each, against 10 nationwide. At 14, the Catalunians consume the most. Which might explain a few things.

Friday, July 21, 2006

At times, the Spanish President, Mr Zapatero, can come across as an unhappy combination of Tony Blair and John Prescott. Yesterday – while his Foreign Affairs Minister was toeing the EU line that Hezbollah were responsible for sparking the current Middle East conflagration – Mr Z was filmed wearing a Palestinian scarf and accusing the Israelis of a disproportionate response. He may or may not be right but his partisan stance was hardly that to be expected of the leading politician of an EU member state.

Given the regular reports of raftfulls of illegal immigrants arriving in the Canary Islands, I suppose it was to be expected the issue of immigration would now be knocking on the door of first place in the list of things that concern the Spanish public. Unemployment remains the prime concern but possibly not for much longer.

Well, 7 weeks after requesting it, I’ve now had broadband for 2 weeks. Against that, I’ve been paying for it for 3 weeks; I can only get it in my garage; I can’t make or receive phone calls when it’s connected; I regularly lose the line; and when I do have it, the download speed seems only fractionally faster than my old DUP connection. Apart from all this, things are hunky-dory. . . It is, of course, quite frustrating but, if I were in business and dependent on the line, I would be tearing my hair out. Hopefully my imminent Skype connection will be something of a compensation for all this hassle. And Google Earth is a real boon.

Galicia Facts

Car insurance here costs 38% more than in Aragón, the cheapest region of Spain. And in Pontevedra it’s double that of Teruel. But the good news is that, against the Spanish average, it’s only 19% more. Contributory factors, as ever, are said to be more rain, higher population density and inferior roads. Nothing to do with bad driving. Or young people driving powerful cars they couldn’t possibly afford if they didn’t live at home, paying nothing towards their keep.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

This year is the 60th anniversary of the first appearance of the bikini. On French women, apparently. This, of course, is a godsend for the Spanish media. I wonder how many times I’ll get to see Ursula Andress in all her glory.

Moving on to more dangerous ground – I mentioned yesterday that books in Galician didn’t seem to be selling like hotcakes during this week’s book fair in Pontevedra. One possible reason for this is that reading is a very middle class habit and – in contrast to Catalan and Basque – Galician is not a middle class language. To be frank, the better off here appear to regard it as the language of the peasantry. And, of course, of fervent young ‘nationalists’. Some of whom might well now send me their heartfelt views on my intelligence.

I had some visitors earlier this week who asked if it was normal for the family on one side of me to sit talking loudly in their garden until 1.30am and for the family on the other side to return home in full throat at 2am and keep their shouting/crying kids up until 3am. What could I say? If they’d asked me today, I could have cited the chap in Alicante who, at 3.35am on Tuesday morning, got so fed up with the noise being made outside his window by two youths that he shot them. Perhaps I should supply shotguns for my non-Hispanic guests.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

At last some good news about prostitution in Spain. After 9 years of trying, the council of a town in Murcia has finally managed to shut down a large brothel convicted of numerous offences, including the exploitation of more than 20 East European minors. Reading the details of the charges levied, one is forced to wonder why it all took so long. Incidentally, the place was situated on an industrial park called La Polvorista. This means pyrotechnist or firework-maker. But polvo has a sadly appropriate slang meaning.

Spain leads the world – relatively speaking – in the sphere of international adoptions. And in 2005 the favoured source was once again China, with over 50% of babies coming from there. I’d be prepared to bet most, if not all, of these were girls.

The Canary Islands has become the latest region of Spain to publish a draft new Constitution defining its relationship with the Spanish state. This is said to include sections copied wholesale from the Catalan model and a Preamble which majors on a tendentious run through the history of the islands. As El Pais commented today, a formal Statute really is no place for this. But this is the flavour of Spanish times.

A young woman fired from her job here in Pontevedra has taken the company to court, claiming she was sacked merely for insisting on talking to clients in Galician. This, of course, is inevitable when legal steps are taken to protect or promote a race, language or whatever. The inevitable consequence is that the lazy and the incompetent can then always argue their inalienable rights have been infringed. I guess we’ll see a lot more of this, as the country’s ‘nationalists’ all now have quite a lot of wind in their sails.

