Holidays In Spain

For a number of years around 2018 – 2012 I contributed paid for columns to a number of the English Speaking Newspapers here in Spain: The Reader, The Sol Times, The Round Town News and The Euro Weekly News to name but four!

Reading through my notes for these columns, I was taken by a) how relevant many of them still are today, and b) I had no online record of them of my own.

So I have added the original submissions to this blog, so if you want to read them just search for expatarticles.

There are a LOT and I have no record of which were submitted to which paper so I have grouped them together into a series of short essays!

Holidays In Spain

If we ignore the financial plight of the world, which has dominated the headlines as you would expect, it has actually been a pretty uplifting week headline wise.

One of the best for me was that we have an answer as to why Spaniards stay at home for their holidays rather than venture abroad: they are scared! That’s right, the macho men of Spain, who will happily beat up their partners, watch a man with a sharp stick kill a bull and tie up and leave a pet dog to die are scared of driving abroad!

A recent survey reported that 40% are afraid to drive abroad and a whopping 80% are scared to drive in a country that drives on the left.

Rather spookily the same percentages cropped up in my second favourite headline of the week: “Kick out foreigners who cannot get jobs”, as 40% of Spaniards believe that foreigners who have been out of work for a certain length of time should be ‘sent home’, and a whopping 80% feel there is an ‘excessive’ number of non-Spanish people living in the country.

Reminds you of home eh ……………..

Apparently Spain has the second highest foreign population amongst the 27 EU countries with 5.7 million foreign citizens registered which equates to 12% of the population. Unfortunately if they are fed up now they are going to have to learn to live with it as the expat way of life is attracting more and more people with nearly a third of UK employees consider leaving the country in the next five years. Although with 86% of would-be emigrants attracted by the idea of achieving a better work-life balance, and 83% drawn by the prospect of more money I am not convinced that Spain will be high on many people’s list. Although ……… experts in Germany are recommending what they call ‘Spanish yoga’ during working hours, claiming that taking a siesta midway through the day improves employees’ productivity and accuracy. Could be hope still then that we will see more expats heading to Spain.

Of course one assumes the Spanish are happy enough for people to come on holiday though, which is good news because as the summer holidays start, families are making plans for last minute getaways, and it seems Spain is still a top destination.

Budget airline easyJet has published a ‘top five’ list of destinations visited by UK tourists in 2011, and Spanish resorts took three of the five spots, with the Spanish city of Palma de Majorca taking up another place. Brits taking advantage of plentiful cheap flights to Malaga made the Spanish city and gateway to the Costa del Sol the most popular holiday spot for 2011 so far. A good range of flights to Alicante from London and other regional hubs gave the Costa Brava gateway second place in the list, and large numbers of holidaymakers finding good deals on flights to Palma de Majorca gave the Spanish island third place in the list.

All sounds promising especially when you consider that holiday firms have slashed costs of summer holidays to Spain this year. For example Thomas Cook is offering over a 1.000€ off some breaks to the country. The discounts are as a result of increasing turmoil in the middle east and the spiraling recession.

And finally some quickies to end this week: Alicante Airport will allow embarking on foot only in the winter as the tests which followed Ryanair’s threat to cut back operations over the passenger bridges issue have shown it would be too risky in the summer, Google Maps is to include traffic information in real time for Spain. Until now the service has only been available in the United States and the U.K., and the European Union has introduced a new set of rules for facilitating cross-border maintenance payments – the rules are aimed at making it easier for families to recover maintenance fees when, for example, one parent lives in a different European country, and is refusing to give financial assistance to his or her ex-partner or their children.

Spanish Woman in The News

I am in Barcelona as I write this weeks column, a city that I spent a lot of time working in about 8 years ago, so it is good to be back amongst old friends and familiar sites.

The same can be said about the headlines across Spain this week as well with the Air Traffic Controllers strike of last December back in the news as stranded passengers sure for 10.000€ in compensation, with some talk of being ‘kidnapped’ as a result of the strike. I had been looking forward to my return flight but at 10.000€ a pop I reckon I could handle a couple of days stranded here in Barcelona.

Sticking with Barcelona do you recall that last year Lleida insisted that the prostitutes all wore yellow high visibility jackets when plying their trade on the side of the road? Well apparently they are going one step further now and Cataluña is to ban prostitution on its roads before the end of the year. The Generalitat regional government will issue fines on both the roads it is responsible for, and on state roads, for both the prostitutes and their clients. It’s being made possible via a modification of the 2009 ley de carreteras legislation which is part of the Omnibus laws.

More bad news for the ‘ladies of the night’ as Spain’s government has opened a debate over whether to ban adverts offering sexual services, escorts and other forms of prostitution in the media. Now I am no expert but I suspect if ever a business relied on ‘word of mouth’ advertising this would be one of them …….

