Saturday, April 23, 2022

Residents, Tourists and Beancounters (Part II)

We were looking at the number of foreign residents and their overall value to Spain.

Since last week, fresh totals have appeared, sometimes higher than the ones we produced. As always, they are painstakingly exact, and no doubt, utterly wrong.

A site from the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion gives the number of foreigners in Spain as at January 1st, of 6,007,553. So we know how we stand. Although the number is easier to appreciate if it is rounded out to six million foreigners.

Some of them retired, some of them living from income from abroad, some of them working and some of them studying. Some of them sending their money home to their families, as they should.

Spain has a population of 47,440,000 they say, so foreigners make up 12.6% of the whole – that’s one in every eight people.

The Brits are counted in the above guaranteed government figures at 407,628 (as opposed to last week’s padrón figures found elsewhere at 282,124). The Schengen Visa Info – quoting something called Statista, gives us a completely different Brit total in Spain of 313,975.

The ABC meanwhile claims 290,372 Brits resident in Spain (the comments from this right-wing paper about Spain’s foreign population are, as always, a pleasure to read).

Then there’s the INE – the official bean-counter site – which doesn’t have a clue. The best we can find from them is July 2021 ‘non-EU Europeans’, which come to… 603,162 (you see: the Brits, post Brexit, aren’t worth a place of their own any more).

There are other official government sites available, but the browser found a ‘potential security threat and did not continue to’. So, we shall remain blissfully ignorant of the information to be found on that no doubt highly useful page.

Then we have The Mirror headline from October last year which reads: ‘British expats are said to be leaving Spain "in droves"’; while, conversely: Idealista says the opposite: ‘The Brits bought 7,560 homes in the second half of 2021 – the largest group of foreign buyers’. In all, nearly 64,000 homes were bought by foreigners between July and December last year. And that’s good money brought here almost exclusively from outside Spain.  

With all the confusion, the authorities will understandably react according to the figures to hand (once they’ve looked up the phrase ‘in droves’ in the dictionary), without worrying if they are correct; or maybe just go out for a coffee instead.

My estimate last week of the half a million wealthiest foreign residents, worth to Spain some 10,000 million euros each year (plus their 250,000€ homes and 20,000€ cars and so on), brings us back to the question: why chase after just the tourists while ignoring the foreigners who live here, or who potentially could?

The only time the subject of the foreigners come up – beyond of course at Vox rallies – is when it’s time to tax us.

But you won’t find any official agency or policy that promotes foreign home-buyers investing in Spain!

The tourists are counted in a similar exact but hopelessly wrong way as the foreigners. Someone is paid to provide the numbers (a bit like the new school they’re building near us at €724,027.27 – now fellers, hold on just a minute, does that include the chalk?). Perhaps, by not rounding them off, they show how hard they work at these sums.

Tourists, then, are described as anyone foreign who comes to Spain (even if they are taking an onwards flight to somewhere else and never even leave the airport), plus all the people on all the cruise ships – regardless of if they disembark for a two-hour stroll around Málaga harbour or not – plus all the people who hop over to Spain every weekend (add ’em all together José), but not the ones who drove across the frontier or who slept in the guest room last night or on the sofa.

Then we have those non-EU citizens who own homes here are but aren’t allowed to stay for more than 90 in any 180 days. What are they exactly – residents, home-owners, tourists? No one knows or seems to care – except of course for the affronted local businesses.  

A few years ago, I went with a couple of senior local Brit spokesmen (if you see what I mean) to see the delegación provincial – the government representative for Almería and his team – to make the point that, with so many small and disappearing villages, a possible answer might be to turn one or more into an old-folks’ retirement centre for rich wealthy well-heeled foreigners. Do you see the idea? Bring along a few English-speaking nurses – after all, there are plenty of disillusioned Spanish professionals returning from London thanks to the Brexit fallout – to bring movement and life back to some moribund pueblo that has no earthly source of income. You could even sell the homes as lifetimes leases.