There’s an annual book fair in Pontevedra this time of year. My impression is this year the vast majority of the books are in Galician. They seem very expensive but, even so, I suspect publication of all of them is in some way subsidised by the Galician government. My other impression is that attendances are well down on previous years and the books are not exactly flying off the stalls. Indeed, some evidence of low sales came in the form of unsolicited offers to help me from several of the stall holders. Believe me, this is not normal.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Come the summer, come the dreadful forest fires. Particularly in the north west of Spain. Yesterday there were 34 of these blazing in Galicia, forcing the closure of the north-south motorway along a 17km stretch. It’s generally reckoned more than 60% of these fires are started deliberately, which is a sobering thought.

Today was the 70th anniversary of the military uprising that brought Franco to power and gave Spain 40 years of a right-wing dictatorship from which it's still recovering. The current [left-wing] government is planning a Law of Historic Memory which seeks to take the country further along the road of acceptance of its recent past and recognition for the Republicans who died in a conflagration that was the forerunner of the Second World War. A survey in El Mundo today puts at 30 the percentage of Spaniards – even in the 18-29 age group – who think the uprising was justified. Against this background, there are legitimate concerns that it might still be a little early to deliberately force open wounds for the purposes of healing them more effectively. Plus a fear it will be a heavily politicised process, with the government seeking to identify the opposition with fascism. Time will tell but – if the current bitter wrangling about the strategy for dealing with ETA is anything to go by - the auguries are not particularly promising. The Catholic Church, for one, will certainly not want too much discussion of its role during the civil war. Though I suppose it’s unlikely it’ll resort to the pre-war claims of Republicans eating Catholic babies.

Hits to my blog have reduced to their normal levels. This is because I haven’t mentioned anything of interest to the numberless inadequates scouring the web for pictures of a naked but dead P******s D***a. Though, before completely fading away, they may well have taken comfort in the item about the big brothel on the border with France. It takes all sorts.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Galicia, it seems, has proportionately the highest number of unoccupied properties in Spain. There are two poles-apart reasons for this. Firstly, people are leaving the land up in the mountains and, secondly, rather richer people have been buying second and third places purely for investment purposes. The national and regional governments insist they want to see an end to construction well in excess of actual needs but there are at least two factors which must make them ambivalent about it all. Firstly, Spain’s current high rate of economic growth is largely driven by this construction boom and, secondly, with a sales tax of 6-7% on every purchase, the government stands to see a large reduction in revenues when it stops. Rather as with cigarette smoking. So we just get lectures.

I’ve had occasion in the past to mention the idiosyncratic columnist of El Mundo, Francisco Umbral. His trademark is a column which, under some pretext or other, yokes together all sorts of heterogeneous names. These are usually Spaniards, of course, but today he managed to get into his column Zinadine Zidane, Dorian Gray, General Milans de Bosch, Carl von Clausewitz, the Marquis de Sade, Marat and Baudelaire. Which is quite impressive. As usual, I had no idea what he was talking about.

I read today of another booming business in Spain going international with great success. On the border with France – in a town which will remain unnamed - there’s a huge brothel which has 500 French customers a day during the week and double at the weekend. I wonder if they do things differently in France. Or whether it’s just a question of price. I also wonder if they still offer ‘French without’ or whether it becomes ‘Spanish without’

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Irish language has been given full official status in the EU, which has naturally led to Welsh demands for equal treatment of their own tongue. In contrast, Catalan, Valencian, Basque and Galician have been accorded lower status as they’re regarded as official languages only in parts of Spain and not throughout the country. This, however, is not a form of logic which can be counted on to appeal to the respective ‘nationalists’ of each of these regions.

President Zapatero was this weekend congratulated by the UK Minister for Europe [the ineffable Geoff Hoon] for having the courage to change Spanish policy around Gibraltar. I imagine this accolade was the last thing Mr Z wanted appearing in the media at a time of trench warfare with the opposition party around how to deal with ETA terrorists.

It was 35 degrees or more in Pontevedra again today and there were lean pickings for the stall holders and the bar owners down at the Sunday flea market. The Galicians dislike these temperatures as much as the British and were either all on the beach or indoors. At times like this I spare a thought for all those Brits who’ve bought property up in the mountains near Ourense, in complete disregard of the warning on my Galicia web site that temperatures up there can be 10 degrees higher. But the feeling soon passes.

