Archive for September, 2010

In some ways being officially self-employed (autónomo) in Tenerife, and no doubt the rest of Spain is a bit like sticking your head above the trenches on a night when there’s a full moon (should that be fool?), shoving three fags (cigarettes for any Americans who may get the wrong idea) in your mouth and lighting them with a flare.

Firstly there’s the autónomo payments – the equivalent of the NI contributions in the UK. These are around €260 a month. €260 down before you start, but that’s the system so I’m not moaning about that. What is poor in Spain is the lack of support for small businesses. The odds in many way are stacked against them.

I’m a trusting person – actually I’m not really. Having Presbyterian Scottish roots means that my default setting is to be suspicious of everyone until they prove me wrong…or right, but I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Like many people on Tenerife I’ve fallen foul of sincere promises of payment when firms I’ve worked for haven’t paid me on time because ‘times were hard’. Many of the people I know – differing nationalities from Canarios to British, German and French ex-pats – have carried out work for people on Tenerife for which they were never paid. This is something you learn when working with businesses based on Tenerife; in some ways it can still be a frontier society.

I’m a lot wiser than when I first moved to Tenerife and now am fully aware that this is an unavoidable risk of doing business here and am more cautious as a result. But the biggest shock of all was learning that if you get shafted by an unscrupulous contractor officialdom, instead of helping, puts the boot in.

Here are a couple of examples that any newly arrived might want to know about.

Be very wary of cheques
One company issued me with an cheque which duly bounced higher than a power ball. Damned annoying, but what followed was even worse. The bank charged me €45 for the fact that the cheque bounced. Not only did I not receive the money I was owed, I was punished for the fact that someone else issued a dodgy cheque. A double whammy.

Watch out for the Retención
The retención is a crazy system which positively encourages dishonest employers to shaft the self employed. As an autónomo I’m not responsible for paying all my taxes, oh no. In a law which makes no sense at all, anyone you carry out work for is responsible for holding back between 7 and 15% of your earnings – a retención – which they are then supposed to pay to the tax office on your behalf.
So what are the potential consequences of this? Dishonest contractors get away with paying you less than they should and don’t pay the retención to the tax office. But guess who gets hit with all the questions about the missing money that effectively was stolen from you in the first place. It’s an absolutely illogical system that makes no sense.

Check the Details
So after you’ve not been paid, had money held back from your earnings and been charged for the pleasure of being diddled, what happens at the end of the tax year? Well here’s what can happen. Honest Harry, the firm you carried out work for, has supplied you with incorrect information about his business details. It turns out you’ve been declaring work for a company that the tax office has no record of. So what can happen then? You can get fined for supplying incorrect information.

As you light up those cigarettes, the bullets are flying at your head from all directions whilst Honest Harry is scuttling to freedom along at the bottom of the trench with wads of notes stuffed into his pockets.

Does Spain need Labour Market reforms? Damn Right it does, but whether it implements the right ones is a completely different matter altogether.

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A Canario, an ex-pat and a tourist walked into a bar…
This sounds like the start to a joke and in some ways this is a joke, but it’s not a funny one.

The other day we went to the Beehive Bar in Puerto de la Cruz to watch the football. Whilst waiting for the game to start we had a gander at Tenerife News and Island Connections.

A couple of reports in Tenerife News were about the problems being faced here in Puerto de la Cruz with one report being about tourism being in trouble and the other about Puerto being in the financial mire as a result of “massive debts inherited from previous administrations.”

It turned me into ‘outraged of Puerto’ sparking a debate in the bar between ourselves, a Canario and an ex-pat resident. The reason the articles annoyed me was that a year ago both papers ran stories about how good for Puerto the overthrow of the socialist council was and generally agreed the new administration was the right one to revitalise Puerto.

It was suspect reporting at best considering the new council was more or less the ‘old’ council under the same leader who for the first few years we lived here did nothing at all to move the town forward. So the newspaper reports demonstrated either a lack of political understanding, or worse treated readers as though they were stupid. An approach that is clearly continuing. Using the term ‘previous  administrations’ was a cheap and deceitful way of not telling people that ‘previous administrations’ (apart from the short period the Socialists were in power and things did actually move forward) is actually the current administration. They have inherited their own debt.

Anyway it opened up a debate about the state of affairs in Puerto. The Canario complained that one of the main streets into the town, Calle Zamora, had been blocked for months whilst work moved along at a snail’s pace. Without any help from the council during this time and a loss of passing trade, unsurprisingly eight shops on the street have gone out of business. He pointed out that road works outside of Loro Parque had been completed in two days. His conclusion about why one set of works should take months whilst the other would take days was ‘money talks’.  However, he wouldn’t go as far as to criticise the current mayor because the mayor is a ‘friend of the family’ and his mother once asked a favour of him which the mayor duly carried out – good old fashioned politics. Bizarrely, he attributed some of the  problems Puerto is facing to a small Gay Pride parade last August for which money was allegedly taken from the Carnaval budget to stage, with the rationale that we shouldn’t by staging things like that for small groups (that’s all minority groups shafted then), we should keep things the way they are.