Anyway, they said they’d get back to us.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Residents, Tourists and the Beancounters (Part I)

Over here at Spanish Shilling, I have often pointed out the difference (and benefit) to Spanish society between foreign tourists and foreign settlers. Most notably – the former receives enormous media attention, massive investment, endless promotions both at home and abroad, heavy institutional advertising and even a dedicated government ministry along with its regional equivalents. In several communities and resorts, the councillor for tourism is the second most visible politician in the government.

On the other hand, foreign settlers can fend for themselves.

But then, as Spain basks in the huge amount of money brought here by tourism (forgetting that a sizable chunk of this stays in the country of origin to pay agencies, airlines, insurers and so on), along comes something to put the cork in – maybe a pandemic like the one that has assailed the industry for the last two years.

If tourism dropped by 75% in 2021 over 2019 (the last halcyon year for tourism) then foreign residents either stayed the same (they couldn’t sell, what with one thing or another) or even rose in numbers (that’s of course not including those who took out Spanish nationality).

There are over six million foreigners resident in Spain at the present time – up from 4,850,000 at the beginning of 2019. That’s ten per cent of everyone. Some/many of those are immigrant workers, since the largest collectives are Romanian, Moroccan and Colombian, yet the fourth largest group of foreigners currently living in Spain are the British at 282,000 souls. Rather than try and figure out the number of foreign residents who are retired or live from funds from abroad (including a clutch of wealthy Americans, some rich Venezuelans, a few idle Chinese and a sprinkle of superannuated New Zealanders), but not Tommy who works at the campsite, we can only choose a wildly inaccurate number – say 500,000 – to contrast with the tourists, whose statistics thanks to the enormous machine dedicated to surveying them we know down to the last digit.

Figures suggest that the average age of this sub-group of half a million – that’s to say, those who live comfortably in Spain without employment – is around 61 years old, against tourists who are (I’m diving through the INE records) maybe 20 years younger.

Then of course, residents often take trips within Spain – not to all-inclusive hotels on the beach, full of fellow-Brits or Europeans, but to more expensive destinations, such as the Parador hotel chain or to fancy restaurants, or to areas away from the sol y playa; which makes them, in the eyes of the Spanish authorities (if only briefly), tourists.

Hey, that's my old car

So, if the money spent by the wealthier foreign settlers – let’s say 500,000 multiplied by a year’s worth of living – is contrasted by the amount spent by the tourists, then the residents are clearly a group to treasure. At 20,000€ a year (my guess, and we shall ignore the investment of buying both a house and a car) that’s 10,000,000,000€ per year spent by the higher end of the resident foreigners in Spain. The average visitor, here for five days rather than 365, is going to be a lot less.

The official estimate of this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic on the shortfall of tourist money lost to Spain is 160,000 million euros. Last year’s tourist income – 31.1 million foreigners visited – is figured at 34,800 million: nice money if you can get it.

But then, right after the Covid, along comes a war. The fourth wealthiest tourist to Spain per capita is the Russian one, and in 2019, 1.3 million of them came to visit, spending 2,000 million euros. How many Russians will be coming to visit this year? There are some estimates to suggest that the tourist numbers this year could be even lower than the last two years due to the war in the Ukraine.

Maybe next up, there’ll be a tourist bombing, or an earthquake, or something poisonous in the water. Maybe Portugal will drop its prices or Greece will give free ouzo to visitors. Tourists are just fine, they leave money and go away with a sunburn and a hangover. But they are finicky, and without an obligation or an emotional link to return.

But the residents will stay. They have an investment in Spain: their property.

Why can’t the authorities see this? There is so much more opportunity in this field.


Monday, April 18, 2022

This Thing about Learning Spanish

This thing about learning Spanish. It's hard to pick up a new language, especially if you plan to chat, gossip, converse or argue the issues of the day with someone sat on a bench wearing a beret and absently chewing on a bull's-pizzle a bit beyond 'Cor, it's hot today'. 

That was about the first thing I learned - a sort of Mediterranean version of the standard English comment 'it looks like rain again', with the massive positive - at least for me - that being too hot beats being too wet any day of the week.  

It's useful too, because your partner in conversation can shake his head, if he has the energy to, and reply, 'eyep' or the equivalent in our local version of castellano, which might be 'joder' or some other positive and considered answer.