If you’d bought El Mundo today, it would have cost you 1.80 euros. But taking all the add-ons would have set you back another 19.90 – 8.95 for a Disney DVD; 2.00 for the comic section; 1.00 for an ‘English magazine’; and 7.95 for something to do with ‘Los Lunnis’. But at least the news and the entertainment are sold separately. In many British papers they are one and the same thing.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hits to my blog normally fall to around 40 at the weekend but not so this week. Today’s total was over 200, after more than 500 yesterday. This, of course, is thanks to the followers of Diana the Hunted.

Continuing the pseudo-classical theme, in the last week or so I’ve come across three Spanish words whose origin lies in ancient allusions:-
Una medusa - A jellyfish
Un cicerone - A guide
La canícula - The dog days of summer

You will, of course, have realised the last one of these stems from the same point of reference as the English expression. This is the dog star, Sirius. ‘Can’ being Latin [and Galician] for ‘dog’. As in ‘canine’, to labour the point.

I went down to town at 7 this evening and returned at 9. On each occasion I was passed by the motorcade of the King and Queen as they arrived at and left a new building they were opening. You'll have to take my word that, the second time they passed, Juan Carlos lowered the window and shouted ‘Colin! Don’t forget to mention us as well as Diana in your blog tonight.’ Nice people, the Bourbons.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Spanish TV news refers to Israel as both ‘Israel’ and ‘the Jewish state’. But it doesn’t refer to Lebanon as ‘the Arabic Sunni Moslem state’. Or to Iran as the ‘Aryan Shiite Moslem state’. And the USA isn’t called ‘the polyglot Christian state’; nor Spain ‘the Indo-European Catholic state’. I wonder what this different treatment signifies, if anything. It can’t be merely because there’s only one Jewish state in the world and so no possibility of confusion; there’s only one Aryan Shiite Moslem state as well. Thank God.

Spain is approaching the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the vicious Civil War of 1936 and a brave decision has been to establish an archive of related papers both from Spain and other countries and to throw it open to the public. This is a major step away from the vow of silence on the subject respected since the death of Franco and the transition to democracy. And it will be fascinating to see what emerges. Though very painful, no doubt.

One of the great things about Spain, if you are a cyclist of any age, is that every village and town here is laced with cycle tracks. But they’re not quite as dedicated as those, for example, I’ve seen in Hamburg. Here they are what are called pavements in the UK and sidewalks in the USA.

The Galician government says 95% of the region’s bars have done nothing whatsoever to comply with the anti-smoking legislation that comes into force in 50 days time. They add that, since only a couple of planning applications have been received, it’s inevitable many businesses will be facing fines after September 1. Which is surely true. As to how many of them will pay these, well that’s quite another matter.

Last night I tried the experiment of including in my blog a few of the words which I believe are picked up by Spanish ‘nationalists’ anxious to read every word written about their respective ‘nations’. I wanted to check if this markedly increased the hits to my blog. Sure enough, these rocketed to over almost 500 today, more than double my previous record. But, in fact, this was because I was dumb enough to refer to the death of Princess Diana in the same post. And the world appears to be full of sad souls who can’t get enough of her, alive or dead. Especially if there’s a whiff of scandal, no matter how manufactured.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pharmacies are impressive in Spain. But, then, they can afford to be. They operate like a medieval guild and both the profession and its retail activities are strictly controlled by its own members. The results of this are exactly what you would expect them to be and there are many products you can get in supermarkets in other countries [aspirin being a good example] which you can only buy at a pharmacy here. On the other hand, pharmacists will provide medical advice for a wide range of non-serious ailments and, thus, save you a trip to the doctor’s. But now Brussels has issued an edict against their restrictive practices and demanded that things are liberalised. It will be interesting to see whether the baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

One factor which may, anyway, work to reduce the willingness of pharmacists to proffer medical advice is the inevitable growth in influence of insurance. A few well-publicised suits for professional negligence should do the trick. Relatedly, I read today that, thanks to the high cost of insurance premiums ,traditional maritime religious processions [romerías] will soon be a thing of the past. Which, to me, seems rather a sad reason for change in Spain.

Talking of these processions, we had several for San Benito here earlier this week. It seems that, if you take some olive oil with you and get it blessed by a facsimile of the saint, this will then cure any warts or verrucas you pour it on. Who needs doctors? Or even pharmacists? If only one could bottle it.

