Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Don John

My Spanish is odd. I know a fair bit. I can talk alright but sometimes I can't. Sometimes I can get really flustered and cock it up completely. Sometimes I can laugh at my mistakes and plough on or I can get angry and sulky. Language, or problems with language are still, by far, the biggest stumbling block to my day to day dealings with Spain.

In the last post I mentioned that the Consumer Office had suggested the only way to sort out our overpaid local taxes was to go to the nearest office of the Land Registry, the Catastro, 60 kilometres away in Alicante city. Nowadays, with most government offices, you need to arrange a prior appointment. That doesn't mean you don't have to queue but it does mean you'll get served. There are lots of systems for making an appointment online and even the most basic website usually offers some sort of email possibility. Not the Catastro though. You can get access to plenty of information online but sorting an appointment has to be done by phone.

I used to live on the phone when I had a real job but, nowadays, I find phone calls to help lines really difficult irrespective of the language. First there are the technical problems; the headsets not set up properly so that the volume is too loud or too low and the VOIP connections with the corresponding clicks or echoes on the line. Then there are those more physical problems like balancing the phone under your chin whilst you search for the reference number that you didn't expect them to ask for. Now add in the Spanish. If talking to people face to face can vary from ordinary and normal to a bit embarrassing talking to people on the phone, for me, tends towards nightmare. There are non of those corporal cues to help - you can't nod or gesticulate or smile - it all depends on the words that you utter and only on the words.

So, I'd put off phoning the Catastro as long as I could. As I pressed the number buttons on the phone I remembered approaching the end of the 10 metre board at the swimming pool in Skipton when I was a boy. The connection was dodgy - a beep on the line every three seconds or so. I listened to the "Please hold we'll be with you in a moment" message for a while with the knot in my stomach getting tighter and tighter. "How can I help you today?" said a cheery voice in Spanish with a nice clear accent. No niceties on my part I just blurted out "I want to arrange an appointment with the Alicante office" with the Spanish steeped in the broadest of Yorkshire accents. Questions and answers; ID numbers, reference numbers, post codes, phone numbers - easy questions. Then there was a question about why I wanted to speak to them, I fluffed and muttered. The man said "Ya". Ya is a multi-use, often confirmatory, word that can mean lots of things. When he said it he said it in a way that I know well, with the vowel sound lengthened and a click at the end, so that it sounds resigned and world weary. I got the appointment though.

As he confirmed the place, date and time he made the mistake, common amongst Spaniards used to their double barrelled surnames, of thinking that my middle name was my surname. Thank you for your call to the Catastro today Don John. As I sniggered I failed to say "adios" properly. Ending on a low note.

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