Moving on, domestic violence caught the eye as one woman was killed and another seriously injured in two domestic violence attacks in Valencia. The victim in the first case was a woman from Bolivia, Julia F.P., who was found strangled to death in an orange grove in Chiva. Her husband was arrested and it was later revealed that his wife had reported him for abuse in 2009, but had no protection order in place. In the Tránsitos district of Valencia City a 35 year old woman was injured in a stabbing attack by her estranged husband. It happened in front of her three young children and she was taken to hospital with between 13 and 15 stab wounds to her face, neck and arms.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I had no sympathy at all spectators injured at bull fights, so the family of the 62 year old man gored to death recently in a bullring during a festival in northwestern Spain the other weekend need not check their post for a sympathy card from me! This is what the official report in the paper said:

“The man was behind a wooden protection barrier when the animal was released shortly after midnight into the temporary arena, which had been set up in the town of El Maderal for a bullfight to be held as part of an annual festival.

The young bull rammed the barrier, knocking the man over.

The beast’s horn then spiked the man in the chest as he lay on the ground, killing him, an official in the regional government of Castilla y Leon said.”

That’s right …… a wooden protection barrier! Madness I tell you, madness!

As for the rest of the headlines that caught the eye this week.

Travel experts say that many people are going on holiday on Friday and returning to work two Mondays later, to get nine days away while only taking five days off work. A survey by easyJet has found that seven out of 10 people are booking breaks of longer than eight days but less than two weeks. Those who replied to the survey gave a variety of reasons for turning their back on the two-week holiday. Factors included the cost, missing home comforts, friends, family and pets as well as worrying about work.

Romanians nationals coming to Spain will once again need a work permit, the government has announced. This will not affect Romanians already living and working in Spain with just a NIE number, but will apply to any new people from the country arriving. They will only be granted work permits if they already have a job contract ready and waiting.

Last year saw 149 deaths on the road caused by drivers being tired, a considerable increase on the previous year’s figures. Maybe they should pay more attention to the siesta as the ideal siesta should be exactly 26 minutes, according to a study from NASA which the US National Transportation Safety Board recently used as evidence to back up its recommendation for controlled naps for air traffic controllers. The NTSB said it would improve performance by 34% and alertness by 54%.

According to a survey of more than 500 UK millionaires carried out by investment websiteSkandia, only 44 per cent are certain they want to remain in the country, with eight per cent saying they are already planning to move.

Spanish women are among the most stressed-out in the world, according to a recent survey by Nielsen market researchers. They come fifth out of a total of 21 countries where women were questioned. Although they may have had their spirits lifted as a Supreme Court ruling recently recognised the right to compensation for childcare and housework when a couple divorces. María Piedad F.A., a law graduate who has never worked outside the home, was awarded 108,000€ as part of the divorce settlement when she and her husband split up after 15 years of marriage. And woman aged over 65 now make up a tenth of Spain’s population, statistics have revealed. According to the Ministry of Health, the country has a total of 4.5 million female inhabitants over State retirement age.

Talking of retirement age Spain’s controversial pensions reform has finally been approved, meaning most of today’s workforce will not reach State retirement age until they are 67.

I just couldn’t resist this one: an Irish youth escaped with just minor injuries after falling out of a third-floor window whilst sleepwalking, emergency services reveal. The tourist, aged 20, was staying in the Verdemar apartment complex in Santa Ponsa (Mallorca) with friends, whom he had warned that he was prone to walking in his sleep.

And finally, if you got some time on your hands maybe worth having a bit of a search around for Gaddafi’s cash! Apparently he could have as much as 2€ million hidden away here in Spain, and I suspect he won’t be coming over to pick it up anytime soon.

General Election Fever

One obvious headline story this week, the early election in Spain, as Zapatero has brought forward the general election to November, from 2012. Somewhat surprising to be honest as the PSOE don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of winning, but I suspect that having already decided that he wasn’t going to stand for re-election he has probably just had enough.

Can’t really see there being any surprises at the election either, with the PP 15 points ahead in two polls published this week. The survey in “El País” revealed that the PP would get 44.8% of the vote, compared with 30.8% for the PSOE, equating to a difference of 14 points and a possible absolute majority in the Congress of Deputies. The poll published in “La Razón” gives Rajoy 46.9% of the vote, with a margin of 16 points over Rubalcaba, with 30.9% of public support. These results would give the PP an absolute majority – between 183 and 186 deputies – whereas the PSOE would win between 118 and 122, which would be their worst result since the 2000 general elections.

No surprises either post the election: things are going to get tougher in Spain as the PP have pledged to restore investor trust in the euro area’s fourth- biggest economy by imposing more spending cuts if it wins early elections in November. The People’s Party led by Mariano Rajoy, 56, is set to campaign on the extra steps it says are needed to kick-start growth and slash unemployment of more than 20 percent.