The Bank of Spain has said it’s very concerned that property is 24-32% overvalued and that personal debt has reached a record high. But this is not, by any means, the first time it has expressed this view and the reaction is likely to be much the same. A Spanish version of the Gallic shrug. Oh for the days when the bank could actually get the currency revalued.

If you’re thinking of emigrating to Spain’s neighbour Andorra [where your money will be much happier], you might like to know they keep out anyone who has hepatitis, diabetes, alcohol or drug problems and even anyone who’s overweight. One wonders how then can get away with this in the 21st century. I guess they don’t belong to any supranational organisation like the EU. Though, if they did, they could always take a leaf out of their neighbour’s book and ignore any rules they find inconvenient. I mean France, of course.


The line below is an experiment. Please ignore it…

Galicia. Gallego. Catalunia. Catalan. Pais Vasco. Euskadi. Euskera. ETA

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

As you would expect in a country for which tourism is so important, there are some excellent organisations here. One of them is Turgalicia and I’ve just discovered they provide details of all the region’s major gardens on their web site. Not just in Spanish but also in English. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that - as this brief excerpt shows - someone’s relative has taken on the translation challenge - The 19th century boost which converted Pontevedra from having the title of city into the provincial capital was smart enough to surround the large buildings in charge of meeting the new administrative needs with recreational areas for the citizens. In its centric sphere of jurisdiction, we will find the architectural volumes of the Valle-Inclán Institute, the Provincial Government and the Spanish Provincial Office of Education. I would write to offer to improve this without payment but, sadly, I know I’ll never get a reply.

On the other hand, I wrote yesterday to someone who maintains a site on the history of Galicia and also to a professor of Galician History at Santiago university and both of them were kind enough to reply immediately. This rather blows out of the water my claim that no one answers letters in Spain. Though not quite, as the exchanges were electronic. And, therefore, as ‘immediate’ as the Spanish like them. Almost as in the here-and-now as the human voice.

It’s far too soon to be reach any sort of definitive conclusion but it’s at least encouraging that the national road mortality figures for the first 10 days of the new licence system were 40% down on last year’s. Though there was no reduction in Galicia, thanks largely to a crash as the weekend which claimed several young lives.

Well, the Spanish equivalent of the Italian ‘menefreghismo’ [rampant individualism] may well be ‘medaigualismo’. I found it via a Google search, though my Spanish friends say it doesn’t exist. I say it does now and you heard it here first.

Picking up on the subject of Spanish names, a reader has said that, when he first came to Spain, he got the impression an awful lot of men were called Don. As in Don Miguel, Don Antonio, etc. In the same way, for several months I laboured under the misapprehension lots of dogs were called Benjamin. This is because the Spanish for ‘Come here!’ is ‘Ven aquí!’, pronounced ‘Ben aquí!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

There’s naturally been a bit of a focus on Italy over the past few days. Here’s a comment which evoked some sympathy [and empathy] in me:- Italians are forced to spend an average of 7,000 minutes a year [117 hours] queuing in order to satisfy the state's bureaucracy. It takes more than a year to get the permits to open a pizzeria, for example. Taxes, if they are paid, are ludicrously high. So it is no wonder that the country is seized with rampant individualism, or ‘menefreghismo’ ("I don't care-ism"). Hmm . . . I wonder what the equivalent Spanish word is.

In the current edition of the Spanish magazine Interviu, the first witness on the scene of Princess Diana’s fatal crash relates that, on opening the door, he saw incontrovertible evidence that the couple had been, shall we say, enjoying themselves. At least, this is what the ad in the national press suggests. Funny, but I don’t recall the scabrous British tabloids even hinting at this salacious nugget. And given the sums of money they pay for this sort of thing, it’s hard to believe the story wasn’t offered to them in preference to a much-smaller-circulation rag in Spain. If it’s true, of course.

The Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid has confirmed it doesn’t know what has happened to a 38-ton metal sculpture, exhibited there between 1986 and 1991 and last seen ‘parked’ on an industrial estate in 1995. The police fear it may have been mistaken for scrap and incorporated into some building work but I suspect it was lifted by one of the gangs of Rumanian criminals which plague the capital. They’re very good.