It says it all; some people just don’t want to move forward. Some may see this as commendable, but when tourism is your main income, you’re playing a very dangerous game by adopting this approach.

Then the ex-pat joined in, saying that the politicians were all liars, the  council had millions to pay for a huge brand new marina so they weren’t skint (they don’t) and that the Canarian government were lying when they said that tourist figures in Puerto had gone up by twelve percent.

As I get the tourist figures as a press release and I’d never seen that claim, I questioned the accuracy of this statement.

“It’s bloody well true,” he insisted, adding. “Somebody told me that in the Robin Hood last night.”

Somebody told him in a bar! Even when I told him I’d seen the actual press release he wouldn’t have it. His source in the bar was apparently more reliable than the actual document with the statistics on it.

As Andy and I realised that quoting facts as opposed to spouting rumours was a complete waste of time, two thoughts occurred to me. Ex-pats like him didn’t have a clue what was really going on and I’m not sure how much they cared. Worse, some of the Canario population seem quite happy to be led into an abyss because they’ve been hit with shameless propaganda and lies for so long that they no longer can see what’s in front of their faces.

Then the final straw arrived in the shape of a female British tourist who came up to the bar and announced:

“It’s not a very nice day is it?”

“No, it’s a bit too hot,”
Carlos the barman replied.

“No, I mean, it’s cloudy.”

It was 30C and apart from 2 hours max, there was about 8-9 hours of sunshine that day. Eight to nine hours of sunshine and it had been like that nearly every day last week! But I’m willing to bet that when this woman returns to Blighty she’ll confirm that the north of Tenerife is cloudy. No doubt she was warned that the north was cloudy and the first sight of a cloud simply confirmed that.

Between the Canario who doesn’t want to move forward, the ex-pat whose information come from bar room gossip, the tourist who only sees cloud on what would be considered a hot and sunny day just about anywhere else in the universe and newspapers printing contradictory features willy nilly, Puerto faces a hell of an uphill battle.

This is what we battle against…the 300 Spartans had it easier.

It’s often the little differences that delight when living in a different culture. I see these all the time and have meant to take a photo of one for years. Palm fronds are standard issue for the roadsweepers of Tenerife. I finally remembered to take a photo at the Corazones de Tejina the other week. There’s something comfortably old fashioned about seeing this little set up of a couple of bins, a brush and a palm leaf and they are actually incredibly effective for sweeping up rubbish – no doubt the reason why they are still used. Tenerife’s authorities should promote them as an Eco-friendly way of keeping the island’s streets clean.

It was so quick that it was almost imperceptible, but I saw it; I saw the woman’s eyes flick to my groin and back to my face in a fraction of a millisecond…and it wasn’t a complimentary glance either. I knew exactly what had gone through her mind.

Pinchos, corn on the cob, hard boiled eggs, beer & wine - not an extensive menu, but a great place to hang out.

The sun at the Pinolere Craft Fair was beating down with September ferocity. People are talking about the end of summer, but if summer was based on hot, hot, hot temperatures as opposed to just hot ones, we’d have another two months left here on Tenerife. Andy and I had just completed our first circuit of the stalls at the fair and had conveniently ended up at the huge beer and food kiosk that keeps everyone fuelled and happy. Despite applying sun cream and sun block my nose was starting to resemble a clown’s so we squeezed into the shade, ordered a beer and some pinchos and started waxing lyrical about how beautiful it was, what great stalls there were and what a fab atmosphere Pinolere had.

...And the pinchos (seasoned meat kebabs) were damn good.

“It’s lovely,” a woman standing beside us announced when she heard us speaking English.

She wasn’t English, she was from La Orotava, but clearly wanted to practice her grasp of English which pretty much amounted to answering ‘it’s lovely’ to everything. After a few moments we switched to Spanish and she told us all about herself and her son, what he did and what his girlfriend did, including how much they earned. Then she mentioned that she only had the one child. When I asked if that wasn’t unusual here she laughed and replied “one is more than enough.”

At that Andy told her we didn’t have any and that was when her eyes flicked to my groin and back. I knew her first thought was ‘he must be firing blanks’ or whatever the Spanish equivalent is.

A few years ago we were on a boat trip in Kenya that stopped at a small village where people still lived in thatched huts. We were met by the village chief who for some reason took to me and stuck to my side as we walked around. He told me all about the village, showed me leaves from a tree that tasted like opal fruits and told me all about himself and his family; naming all of his numerous children before asking me how many children I had. When I told him none he was shocked and I saw myself shrinking in his eyes. After that he deserted me and went to find a real man.

The Spanish woman recovered quickly.

“Ha, even better,” she laughed but the seed was planted so to speak.

At that point I’d being doing much of the talking, but as Andy took over and spoke to her about the fair and the weather she looked back at me.

“She speaks better Spanish than you,” she remarked.

“I know, she does everything better than me,”
I replied.