What will be interesting though is just how much interest in the election the expat community across Spain takes. During the past UK election you couldn’t pick up a English language paper in Spain without reading another view from a budding columnist, or should that be the same old view from somebody seeking their 5 minutes of ‘fame’, and across the bars of Costa Almeria it was a hotly debated subject indeed. At the time I wrote that I hoped the expats tools half as much interest in the next election in their adopted country so I await the next couple of months with interest. That said over the weekend in a straw poll of my only less than 10% of the expats I talked to knew the election had been brought forward.

One subject I suspect we will see debated will the organisation of the Health Service here in Spain as the head of the national cardiology service, Carlos Macaya, has recently said that more than 1,000 lives a year could be saves if it were better organised. He commented in a conference recently that of the 70,000 people who suffer a heart attack every year, the survival rate was 95 per cent for those who had an angioplasty operation in time.

Elsewhere in the headlines this week another victory for the bull as a man was gored to death after provoking a bull with an umbrella during a festival in eastern Spain. The victim, who was described as around 50, was apparently drunk when he struck the bull with the umbrella, enraging the animal during the festivities Saturday evening in the town of Rafelbunyol, in the province of Valencia.

Probably the most understated story of the week has to be that Spanish football fans are “fairly optimistic” about their country’s chances of reaching the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, according to a recent poll, which showed that no less than 85% believe Spain will finish top of their qualifying group.

‘Best’ story of the week? That 200 portable confessional units are being made to be placed on the Paseo de Coches in Madrid for the Pope’s visit later this month. They are being built by Ávila and will be put in place a week before the pontiff’s arrival, allowing the public to confess in as many as 20 languages from 10am to 10pm between Tuesday 16 and Friday 19, and between 10am and 12 noon on Saturday 20.

‘Bizarre’ story of the week? A beach in Mallorca has banned people from urinating in the sea on pain of a 1,500-euro fine. Bathers who answer the call of nature whilst swimming, or on the sand, will be forced to hand over a four-figure fine if they are caught. Without going into details ……… how will they go about catching people?

And finally El Bulli, the beachside Spanish restaurant repeatedly crowned the world’s best, closed over the weekend after pushing the boundaries of cuisine for more than two decades under chef Ferran Adria. The remote eatery in Cala Montjoi, some two hours north of Barcelona, will re-open in 2014 as a non-profit culinary think tank that will investigate new cooking techniques and develop new flavours.

Brits Behaving Badly

Cycling along the beach recently I couldn’t help but slow down to admire the way the Spanish enjoy the late afternoon sun, the BBQ’s were out, the games had started and the whole beach had a pleasant buzz to it …… and then a stone landed on my head!

Looking round it didn’t take me long to find the culprits: three youths, red as lobsters, drunk as skunks, throwing stones at the seagulls. You have guessed already, but I will confirm: they were British.

In that one small microcosm of beach life it was all so perfectly summed up as to why so many countries across the world at best tolerate us Brits on holiday. Of course people like that are in the minority, but as is often the case the minority have the ‘loudest voice’ and ‘perception is reality’ as they say.

So I thought I would do a little research: and it seems that Spain last year saw the largest number of arrests of British citizens abroad, beating the drug related arrests from the likes of Jamaica, Argentina, Brazil, Serbia and Peru. The same report showed that Spain continues to be the country with the most Britons hospitalized each year, a number that is still increasing year on year.

Bullfighting was in the news again this week, although I can’t report any victories for the bulls this time, rather the opposite in fact as the controversial sport has been declared ‘an artistic discipline and cultural product’, protecting it from mounting pressure by animal rights campaigners who want the practice banned. The tradition is already illegal in Catalonia after a law was passed against it last year and many had hoped that more regions would follow in their footsteps, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Am not sure what the situation is like with Mosquitos where you are, but they are pretty rampant here at times, but there may be a solution, albeit a somewhat drastic one! Contrary to popular belief, mosquitos are attracted to their prey not by the sweetness of their blood, but by the amount of carbon dioxide they exhale. The insects detect CO2 on the air current and know that there is fresh blood to be had not far away. Adults produce more CO2 than children, and the amount depends on diet and how physically active the person is. So ………..stop berthing, or at least learn to hold your breath for a very long time!

Last story as I have something to say at the end. Lot of coverage as you would expect about the forthcoming election in Spain (which I have been asked to cover in series of articles for the Telegraph if you are at all interested!) with a number of experts predicting an absolute majority for the Popular Party. One thing that virtually every expert seems to agree on though is that post election there is going to have to be a lot of belt tightening across Spain, in what is being described as an “attack on living standards” as Spain faces yet more austerity cuts.