According to El Mundo, ‘unscrupulous’ Galician fishermen are simplifying their task by chucking sticks of dynamite into schools of sardines. Sadly, I suspect this will leave most Spanish as unmoved as the widespread sale of illegally small fish in the nation’s tapas bars. And who am I to point a finger? I eat them.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The priest who banned his tight-fisted parishioners has said that perhaps he didn’t express himself clearly enough. So maybe he did, after all, get a call from the Pope down in Valencia.

I mentioned the other day that home-grown commentators could be far more critical than I am. Right on cue, the President of an organisation called Associated European Motorists has dismissed the newly-introduced points-based driving system as a ‘typically Spanish’ bodge. He says it stands little hope of effecting the significant reduction in mortalities achieved elsewhere, as the loss of points will not be regarded as a sanction. Instead, acquiring the points will merely be seen as a requirement equivalent to good eyesight or good mental health. I’m not sure I get this contrast but I do understand his point that the Spanish model is nothing like that already adopted in 11 other EU countries. And I do hope he’s wrong, especially as the weekend brought its usual crop of teenagers slaughtered in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Here’s something for those buying property up in the hills of Lugo and Ourense to think about – global warming is forecast to mean that, by the end of the century, the interior of Galicia will be ‘hotter and more arid’ than it is now. As it was over 40 degrees in Ourense today, this is not something to take too lightly. At least not if you want to leave some valuable property to your kids.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The World Cup Final

Well, Zidane will surely be remembered for two outstanding headers late in the match, one of which almost won it for France and another which probably lost it.

France were outplayed in the first half but - helped by a bizarre Italian half-time decision to convert themselves into the English team - had the better of the second half. And maybe even the extra time. But, in the end, it was the excellence of the Italian penalty-takers - and the enforced absence of Zidane - which secured the victory for Italy.

Difficult now to see many of these players being consigned to the Italian third division. So who will be surprised if and when the scandal evaporates?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

It was the last day of the 'Aromas of Andalucia’ exhibition down in Pontevedra’s main square today, so I made a second visit. This time there was no Visitor’s Book for comments. I guess the organisers got tired of reading variations on ‘Looks nice but smells awful’ from the notoriously conservative Galicians. To be honest, there are few [if any] traces of Muslim influence in Galicia and it’s hard to blame the locals for treating other – very different - parts of Spain like foreign countries. Truth to tell, this is exactly how they are referred to in the local press – as in “Foreign banks have large share of the Galicia market”, meaning those from Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao.

Well, exactly 4 weeks after applying for it, I finally have broadband. But only via the ‘principal phone socket’, which just happens to be in the garage at the front of my house. So, perfectly placed for the horrendous noise – and dust – involved in the replacement of the nearby granite escarpment by a wall made of – would you believe? – granite. I don’t yet have the free calls that come with broadband as the phones won’t work from the master socket. I’m waiting for Telefonica to come and fix things but, as they’re clearly miffed that I’m not taking broadband from them, this is likely to take some time. The tone of the employee I spoke to yesterday was one of outrage that I’d exercised my right to elect a competitor instead of them. BT of circa 1995 re-visited.

My sincere thanks to the reader who supplied proof that the belief about all women born under Franco [as it were] having to be called Maria was an urban legend. I do appreciate it when people take the trouble to write constructively.

All of which reminds me that someone has written a book ‘proving’ that Christopher Columbus was born just outside Pontevedra. The last I read on this subject was that the relevant papers had been shown to be forgeries but why should the facts be allowed to get in the way of a good story.

Finally, a couple of pix of the massive granite blocks being used in the Galician version of a Derbyshire dry stone wall outside my house. They make a lot of noise when dropped by a crane. . .

Friday, July 07, 2006

After decades of nonsense over Gibraltar, it looks as if common sense has finally broken out between all parties. Agreement has been reached over the joint use of the airport in ‘no-man’s-land’ and now other developments around telecoms and border controls are expected to follow in its wake. It’s only been 20 years since the UK and Spain became co-members of the EU. Imagine if they were enemies.

I’m occasionally accused of being too negative/critical about Spain but my comments are nothing to those which emerge after a tragedy such as the recent Metro crash in Valencia. A group of journalists on the radio yesterday weighed into the topical subject of safety, claiming it was scandalously downplayed all over the country. Interestingly, they compared their own profession with that of Anglo-Saxon countries and accused it of not being investigative enough. They even went so far as to say it would be better for Spain if its media devoted more time to this issue than that of whether Spain is breaking up into its constituent parts, for example. So, journalist distraction to add to the political and judicial varieties I’ve already cited.