Which doesn't get you very far in practicing your Teach yourself Spanish, Chapter Two, the verbs. 

Bloody verbs, grammar and future imperatives. There's not one person in a thousand who knows his way around the infinitives and the gerunds back home, and now we are faced with them here, along with the huge lists of vocab - and that's just to buy something in the market. 

'Leeks, Señora, I want leeks! Hold on, here it says... puerros! Did I pronounce that right?'

One lady I knew learned her Spanish entirely from a book. She was quite good, too, only her pronunciation let her down. 'Hooeyvos' for eggs. Or 'heggs', as a Spanish market-fellow helpfully told me the other day. 

All that effort and they try and answer in English!

Another lady, also a master of Spanish, got hers from a course in XVI Century plays, and would say to the barman something out of a Calderón de la Barca primer like 'Prithee, varlet, bring me a flagon of your finest grape'. Imagine explaining that to Antonio, who had only that very morning learnt not to put hot milk in our teas. 

When we do learn Spanish - the type for conversation rather than the one for ordering half a kilo of rice - we will need something to talk about. Which is where knowing about Spanish culture comes in.  An example would be the vice versa experience of the other day, when the man at the gas station told me that he once lived in Dartmouth 'just over the bridge'. Ahh, I said wisely. 

I have no idea where Dartmouth is, although Google says there's one in Canada with a floating pontoon.

Knowledge of the Spanish culture - having something to talk about - means knowing the geography, history, politics, literature, music, gastronomy, bullfighting, TV shows and the latest sports results. There's no point in interrupting a talkfest to announce 'I bought a kilo of leeks yesterday in the market'. There may be a couple of seconds pause as everyone digests this in companionable silence, before the conversation about putting in solar electricity on Paco's roof will resume once again.

To learn these things - throw your English-language TV, books and newspapers out of the sitting-room window (after all, they talk about where you are from, now about where you are now) and read and watch Spanish stuff. Armed with what you've learned, be like a parrot. Repeat. 

A Brit asked me the other day while I was enjoying a noisy beer in Antonio's - there was a football match going on the TV - how to say 'Kill the Ref!' in Spanish. I told him the magic words which he then shouted out at the top of his lungs. We both drank free than evening until the bar closed. 

A hobby is a good idea. Join the local railway club, or historians society, or painters' nook. You already have something of interest shared by all the group - if it's only where to buy a decent tube of umber. 

Speaking Spanish can sometimes feel frustrating, when the addressee refuses to understand you. This may be because you don't look like a local person, so logic dictates that you therefore must be a foreigner, who - as everyone knows - speaks foreign. Which, tragically, he spreads his hands in apology, he doesn't.

There are ways around this of course, you can try wearing a beret and ordering a bull's-pizzle from Amazon. Or you could consider calling them on the phone. I always wanted to grow a pencil-thin moustache to look the part, but my hair is too blond and patchy. 'Shut your eyes' I tell 'em, 'you'll see'. 

In short, it may not be easy, but it's worth it.


Monday, April 04, 2022

The Inns and the Outs

Whether it's part of a business trip or maybe a leisurely visit-and-souvenir hunt, one's new hotel room can be an adventure in itself. 

We've just come back from a rare trip away - indeed, the first time I've been out of Andalucía in three and a half years. Alicia and I had gone to Sitges, just down from Barcelona. Alicia to go on a course - a new-fangled way of communicating with a horse (a sugar lump is considered so infra dig these days) - while I had the pleasure of a couple of days wandering around the resort.

The hotel was distinctly odd, at least for a rube like myself who hasn't slept in any bed than my own for a long time. To begin with, there was no reception, no nothing and nobody there. On arrival, you are meant to tap in a number on a box at the door and your memory card falls out, which fixes both the front door and your room upstairs, at least, until your pre-paid stay runs out of credit.

I've notched up many a hotel-stay in my lifetime, in several continents. The odder ones remain with me now. A hotel in Almeria with springs, springs! in the pillows. Another, I think in Alicante, where a spring suddenly broke out of the mattress below me while I had my late wife bouncing about above me. Transfixed, as it were, by a half inch of iron dug into my left cheek, I felt it was no time to call a halt to what we were doing. She told me later that she was mightily impressed by my shrieks. I still have the scar.