And finally ….. appears that my recent comment “One of the best for me was that we have an answer as to why Spaniards stay at home for their holidays rather than venture abroad: They are scared! That´s right, the macho men of Spain, who will happily beat up their partners, watch a man with a sharp stick kill a bull and tie up and leave a pet dog to die are scared of driving abroad!” hit a nerve with a Spanish reader, which I must say is good! Good obviously that that they are reading an English Language paper (let’s be honest how many of us Brits read the Spanish ones?) and good that they felt so passionately about the subject. Without going into great detail I think that the ‘nuance’ of the ‘irony’ didn’t make it through the transition process, although I will say that while I agree, and have often written, that many domestic violence cases are committed in Spain by non Spaniards the fact remains that it happens on an increasingly regular basis in their country and more often than not by people that are already under restraining orders from their courts. I think the phrase we would be use is “it happens on their watch”, so it is about time to stand up and take responsibility. As for the claim that most animal cruelty is also by foreigners though that is just rubbish. I see too many cats and dogs abandoned, tied up and left to die, neglected and thrown out onto the streets by the Spanish to ever be convinced otherwise. We work with a number of exceptionally caring and compassionate Spanish people in our cat re-homing and transport project ( and they are forever apologizing for their countries attitude towards the animals. They inform me that the schools are making more of an effort to educate todays generation, which is great, but it will take time of course. On can only hope it will improve but in the meantime we will continue to try and help the cats like the one that had it’s legs tied together and had been left to die by a Spanish family, or the 5 kittens we are currently fostering that a Spanish man dumped on the beach … he was seen doing but just shrugged when confronted!

When In Rome

I have never really understood the mind set of people that come to live in a foreign country and then focus so much time and energy moaning about how that country is while at the same time replicating as much as possible from back home into their day to day lives.

This was the subject of a pretty intense debate with an elderly British Expat locally the other week, who was moaning that the Spanish were too noisy in the evenings when they wanted to get some sleep, conveniently forgetting the regular afternoon drinks parties that they engaged in two or three times a week, which no doubt impact on the Spaniards siesta!

During the debate I asked what it had been like back in the UK when the immigrants started coming over and ‘taking all our jobs, and opening up their supermarkets’. Disgusting was the general view. Should never have been allowed. If ‘they’ wanted to come and live in ‘our’ country they could at least eater food and adopt our cultures. After a moments of two reflection I quietly asked if they understood the word irony …….

Another example has surfaced just up the road from us in Mojacar where there is talk of a petition to stop the young Spaniards from being so noisy into the easy hours of the morning. Apparently they are buying their food and drink from the cheap supermarkets and then talking, partying and listening to music into the early hours. Disgusting behavior eh! I mean given the 25% youth unemployment in Spain what else are they going to do? They don’t have the money to spend it in the clubs and bars, and at the end of the day they are only ding what generations of Spaniards have done for years …… enjoying the summer in their country. Spain always has been and always will be a noisy country. If you want to live in a ‘seaside resort’ then take the rough with the smooth. I mean what would you prefer the youths to be doing …… looting, rioting and murdering people, but that is OK because we can all be in bed by 11.30pm!

I have a new hero! His name is Raton, a 500 kilo bull, who has just killed his third person in the last 10 year, goring a 29 year old man to death from Xativa at a recent festival. Raton has such a fearful reputation that its owners command a high price for festival appearances, 10.000€ a time, easily covering his costs as ticket prices are doubled at events that attends.

As I write this column the Association of Spanish Footballers has revealed that the Primera Division won’t kick off until a collective bargaining agreement has been signed. The Association of Spanish Footballers (AFE) has announced that Primera and Segunda Division players will go on strike in the first two weekends of the 2011-12 campaign. The players want a wage guarantee fund in case clubs become insolvent and won’t play until a collective bargaining agreement has been signed between the AFE and the individual clubs.

I suspect that the strike won’t go ahead, rather like the recent Airport Authorities threatened strike, but once again you have to question the mentality of the union leaders and companies involved at times like this.

Tempting as it is to comment on the riots in the UK I am going to resist, bar the observation that recently up in Lloret de Mar Spanish police fired rubber bullets in a stand-off with holiday makers when they refused to end their partying after discos closed in the popular Costa Brava resort of Lloret de Mar. Local reports said the crowds comprised different nationalities but the troublemakers appeared to be mainly Italian and French.

And finally more of a question than an observation. Reports from the UK claim that David Cameron is under mounting pressure last night to hold a referendum on EU membership amid claims that the Coalition is paving the way for full eurozone financial integration.