It’s Tour de France time again. This has a Spanish leg so there’s much TV coverage here. I can just about understand someone going into the street for a few seconds to see the two-wheeled circus fly past but I simply can’t get my head around people spending hours watching it on the TV. Perhaps they’re taking a break from watching paint dry.

There are lots of women called Maria in Spain. There are even more who disguise the fact by calling themselves the second half of something like Maria-Elena. Or ‘Chus’ instead of Maria-Jesus. I’m told this is because, if you born during Franco’s lifetime, it was compulsory to be called some form of Maria. Can this really be true of only 30 years ago? If it was, it was primarily for females, of course, though I do recall a Steinbeck character called Jesus and Mary. It quite confused me for the first few pages.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

If, like me, you’d wondered how come Spanish companies were making so much money they could afford to buy up major British banks, phone companies and airport operators, here’s the explanation - the Spanish government has effectively been giving them 25% of the purchase price. This, of course, is illegal under EU regulations but, astonishingly, Brussels has given Spain until 2010 to cut it out. So I guess we can expect a few more takeovers.

One gets used to things being left until the last moment in Spain but sometimes it still surprises. Despite having had two years to prepare for it, only two of the country’s 1500 municipalities have taken steps to ensure they can operate the new points-based driving licence which came into force last weekend. So it’ll presumably be chaos for a while, as it was when Terminal 4 opened at Madrid airport earlier this year.

There was a paradigm car crash in Pontevedra yesterday. A young man over the alcohol limit ran into the back of a car which was illegally double-parked on a busy dual-carriageway. He then legged it but was subsequently caught, whereupon he was found to be without either a licence or insurance. So I don’t suppose he’ll get any points deducted. Or would, even if the system were operative.

I watched the Portugal-France semi-final down in Portugal last night and discovered they’re a rather passion-less people. And I’m not talking about just at the end of the match, in the aftermath of their defeat. In a crowd of several hundred watching it on a large outdoor screen in the border town of Valença, there was very little sign of emotion either before or during the match. All rather eerie when you know how the Spanish are less than 2 kilometres away. But you can get salted cod done in a hundred different ways.

I read that the Jamaican football authorities have offered Sven Eriksson 3 million pounds a year [about 4.5m euros] to coach their national team. Don’t they have English newspapers out there? Or read my blog? They deserve everything they won't get.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A local priest is punishing those of his parishioners who’ve declined to make at a least a 12 euro contribution to a new sacristy. He’s said they’re disqualified from using any of the church’s services and shouldn’t even bother to turn up in a coffin. Perhaps the Pope will give him a call from Valencia and tell him about charity being ‘the greatest of these’.

It’s forecast the Constitutional Tribunal will face at least 16 appeals next year against the various statutes currently being negotiated between the central and regional governments. So not just a political distraction but also a judicial distraction as well. Though, if you have a constitutional court, I guess it has to do something other than tap its fingers.

Seven weeks to go before the end of the period of grace but so far I’ve seen no sign of changes being made in my favourite café to ensure compliance with the anti-smoking legislation. I am decreasingly optimistic, especially as I’m unlikely to carry out my threat to take my custom elsewhere; the tapas portions are just too generous. Not to mention the wine helpings.

Belatedly, my thanks for the nice message from the member of the Ex Wives Club. Given that this came with kisses, I’d guess it’s not from either of mine.

My thanks also to the reader who posted the explanation of jibarizar. I also got the following from Google:- La palabra ‘jibarizar’- ¿Se puede utilizar para indicar que se usan piezas de varias máquinas para arreglar o construir otra? . . . Podría servir para esa función si se indicara que la máquina resultante es más pequeña que la original. Por ejemplo, con el desguace de un barco grande se puede construir (jibarizar) un barquito. Lo fundamental de ‘jibarizar’ es la reducción de tamaño. En las fusiones de las grandes empresas suelen resultar unidades de menor número de empleados, es decir, jibarizadas.

