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  • No hablo Espanol.

    A three word mantra for my first few days in Spain.

    Actually it took two days to remember this much. The linguistic barrier has been the constant thread through our navigation through the treacheries of menus, the vagaries of modern contract law in regards to cell phones and data connection, working through the ranks of officialdom to obtain a residence card and residency number in order to acquire said contracts, working out bus and train schedule, and just the simple human requests for coffee, cigarettes and bathrooms.

    So much has been done by chance. Take a day, any day.

    Ahh, the ADSL day. I had to write that out before anyone had clue one what I was on about.

    OK. My first stop that morning was the Aytunmiento, the town hall to get enrolled officially as a resident of the Town of Valdemorillo.

    No registering with the Town means no proof of residence, no proof of residence means no NIE (National resident number). No NIE means no contract for cell phone or data services and no work permit.

    I knew this from visits to Vodafone, Orange, Yoigo and Moviestar cell phone shops in three different towns. Total Kilometers walked for said visits equals forty. Average temperature during said walks, you guessed it , forty in degrees Celsius. Which is friggin’ hot in any language.

    It was cool in the morning and I knew the walk into town by now. I had documents from the Spanish Embassy in Pretoria, copies of the my passport and the rent contract for the house as well as originals of all documents. I was ready. I was told to look for the building with lots of flags in the center of town. After stops at the library and police station I found the ayuntiamiento in La Plaza de la Constitución.

    The lady behind the desk asked about the propietario and his NIE and tapped the contract.

    I guessed landlord.

    He’s French, I said.

    Her eyes narrowed.

    Shit, I thought, wrong answer. I pulled out my cell phone for the call a friend option.

    I handed the lady behind the deck the phone and listened to what I could glean from the half of the conversation on my side.

    I picked up the word letter and got a distinctly sinking feeling. I was going to need a letter from the landlord in France. The lady behind the desk handed me back my phone. Sure enough I would need a letter from the landlord in France saying he was well and truly gone and not lurking under a bed or stairwell in the house. But, said Veronica, she will give you a temporary form from the Town.


    Armed with my duly stamped and signed document I set out on trip numero ocho or was it nueve? Eight or nine, by now I knew the drill, I had the doc. I was going to score, finally.


    Four hours later I came out. The ADSL guys would either come to the house or come after me in two to three hours. There was a line already but maybe it needed to be aligned or adjusted or assigned, that part was unclear. What was clear is that there was a charge involved. The cell phone contract would need to wait a week or a month or at least until the 20th but not until I had an official number. Neither passport nor Town Hall document was going to make the connection barons budge. I was pretty sure that the process had started but what that meant was fuzzy.

    What’s a man to do?

    I went shopping. I was already carrying my bag with laptop, papers, toothbrush, and a change of clothes in case things took a real turn for the lengthy and convoluted enough to involve a bus trip into the city and an overnight. I could manage another bag or two of groceries on the walk home.

    Walking all aisles twice in search of instant coffee and coffee creamer and finding neither I managed to get 75% of the list while passing up on the largest tins of tuna I had ever seen and dodging the ranks of whole hams hanging from the ceiling. Three bags full I came out into the brilliant sunshine just in time for the start of siesta time. From 14:00 – 17:30 the stores shutter down tight. I still had cigarettes on the list and I wasn’t going home without them. Dehydrated and a bit footsore, I took a seat in a restaurant back in the plaza.

    I asked where to buy cigarettes and the girl held up a finger and brought a young man who spoke English. Yes the Tabak store was just up the road and yes it was closed for a few hours. Two new words for the day. Cerrado and abierto. Open and shut this language business.

    I ordered a Coke and got a small frying pan of chips (fries) and two of the smallest fried eggs I have ever seen. Amazing thing, order a drink and get anything from cured meat or onion rings to skewers of pickles or shrimp and potatoes.

    I munched and watched life and time pass slowly.

    When the phone rang I was completely unprepared. I caught ADSL and Espanol. I was screwed. They kept insisting about llamo and Espanol. Part of me thought, what the hell, the guy back in the cell phone store knew good and well after three and a half hours that I had worse than limited Spanish and he had gone and sicked the ADSL Spanish installers on my sorry ass.

    Inspired, I took the phone into the bar.

    The bartender with English listened then asked if I had ordered ADSL.

    I nodded.

    He asked if it was OK to pretend to be me.

    I nodded again.

    I’ll just say yes to everything if they ask about numbers, he said.

    I nodded.

    You don’t say no when the language angels step forward.

    Will there be ADSL at the house?

    Manana will tell.

    From Spain, this is Mr. Ben, saying, “No hablo Espanol.”
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