As an expat living in Spain who has made a conscious decision to leave a country that hasn’t signed up to the Eurozone, and seems undecided as to it’s future membership of the EU, what do you think the UK should do? Referendum or no referendum? Remain in the EU or leave the EU?

Changing Face Of Tourism

Humble Pie, more of the same i.e. domestic violence, driving in Spain, and yet more evidence of the changing face of tourism here in Spain are the attention grabbing stories for this weeks column.

I was wrong last week when I predicted that the proposed strike by Spanish footballers wouldn’t go ahead, with the first match day of the season cancelled as the league and the players association failed to reach any agreement on the wage round. Of course that didn’t stop the ‘Super Cup’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid taking place which somehow seems wrong to me, but then again what do I know eh, other than the overpaid, overrated, and overly arrogant modern footballer continues to believe that they are ‘above it all’ and that normal rules don’t seem to apply to them, or those involved in the administration of the game.

Personally I have got fed up with the over hyped nature of today’s football. In my mind the quality has increased in no way in proportion to the amount of money thrown around in the game, so I am not going to be watching anywhere near as much this year: the cricket on the other hand has been excellent and I am looking forward to the Rugby World Cup, although I have next to no hope that any of the Home Nations will get beyond the quarter finals.

Yet more evidence that the future face of tourism has changed in Spain with SOTC, the outbound travel brand of Kuoni, claiming to be the first Indian travel agent to organise a seven day package to the La Tomatina festival which
is held in the southern Spanish city of Bunol on the last Wednesday of August. Revellers hurl tomatoes on each other in friendly fights, in a tradition that goes back to 1945.

As for the Brits, they are favoring Cyprus and Corfu this year, with both reporting significant increases in popularity this summer, and Tunisia and Morocco already toping the winter destination tables.

Evidence that more Brits are staying at home, know as ‘Staycations’ in these days when everything has to be labelled, came from a rather interesting source: an increase in the use of ‘branch lines’ across the railways of the UK where the 10 branch lines with the biggest percentage growth saw total journeys increase from 4.5m to nearly 7m between April 2008 and March 2011.

Unfortunately another domestic violence tragedy with Twin Boys beaten to death by their Spanish stepfather in A Coruña. The un-named suspect is an unemployed construction worker who has lived with the boy’s mother, who is a local woman from A Coruña, for around the past year. He was found with them in the flat when officers arrived on the scene and is reported to have been under treatment for psychiatric problems.

A couple of driving related stories grabbed the eye this week: the unfortunate death of nine people and serious injuries to six over the last bank holiday weekend highlighting once again an ongoing concern, while the recent research showing that children are safer being driven by their grandparents than by mum and dad was a surprise to say the least as traditionally the view has been that the elderly are more likely to be the cause of accidents to poorer reactions and failing eyesight but the study found that a child’s risk of injury was found to be a staggering 50 per cent lower when in the car with grandad. I suspect it has a lot to do with experience and not been in a rush!

And finally ……. drinking and driving is wrong, there can be no excuse, and those caught deserve everything they get, but that said it is hard not to feel an element of sympathy for the driver caught three times in one weekend.

The first checkpoint was at 21:30 on August 14th, police officers stopped a car on the A-4 (Madrid-Cádiz). The driver, a 33 year old man from Córdoba, tested positive for alcohol (0.46) and was duly denounced and fined.

At 01:50 on August 15th the same driver was stopped at another control point on the A-4, at km and this time tested positive with 0.62 per litre of breath so another fine.

And then at 04:45 he was again stopped at a checkpoint on the A-431 between Córdoba and Lora del Río. He was tested and this time scored 0.50 on the Breathalyser scale.

The three offences now mean he could face a fine of up to €1,500 and lose 14 points from his licence, meaning he will be banned from driving.

As usual a ‘mixed bag’ then, and not all of it great news. In fact reading the news these days no doubt ‘drives many to drink’ in which case I may have some good news for you! According to researchers at Barcelona University red wine is good for you in the sun. A study in conjunction with the Spanish National Research Council reveals that flavonoids found in grapes can protect the skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

Avocado Crime Wave

Catching the eye this week across the Spanish News headlines: The Spanish Football Strike is over, the 0.4% deficit cap, the cost of going to school in Spain, labour law reforms, another domestic violence death, the case of the prostitute and the dissatisfied client, a drop on inflation and a rather bizarre ban for the US Marines in Afghanistan.

The recent football strike in Spain has ended after the Spain’s Professional Football League (LFP) guaranteed the Association of Spanish Footballers (AFE) payments owed to 200 players would be made. During the period of the strike did anyone else notice that Barcelona were allowed to play Real Madrid twice in the Super Cup in Spain, and Porto once in some money generating Super Euro Cup, whose name I can’t recall, and have no intention of bothering to find out: such is the meaninglessness of these type of matches. Does seem wrong to me though that the rich clubs and players were allowed to get richer while they were on strike, while the poorer clubs and players that the strike was for kicked their heals rather than their balls (so to speak) for a couple of weeks, and the fans were made to suffer …. although one could argue that given the quality of some of the football the real suffering comes when you actually have to watch the games!

