Tag Archives: Spain

Bringing a little ‘Sun’ to a Madrid unemployment office

Ya hace dos meses que ocurrió esto, pero solo acabo de verlo hoy, y me ha calentado el corazón un poquito en un día lleno de nieve aqui en Canadá.

It seems appropriate to post it here since this is my little corner of the web with Madrid memories and stories – plus, I am missing los niños (and the sun).



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March 20, 2013 · 3:59 pm

Bye bye blog.

I think it’s time. 

Nobody calls me Ice Cream anymore. 

I don’t live in Madrid.

I’m back home, where people hold doors for you, say please and thank you, and are conscious of personal space.

If you drink on the street here, you get a ticket. Staying out till 3am constitutes a very late night. I’ve gotten used to speaking without planning it out in my head first. My grocery bills have grown exponentially, and my vitamin D levels have fallen. This is, very much, not Spain.

This blog was an interesting experiment. I wrote a lot more than I posted – I’m still internet shy, and it still seems strange to post (personal) things that anybody could read. But it did get me in the habit of writing more, which I’ve carried through to life in Canada (I’m taking a class, even!).

I wanted to have some kind of concluding post, instead of leaving it hanging back in April with my story about buses, beers and bunnies. I’m glad I started the blog, and I hope to have another one sometime soon. In the meantime, you can find me in Halifax, sitting under my daylight lamp, reading the Globe and Mail, listening to the CBC, running in Point Pleasant park, drinking pints of Garrison, studying at the King’s library, reading plenty of fiction, teaching Spanish classes to kids instead of English, dreaming about travel, and planning my next adventure. 


ImageAdios, Madrid. Te echo de menos.


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I hit my limit today.

Normally with the Spanish bureaucracy I take an “all-in-good-fun” attitude. Acknowledge the inefficiencies, and move on.

But today I had had it.

I had a frustrated lump in my throat.

People are so RUDE.

People are so DISMISSIVE.

No one ever takes any ounce of responsibility, and nobody EVER apologizes for ANYTHING.

Cognitive distortion: Overgeneralization.

I had had it.

I was seething (for me that’s a bit like wanting to cry).

I had been sick for more than a week; I knew that the 24-hour general strike was going to mess up my day tomorrow, and I was tired of everything being so convoluted and impossibly drawn out. (Nine months to get a residency card? I could have had a baby by now. Let’s get HIM a residency card.)

THIS is what I mean when I say, “In Spain you don’t wonder why there’s a crisis. You just wonder how they managed to hold it off for so long. It’s a wonder that the country hasn’t ALWAYS been in crisis. It’s a wonder that anything gets done at all.” (There’s a reason why ranting is the Spanish national pastime. Really. Look it up. No. Don’t.)

And then I got home.

As I jaywalked across the street from the metro toward my house, a man got something out of his car, (parked illegally on the sidewalk) and ran across the street holding a big walkie-talkie.

Vindictively, I thought, “I hope he gets a ticket.” He did, after all, park halfway on the sidewalk just metres away from a traffic police (agente de movilidad) office.

Curiously, I thought, “Who seriously carries around a walkie-talkie that isn’t a police officer? This isn’t my siblings and I playing in the backyard…

The man jogged up to his “companions” – a guy his age and four Roma-looking girls around my age.

“…And none of you have any identity documents?” I overheard the other guy ask, dubiously, writing on a notepad.


Plainclothes police officers?

Stopping foreign-looking people on the street and requiring them to show their papers or be taken into custody?

In the interest of blending in (not standing there gaping, as I wanted to do), I went up to my apartment and watched a bit from the living room window. They talked some more. Two police officers in uniform arrived and escorted the girls away. The plainclothes officers followed.

I’ve realized that the process of getting my NIE is going to be, at minimum, a ten-month ordeal. If I do get it, it will be within two months of my final departure from the country. A nice souvenir, rather than an effective identity document.