Another time, in a far-off place in Central America, where the rooms in those days were only one dollar a night, I was having some fun with a local lady who made a rather poor living out of entertaining gentlemen. The wooden flophouse we were in was just a line of rooms with no reception and, down at the far end of the passageway, a shower. I seem to remember the whole place was painted entirely in green. And it was very hot. We were even hotter after a strenuous couple of hours and decided to cool ourselves off with a refreshing ducha. With just one small towel between us, thoughtfully provided by the management at no extra price, we made our way to the facility only to discover that there was no water. As we returned to our quarters, we found that the door had closed and locked itself, leaving us in the hallway, naked except for that one towel. An hour passed before I had persuaded the girl that I might be able to push her through the empty transom window at the top of the door - she wasn't too happy about how she would land safely on the other side - and it was thus that we were discovered by the morning cleaners as they opened the front door - me wearing nothing more than a sheepish grin and my hands raised and supporting the rear-half of the woman that was sticking out of the gap above the door. The towel on the floor. A perfect cameo and a good opportunity to practice my very best 'Buenos días'.

A hostel in Fuengirola - we used to run a Brit newspaper down there - furnished me with an itchy allergic reaction, and a very large and dead bed-bug trapped between my fingers as I woke up. Another, in a fine hotel in Melilla, had one of those wrappers around the lavatory describing its sanitary excellence - and an impressively large turd floating in the pan when I opened up the lid. No, I have no idea. Still another, in Lanjarón, was so chilly, we had to put the curtain on top of the blanket and spend the night fully clothed. 

One time, sleeping in a train along with my father coming from Romania to Hungary during the latter days of Ceaușescu, the cabin was so cold, at -2C, that we were obliged to even keep our boots on in the bunk. The carriage, in solidarity with the dictator's wishes, was honoring the electricity cut in the capital city (even though, on  a train, the heat is free). The engineers generously turned on the radiators as we crossed the border. Even some East German students we had got to know on the journey let out a ragged cheer.

Later on the same train, the Hungarian border guards told us we were not allowed to export Romanian brandy into Hungary and that we must consume our bottle before we arrived that morning in Budapest. Which, well: which we did, By Jingo. (The two guards helped).

My son flew over from Texas to visit a couple of years ago and we took him and his wife up to Córdoba. A friend of Alicia's had recommended some place in the narrow streets of the antique Moorish quarter, where unfortunately, an all-night Flamenco party was being held just on the other side of our wooden shutters. I think my daughter-in-law was impressed, even if the rest of us weren't. Give them their due, those gypsies, they played a lot of songs I hadn't heard before. 

Recently in Antequerra, late at night as Alicia and I were on the way home from Seville, we found a hotel in a back street and checked in. The room we were showed to had seven single beds in it. Although nobody else was sharing that night (just as well, I think), we had to bounce on all seven (none were the same as the others except in their stragginess), until we found two that more or less suited us. Cheap, though, I'll give it that.

The joint in Sitges, where we spent last weekend, is located in the old part of town, which always means the same thing: nowhere nearby to park. It's cold up there right now, at least for someone who lives in Almería. Lugging our cases through the rainy streets, looking for our lodgings, and tapping in the correct number in the small box to get a card to grant us entrance. Isn't modern life grand?

The next morning, as I explored the town, Alicia went off to meet her new friends. But alas, as I returned to the hostel to retrieve my wallet to buy myself some lunch, I discovered that my card didn't work in the street-door.  The neighbour,  a friendly sort who works in the tattoo trade, didn't know where I might find a staffer, and so I tried to Google the hostel for a phone number. The best I could find was their email, to which I sent a rude letter, tapped out on my mobile phone. They still to this day (checks Gmail) haven't answered. That evening, cold and disheveled, I was picked up by Alicia and her friends, one of whom told me that putting a mobile phone next to a hotel card in the same pocket could easily wipe the card.

Well fancy that. You learn something new every day.