Just a thought, but if the strike breaking Barcelona and Real Madrid had donated all the proceeds from their games to the LFP/AFE to actually pay the 200 players, the strike wouldn’t needed to go ahead, the public would have been able to start watching their teams again, and the cost of resolving the strike would have been avoided.

Although it may seem boring, it is good news that Spain has introduced a 0.4% deficit cap, with bot the PP and PSOE agreeing to the amendment to the Spanish Constitution, which will be set in law for 2020. Even the EU have applauded Spain which is a good sign of confidence returning to the markets, and notably Spain were the first country to react to a call made by France and Germany on August 16 for eurozone states to adopt a “golden rule” for their budgets from 2012 in order to prevent more debt crises in the future.

Having no children I am somewhat ‘out of the loop’ when it comes to knowing how much things cost, but I was somewhat surprised when I read that the average cost per child in Spain is 640€. The Confederation of Consumers (CECU) recommends parents get in touch with their PTA and town hall to find out about ways of cutting costs, but I am not sure how helpful they will be: one bit of advice I saw them offering was to buy your kids clothes in August while the sales were on, a case of ‘stating the obvious’ if ever there was one ……..

Although I have no children, I did study Economics in the dim and distance past: a time when they still had Universities and Polytechnics offering real courses that gave you some chance of getting a job and contributing back to the society that had funded your education! As such my eye does get drawn to the financial and political headlines more often than not, specifically the approval of a package of labour market reforms aimed at fighting sky-high unemployment, especially among youths, ahead of a general election on November 20. Under the new rules fixed-term contracts will no longer be automatically converted into permanent contracts after two years. Workers on short-term contracts, often youths at the start of their careers, complain that companies prefer to let them go after two years instead of giving them a permanent contract, which carries higher benefits.

For those that are interested the
Spanish inflation rate is expected to fall in Spain for the forth month in a row in August, over eased pressure on fuel and food prices.

This weeks domestic violence tragedy is that of the 75 year old man, Pedro G.D., who committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train in Murcia recently, after he stabbed his wife to death. For those who like the details he was struck by an Altaria train near a level crossing in the Era Alta area of Murcia City. Have you noticed that more and more of these tragedies involve the elderly? One can only speculate but my money would go on the fact that they just can’t afford the long term care, have no savings, struggle to make ends meet on their pensions and just can’t see any future.

On a more humorous note a prostitute in Lleida called the police recently after a client refused to pay her because he was ‘not satisfied with her services’.The Guardia Urbana was called out to a flat on the C/ Onofre Cerveró when they were contacted by a woman identified only by her initials, G. C. A. She attempted to report the client for theft, but he said he had withheld her fee as he did not feel the service received met his expectations. However, the Guardia resolved the issue by prosecuting them both, since soliciting in the street has been banned in Lleida since February 2009.

And then there are the events in Afghanistan where I think it best to quote director from the Marine Corps Times:

“Audible farting has been banned for some Marines downrange [slang roughly meaning ‘in the warzone’] because it offends the Afghans …

So, for all Marines getting ready to go downwind, I mean downrange, be forewarned — you may have to hold it in … at least until you get back to your hooch where you can loudly crop dust your friends.”

And finally the “quick sure round” of the more musing headlines this week: Residents in Balanegra, just down the coast from us, will no longer be able to hang out their underwear on their balconies. This is just one of the rules introduced with the municipal laws planned to make the town a more pleasant place to live. A Spanish league football team (Getafe FC) is encouraging its fans to become sperm donors so that they can breed more season-ticket holders. The avocado season has not yet begun but already farmers are suffering thefts from their fields. One farmer in the Valle Niza area of Vélez-Málaga has suffered two robberies within 24 hours. In the first instance, thieves stole 2,000 kilos of avocados which still have two months to go before they are ready for sale. The next night, despite the farmer patrolling his field, the thieves returned to take another 200 kilos of avocados.

One last thing: as from the 1st of October 2011, mobile phone numbers in Spain can also be assigned starting with a “7?, as well as the current “6?.

Who To Believe

I suspect that many a real estate agent in Spain will be tightening their belt yet another notch for this winter looking at the general flavour of the recent headlines relating to Spanish property.

For sure there are some positive spins being put on stories, and a few half hearted attempts to disperse the gloom but it impossible to avoid headlines such as: Home sales in Spain fell in June by 7.7 percent from the previous month and by a whopping 22.9 percent compared with June 2010. Sales of existing residences accounted for 51.3 percent of the 28,612 transactions concluded in June, which was the fourth consecutive month of inter annual declines.