And talking of the jibarizado English football team. . . a Spanish commentator has written that Italy’s superb performance last night was an example of how to compete that Spain was light years away from. I would ask where on earth this leaves England but we’re talking at least different planets here. Possibly even galaxies.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Second post of the day – the one which isn’t about the World Cup….

By virtue of the casting vote of a its Catalan chairman, an EU committee has decided Spaniards can write in Catalan, Galician or Basque to their Eurodeputy [or to any administrator, in fact] and get a reply in the same language. The Spanish government will pick up the bills for this, I believe. God knows where they’re going to get Galicians who speak the numerous other languages of the EU but I suppose the development is more symbolic than real. The saving grace – as far as the costs are concerned – is that no one writes letters in Spain because – in this hyper-verbal society - answers are not usually forthcoming.

It seems I was too quick in being positive about the weekend’s road fatalities. Things deteriorated during the second half of Sunday and, in the event, deaths were only fractionally down on last year. This was despite the fact ‘displacements’ were well down. However, the number of people stopped for infractions was well up and the not-terribly-surprising statistics show that 28% were for driving over the alcohol limit, 23% for excess speed, 17% for not wearing a safety belt and 5% for using a mobile phone. Plus 1% for all of these at the same time. Not really; I made the last one up. Which is not to say it didn’t happen, of course.

It’s one of those cosmic ironies that, on the same day as Spanish drivers in their thousands refrained from driving 60kph over the speed limit, at least 41 people were killed in an underground train crash in Valencia because the driver was going too fast. Double the permitted speed, in fact. And it’s another cosmic irony that the Pope is visiting Valencia this week.

Spain is not a litigious country. At times, this seems an attractive aspect of the culture but then one reads there’d been regular complaints about the state of the line and one is forced to wonder whether it wouldn’t be better if there were more fear around of a negligence suit.
World Cup Special [Normal blog later on]

A couple of damning verdicts from the Spanish press about the English team:-

Like Brazil, England is a team de-natured by its trainer. Eriksson is one of those trainers who earn a great deal of money and lots of prestige by constructing a team which is weaker than its constituent parts.*

Eriksson had one of the best teams England has ever had but hasn’t been able to get from it even a hint of recognisable football. We’re not talking about beauty here, merely a reliable style.

And here’s a comment from a writer in Prospect magazine which echoes my own, long-standing view:-

We have the BBC’s HDTV, red-button interactivity and live streaming of the matches on the net, and ITV’s computer graphics showing the number of shots on or off target. In general, the hardware has improved greatly. The software, however, has not. What we still have is the weary old format of a commentator or two, a studio presenter and ‘expert analysis’ by a dour mix of ex-pros and/or managers. Not, we note, Mourinho or Wenger, who don’t have the same sacred cows. Football TV coverage, with its tiresome cast of has-beens and also-rans, remains stuck in the past. Everyone cheers on ‘our’ boys, dodges tricky issues and goes for the lowbrow opinion. Why will no one break the mould for an audience who want something a bit different?

Finally, in the process of reviewing my 2004 Thoughts from Galicia this morning, I came across this prophetic comment of mine from November of that year:- Here’s something I never thought I’d say – Thank God my team, Everton, got shut of Wayne Rooney before he self-destructs. When they say that he has his brains in his feet, they really mean it. Though ‘toes’ might be even more accurate.

Enough, already.

* This is just a guess at the meaning of a verb – jibarizar – which I can’t find in any dictionary. Correct translation welcome from any Spanish reader.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Second blog of the day – the one that’s not about the World Cup…

Deaths on the road over the start-of-the-holidays weekend were an impressive 52% down on last year. But then ‘displacements’ [as they’re called here] were 28% down so it’s not quite as good as it seems. But nonetheless very welcome. Statistics were assiduously collected over the first weekend of the new penalties regime and we’re indebted to this for the startling news that men commit far more motoring offences than women – with the ratio in Spain being in the region of 90:10

Today’s Spanish media announced we’re shortly to see a new program on TV. This will centre on some sort of contest between recently married couples and will be called “Till TV does us part”. Doubtless the inevitable break-up of a few fragile relationships will be justified as a valid social experiment. What a world.

