Garlic Bites December 2007


Stay a while in Spain, and beyond the sunshine, fiestas, Rioja and laidbackness you may find yourself drifting in an uncharted ocean of unwritten laws, linguistic minefields and mysterious quirks. Where is everyone at ten o'clock in the morning? Why will you pay more for an ático than a regular flat? What should you do when asked for your “second surname”?

You need to be In the Garlic - en el ajo - in the know.


Batería What makes your family of remote controls tick are pilas, but what runs flat in your car when you leave the lights on all night is la batería, the car battery. Other baterías you inevitably forget to charge are those of your mobile phone and your digital camera. Completely unrelated, aparcar en batería is to park square, either bonnet or boot first into the kerb/gutter/ditch. Finally, tocar la batería is what Phil Collins does (play the drums). And, if he's down on his luck, he may be forced to bang on una batería de cocina, a set of saucepans.

Bomberos, cuerpo de bomberos, coche de bomberos Firepersons, the fire brigade, and fire engine. Many Spaniards are convinced that the word bomberos is an Anglicism and will tell you how the “bom-bers” came in their “bom-bers” car to put out the fire. Tell them about firemen and fire engines and they think you're pulling their leg. What should you do, however, when you need the men in yellow to bomb over to your place? Good question. There is no child's-play-to-remember 999. Memorise 112 for emergency services, or 080 for the fire service. Or grab the Yellow Pages while your house burns down.

Bonificación The word bono comes from the Latin “bonus”, but a bonus at work is una bonifación (or un plus or una gratificación). A no-claims bonus on your car insurance is succinctness itself: bonificación por falta de siniestralidad.

Burocracia Bureaucracy. What makes paperwork so often a task both Herculean and Kafkaesque are the following:

i. There are so many extra layers of it the burocracia autonómica and the provincial besides the municipal and estatal.
ii. The inscrutable prose of officialdom has not budged one iota for the last several hundred years. There is no equivalent of a Plain English campaign.
iii. There are no user-friendly help leaflets explaining where you have to go and what you have to do and which documents you need.
iv. The Law of “Falta Uno”. However many documents and photocopies you take along there will always be One Missing.
Advice from those who have been there and done that on many occasions: Be patient. Be assertive. Always take ALL your papers with you whenever you go off to do something bureaucratic. Always make photocopies of everything at every stage. Take reading matter. Rope in a friendly mentor who speaks Spanish. Check any papers you are given with a fine toothcomb, names, dates, accounts numbers, etc. BEFORE you leave the desk or ventanilla (window). Any undiscovered glitch may set you back years. Oh, and don't forget the rabbit's foot.

Burrocracia One of the better Spanish plays on words. Burro means donkey. The joke hinges on the different pronunciation of “r” and “rr”, neither of which ex-pats can pronounce properly.

In the Garlic: Your Informative, Fun Guide to Spain is published by Santana and is available at all good book shops (ISBN 13:978-84-89954-59-5)

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