The positive response to this news? During the last three decades, hundreds of thousands of Britons have purchased property in Spain. Nonetheless, a surplus of villas and apartments has spawned due to mortgage defaults from British buyers. By noting the declining property prices during the month of June one can see the opportunity to purchase Spanish property at a low price.

To be fair that is true, but when you turn the page and see the rest of the story: Despite the falling prices of property in Spain, Spain’s status as an advanced Western European country renders it a safe investment, as it continues on Europe’s path to economic recovery. As Spain will continue to have superb weather and a developed economy, to buy Spanish property would be the epitome of the much heeded advice: “Buy low, Sell high.”

Safe Investment? Path to Economic Recovery? Really!! Sure, the weather is great, but I am sure many would argue long into the night against the other two “benefits”.

It is a sad fact that ever since the Spanish property boom, Spain has been dogged by horror stories of expats buying property in good faith yet falling foul of Spanish planning laws and unscrupulous developers. There is some good news though as under new measures, expat investors will now able to request a Land Registry certificate in English at a cost of £29 from their local Spanish town halls. In doing so, they will be able to see whether there are or have been any legal proceedings against the property, such as proceedings which may result in fines or demolition. It is hoped that this development will reduce expat investors’ reliance on solicitors and allow them to take charge of the due diligence checks. If town halls fail to provide this information they will be held responsible for economic damages affecting third parties who bought in good faith.

This is important because despite the overall decline in property sales to expats the Brits still remain the largest market as more than 4,500 Britons registered Spanish house purchase deeds last year, down from 12,419 in 2008, when the economic crisis began and house prices plummeted.

Again not as good as it may seem though as look back even further to 2006 and sales to the British have collapsed by 80 per cent. Back then the British bought more than 23,000 Spanish properties a year and represented about 70 per cent of the expatriate holiday-home market.

So what is being done about the ongoing problem?

To be honest, not a lot! The government have said they will temporarily halve the sales tax on new homes to 4% to try to stimulate the construction sector, but with over half of the current sales of property in Span resales of existing properties this isn’t going to help the majority of current potential buyers.

Many financial institutions in Spain are very keen to offload some of the property they have acquired and sell real estate to new buyers with cash available when previous owners have defaulted. Some banks are even offering 100% mortgages with nothing to pay for 3 years in an effort to offload themselves of some of their distressed assets.

Again the focus seems to be more of relieving the banks of a problem as a lot of these distressed properties are in incomplete or sparsly populated communities so offer a very poor investment opportunity over the short to medium term. This may not be a bad thing as taking a longer term view when investing in property is the sensible approach, but for those with any disposable income to hand at the moment I suspect that the short to medium term would be what appeals.

Happy New Year Or Should That Be Good Luck

It would be remiss of me not to start the first column of 2012 without wishing everyone Happy New Year, although if the midnight greetings from our part of the world are anything to go by Good Luck was the most uttered phrase that I heard.

More than once I saw the New Year welcomed in with a stoic face, solid hand shake and an intense good luck for 2012 uttered, and it is easy to see why.

I mean just look at the news, which in many cases reflects more of the same from 2011.

Only this week Iberia pilots held two one day strikes canceling 266 flights, adding to the 218 they cancelled during the two one day strikes in December. The dispute is over the intention to create a new budget airline, Iberia Express, which pilots’ union SEPLA says will mean lower salaries, reduced working conditions and job losses. Given the huge financial issues facing Iberia at the moment one suspects the alternative to setting up the new budget airline and competing in that market would be reduced hours, lower salaries and job losses it is hard to have any sympathy with the pilots, as yet again Spain kicks off the year shooting itself in the foot.

Car sales, a benchmark indicator of the strength of consumer spending, for 2011 were 18% down on 2010 and the lowest since 1993. Not one region in Spain showed any growth at all in car sales with the highest declines being Extremadura (36.3%) and Galicia (33.9%).

December 2011 saw Spain’s jobless hit a new record high of 4.42 million, a fifteen year high of 21.52%, the highest among major industrialised countries.

It gets worse: the start of 2012 will see income tax increase and pensions rise by one per cent, but electricity, gas bottles and telephone standing charges will be frozen. Young people between 22 and 30 years of age can no longer claim the 210-euro benefit for buying a first home, but those currently in receipt of it will continue to be able to claim. The tax reduction on a first home will be reintroduced, and IVA will not go up, but income tax will rise. Toll fees on motorways will increase by up to 3.2 per cent. The percentage charged on land registry values for IBI, or asset tax, will rise, and the cost of postage stamps will increase by 2.86 per cent. Rail travel will go up, but the exact figure has not been calculated so far.