Meanwhile, the UK appears to be disappearing up its own bureaucratic backside even faster than when I left it more than 5 years ago. Arranging a mortgage on her first flat, my younger daughter has been told by her lawyer that – because of money-laundering laws – she must prove the provenance of her deposit. Worse, the school employing her from next September have said they’ll be delighted to give her a copy of her contract once she gives them another clean bill from the Criminal Investigation Board[?] which checked a year ago whether she was a paedophile. This is despite the fact she’s been working in this school for a year and they might be expected to already have a good idea whether she’s a danger to the kids or not. Madness.

The Spanish frequently use the word ‘calvario’ to describe a painful sequence of events. It’s a pretty accurate description of my attempt to get a broadband connection. Almost 3 weeks after applying for it and after spending hours on the phone trying to get Telefonica and Ya.com to stop blaming each other for the fact my modem doesn’t work, I may just be getting close to having an engineer visit the house to look at and even improve the connections. I don’t expect to be operative in less than a month but I feel safe forecasting that I’ll get at least one bill for the this period of nil service.
World Cup Special [Normal blog later on]

Well, I never thought I’d ever say this but “Allez, les Bleus!”. What a wonderful performance from Zidane, Henry et al. And, if I have to chose between the Frogs and the Huns, I guess it must be the older enemy. Especially after watching a program on the Somme battles last night.

I found the first 90 minutes of the England match against Portugal as bad as anything that came before. So I saved myself the pain of watching the extra time and the penalty shootout. Before that - during the first 15 or 16 minutes of play in the second half before Rooney inevitably got himself sent off - I relieved the boredom by counting how often Figo fell over and how many times England gave away possession. This was 12, against 3 for Portugal. Hopeless. They truly deserved to go out, even if Portugal will only grace the semi-finals marginally more than England would have done. At least they play like a team and know what to do with the ball. Does anyone know what Walcott looks like?

What an abject failure the team has been, the responsibility for which I lay at the door of the priapic Swede. Or turnip or cabbage. For those who don’t share my view, this is an article that might persuade them. For those who do, it will surely interest them…..
http://sport.independent.co.uk/football/comment/article1155215.ece

By the way, the guy who wrote the Word Spellcheck program doesn’t know what ‘priapic’ means. Prick.

Finally, I hope my earlier comments please my French reader.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Yesterday saw not only the introduction of the new points-based driving licence but also a ‘drastic reduction in speeding and drink-driving’. I guess this was to be expected, at least as an initial response to the much increased possibility of a jail sentence.

A leading Galician politician has said there can be no reason why the region’s new constitution shouldn’t be as good as any other. Meaning that of Catalunia, I suppose. This piecemeal approach to reform rather contrasts with that in Germany, where the relationship between the central government and all the regions is currently being negotiated in the round. I can’t help feeling this is a less time-consuming and divisive approach.

If I were to guess, Id say the most frequently used word which brings searches to my blog is ‘life’. Does this mean there really are untold numbers of people out there wondering about the purpose of life and calling on Google – rather than a priest – to give them an inkling of understanding?

Sadly, the second most common word is probably ‘brothel’.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The government has announced the date for formal talks with the ETA terrorist organisation. The President has again said no political price will be paid for peace. My own interpretation of this is that everything is on the table except the inclusion of the French Basque provinces in an enlarged Pais Vasco. And I would take a heavy bet on early prisoner releases.

In the latest survey of what concerns the Spanish populace, Terrorism has fallen to 5th place. Ranked 1 to 4 are Unemployment, Immigration, Security and Housing. In an interesting contrast with the UK, Health and Education come in at only 10 and 13 respectively. And, despite the regular diet of media reports, Corruption only manages 17th. But I guess this is logical. If there were a great popular antipathy to it, there would be less of it.

In another welcome step towards European norms, the government has announced that the minimum age for scooters and mopeds will be raised from 14 to 16. Perhaps now they will also start implementing the law which forbids the suppression of the silencers on these infernal machines.

In a Europe-wide survey of kissing practices, it’s reported that Spain, Austria and Scandinavia are each content with the two kisses ritual. In Spain the rule is strictly right cheek first. I’m not sure I knew this latter bit. As for the the Brits - In the UK kissing is only just being extended outside of family and friends. Somewhat shy of physical contact, the British have tended to opt for a handshake or nod as the safest form of greeting. In today's less formal environment, "Hi!" or "How are you?" is a way of avoiding physical contact. But it must be remembered that when the British ask how you are they don't expect you to tell them.

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