“Really,” her eyes widened and she added. “Even in matters of love?”

I knew the no-kids comment had lodged in her brain. I was clearly almost a eunuch in her eyes…and how had we gone from ‘it’s a lovely fair’ to what I was like in bed anyway?

I made some suitably macho retort and then, grabbing Andy by the arm, spotted something we just had to buy at that moment at a stall on the other side of the fair. We ‘venga’d each other and left her to get back to exploring the fair.

The shopping centre - rural Tenerife style

We had a wonderful day at the Pinolere fair. Our haul of goodies amounted to a round of Benijos Cheese, a jar of honey, two pendants with Guanche designs, two bamboo whistles that made bird calls (for nephews), a book marker made from a banana trunk and a fan in a cotton case with a Guanche symbol on it. And all it cost was a handful of euros and a slur on my masculinity.

Oh, and as for the whole no kids deal just in case you’re wondering…lifestyle choice.

It had been a difficult year for the King and he desperately needed a holiday. However, he wasn’t a spontaneous man and preferred to know exactly what he would discover when he travelled away from the comfort of his kingdom.

He summoned three of his favourite subjects.

“I’ve heard tales of a paradise far, far away where the sun always welcomes you with a kiss, a mountain breathes fire and there’s a tree as old as civilisation itself,”
the King told them, adding. “But you know how these explorers exaggerate such things. I want you to travel to this place and report back what it’s really like.”

The three, elated to do the King’s bidding, immediately set sail on a voyage to this mythical paradise. After 20 days and 20 nights of journeying they alighted on the shores of the island to be met by a welcoming party of three.

The first, a woman of heartbreaking beauty and with dark pools as eyes, danced around the first subject; the rings on her fingers sparkling and tinkling as she swayed.

“Come with me,” she purred huskily. “I will take you to a palace where you can eat and drink till your belly is full and your appetite sated. Trust me you will be treated like a prince.”

The first subject, needing no further persuasion, took her hand and was led away.

A devilishly handsome man with a smile as bright as the midday sun approached the second subject.

“I too will take you to a palace where you will be treated like a prince, but I shall also take you on a voyage of discovery to show you our wonderful island,” he smiled and held his arms out wide, before lowering his voice. “But beware; this can be a dangerous place. Do not talk to any locals, or go anywhere with them or you will be stripped and robbed and left to die…and we cannot help you if that happens. Stick with me and only with me.”

The second subject, frightened at the thought of what might happen if he didn’t, nodded his head, agreeing to the handsome man’s proposition.

The final person, a man wrapped in an unassuming cloth and smoking a long pipe remained quiet. The third subject approached him.

“So what will you offer?”
He asked. “Glittering palaces and sumptuous banquets?”

The man with the pipe merely smiled and replied:

“All I am offering is this advice. Strike out on your own and you will find more treasures than you could ever possibly imagine.”

And with that he turned his back and walked away.

Two weeks later the King received his travelling subjects to hear their verdict on their experiences. He called upon the first.

“Hmmm,” the King stroked his beard. “You look quite a bit more portly than when you left. Tell me what you discovered.”

The subject shuffled his feet.

“I was treated like a prince your majesty,” he mumbled. “I ate and drank more than my weight in fine food and fast flowing wine.”

“Yes, yes, yes…that’s all very well,”
the King leaned closer to the subject. “But what of the place itself?”

“Actually…” the first subject’s face reddened. “I never left the palace. They said there was nowhere to go.”

“Fool,” the King boomed. “Ask subject number two to join us.”

The King put the same question to him.

“I also was fed like a prince, but I travelled beyond my palace,” the subject smiled, pleased with himself. “I saw a mountain that breathed fire and a tree as old as civilisation itself.”

“But I knew of these things before you left,” the King shouted. “Where else did you go?”

“Err…” the subject lowered his head and his voice. “Nowhere your majesty, I was told there wasn’t anywhere else to go.”

“Send in subject number three,” commanded the King.

The second subject looked up at his King with fear in his eyes.

“I can’t your majesty…he never returned with us,”
the second subject held out a piece of paper. “He asked us to give you this.”

The king read it aloud.

“I have journeyed through ancient, mysterious dappled forests to places where the views were so wondrous they caused me to weep; I caught fish the size of whales from azure seas and stumbled across hidden villages where people who laugh and sing endlessly fed me choice cuts of meat and plied me with wine that tastes of the summer vine and yet they refused my coins…I have walked in the garden of Hespérides and it has enchanted me. My heart would be in danger of stopping if I ever left these shores.”

The King let the letter fall to his side.

“Did either of you two experience any of this?”
the King enquired.

“No your majesty,” both cried at the same time. “We saw nothing of this; it is surely a fiction.”

“Hmm…” the King thought for a moment then held the letter aloft. “You two tell similar tales. I believe you. The sun clearly fried this one’s brains.”

The King waved the subjects away and turned his mind to thinking of somewhere else to take his holiday.

Summer Heat

Embraces my body and soul
Like an insatiable lover
Exhausting me with its demands.