On a more positive note, at least as far as the Costa Blanca is concerned, Javea, Moraira and Denia shared 10th place in the most popular summer destinations list for 2011 and Alicante and the Costa Blanca remain the favorite locations for foreign property hunters according to an article in A Place In The Sun.

Returning to a couple of old favourites of mine from last year: it was good to see that a British couple have been jailed for a holiday scam, known as ‘packing and stacking’ bookings after they leased their 1.2 million euro holiday home in Mallorca to a retired expat businessman, who made the six-bedroom property his permanent home.

Despite this, the couple continued to advertise the villa on several holiday websites and took deposits from families looking to rent between February and July 2009.

Unfortunately we have already seen the first reported domestic violence fatalities of 2012, proving that we need more groups like the Costa Blanca based Woman in Business Club who continue to spearhead a campaign to help the women and children lucky enough to escape abuse and reach the shelters.

On a more positive note for all you Spanish mobile phone owners
Spain’s anti-trust authority CNC has launched a probe into mobile phone operators Telefonica, Vodafone and Orange for alleged anti-competitive behavior. “There is evidence that the operators abused their dominant position, either individually or collectively, in various markets in the mobile telephone sector,” it said in a statement.

Good luck with that one!

The Smoking Ban

The smoking ban in Spain has been in the news again this week with confirmation that it will remain in place despite the pre election comments from cigar loving Prime Minister Rajoy about allowing bars and restaurants to offer segregated areas.

Appears that a number of people actually had their hopes raised by his earlier comments, although just how many bars and restaurants would have been able to afford segregated areas would have been interesting, I hazard a guess not many!

Discussing this recently I expressed the view that I still have a number of problems with the current smoking ban.

My main gripe is that I feel that I have ‘lost’ the use of the terraces of Spain. As a non smoker if I want to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat on a terrace I am now pretty much guaranteed to be surrounded by smokers. I should say at this point that it isn’t their fault! My fellow non smokers have created this problem. They have forced the smokers outside, which to be honest is generally the best place to be here in Spain. For the non smokers the options are now to stay inside with no view, more often than not poor air conditioning, and as a rule not much atmosphere while the smokers are sat out on the terraces enjoying the views and sunshine!

Another gripe I have is that it has made far too many bars, cafes and restaurants ugly to look at. Let’s agree for the moment that smoking is a disgusting habit then what a great way to market your business: overflowing ashtrays, groups of people huddled round doorways, clouds of smoke gently settling over everywhere …..

Seriously if you wanted to market your business and make it look attractive to passing trade would this be the way you did it? And don’t get me started on the subject of your clothes smelling! A common whinge from non smokers has always been how smelly their clothes are after a night out, well let me tell you that after walking in and out of a bar through the smoke screen that the majority now suffer from my clothes still stink!

The financial crisis, and in particular the risk of a return to recession in Spain, have dominated the headlines this last week in Spain, with a wide variety of stories grabbing my attention.

The average person in Spain watches television for four hours every day, according to latest research. Time spent in front of the box has multiplied since 2008 when the recession started and jobs began to disappear. In 2006, Spanish residents watched around two hours a day, a clear indication of the lack of disposable income in your average Spaniards pocket these days.

Probably true to say that most expats on the Costas are not looking for a job, but if they were, recent unemployment figures would tell them there is no chance of landing one any time soon. Registered unemployment in Spain, where almost half of young people are out of work, rose for a fifth month in December to 4.42 million.

Some good news that Spain’s government does not plan to raise value-added tax, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said recently in his first interview since his government passed a slew of austerity measures, including tax hikes. The government has announced tax hikes of more than 6 billion euros a year and cost-cutting measures worth almost 9 billion euros to deflate a public deficit which it expects to have hit around 8 percent of GDP last year, confirming that it is going to be tough year for many in Spain this year, and for many years to come.

Possible bad news for thousands of Brits claiming disability benefits in Spain who could be struck off under government reassessment plans. An estimated 10,000 people claim Incapacity Benefit (IB) abroad, with many of them living in Spain, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Around 5,800 will be reassessed for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – which replaced IB in 2008 – between February 2011 and April 2014.

On a more positive note though the Spanish airport authority, AENA, who are responsible for operations at Alicante, El Altet, has announced that they have received 15% more requests for flight slots in summer 2012, which includes new operators flying to 14 of the 15 destinations that the withdrawal of Ryanair would have affected.

SEAT shipped its first cars to China from the port of Barcelona last week and vice president of Institutional Relations, Ramón Paredes, said that the company had plans to increase production by 3% this year, thanks to exports.

The number of foreign visitors to Spain rose for the second year in a row in 2011, helped by a surge in tourists from its main market Britain, provisional government figures have shown.

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