I’ve realized I’ll need to devote Friday morning to the pursuit of travel documents. And my underpayment of a tax by €1.68 because of outdated information on an official government website requires me to return to the office AGAIN before I can start the 45-day countdown to getting my real card.

But this reminded me. In Spain, my able-bodied, white girl privilege means that I’m not being stopped and detained and required to produce residency documents on demand. “Foreign-looking” (latino, black, non-white in general) people, friends and acquaintances, are stopped regularly and treated like second-class citizens.

This – the NIE, the fees on top of fees, the lines, the rudeness – this is not nothing. But this? This is not that.



In other Spanish news:

This story has been in the international news this week. It is not surprising to anyone in Spain, or anyone who has ever walked down or seen or heard about Calle Montera (one of the most central streets in the city), or walked on most any street in downtown Madrid in general.

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Autorización de Regreso, Part 2

It’s now five months since my original appointment to renew my NIE, and I have heard nary a word on its progress. I doubt very much that I will get it before I leave the country.

This presents a problem. Because, as previously discussed, each time you leave the country with the intent to return, you are supposed to have a costly (10 euros and TIME) piece of paper that says you are allowed to come back.

Back in November, I got my first Autorización de Regreso with the plan to use it for Christmas travel. Sidenote: On the day of my flight back to Spain from Canada, I helpfully misplaced the folder where I’d put it for “safekeeping,” along with my other travel-related photocopies. (Sorry Mom.) (I put it away absentmindedly while cleaning.) (I found it before I had to go.)

I connected through Frankfurt on my way to Madrid and no, nobody asked me for it.

Autorizaciones de Regreso are valid for three months, so that one expired on February 14th.

Over Semana Santa (Holy Week – the big-deal Easter holiday) I am going up to Irelaaaaaand, the homeland. So I need another Autorización de Regreso. It’s been so long since I got my first one that I consulted my own blog post to remember what I had to do.

And guess what I discovered? They have made the system EVEN WORSE. Marginally, yes, but in an important way.

When you go through the steps of getting an appointment to get the Autorización it leads to the page where you can select an appointment.

Back when I did this in November, you could select from a number of dates with a number of available appointment times.

I usually don’t work on Wednesdays, so I could choose a Wednesday appointment time. NO MORE. Look at this:

Now you get the choice between three specific times. No more, “choose the time that works for your schedule from a list of available times.” No. NO. Now it’s “Here are three available times. You can choose one of these and if they don’t work (for example, if you HAVE A JOB) tough luck, you can hit ‘cancel’ and try again later and hope for some different times.”


WHAAAAT THE WHAT? Why are you making this so difficult? Why can’t you let me choose from any number of available dates in the near future? Why do you insist on complicating things? Why do you make me feel like, actually, I don’t WANT TO COME BACK. Why don’t you love me? Can’t we just get along?

Anyway. Trip begins Friday, March 30 and I’m going to spend some time clicking and re-clicking to try to get an appointment time that works with my schedule. There are plenty of stories out there about whether or not anyone actually cares if you have an Autorización de Regreso, but I have heard of enough (I’m cautious… so even one would have been enough) cases where people weren’t allowed to leave without it (in-Spain passport control) or weren’t allowed to come back that I’m going to suck it up, pay the 10€ and click away waiting for a suitable appointment time.


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The new year

Everyone feels optimistic about this year. I do, too. But I also have that slightly itchy feeling that comes with not knowing what I’ll be doing for the second half of the year. AND I also have that grungy feeling that comes from it being January. January in Spain is much better than January in Canada, but it is still, after all, January. My mind and body are in mild hibernation mode.

I don’t make real new year’s resolutions. According to highly scientific surveys, no one keeps them anyway. I do have some plans. January antidotes? There is a half marathon on the horizon, 12 weeks away. It comes with sexy new shoes and a training plan.

Last year in March or April I decided I would try to read more books than I watched movies. Last year I did, and I think it’s on the agenda for this year too.

Other plans go as follows: There is an Easter holiday in Ireland, probably. Lots of weekend trips to be booked. There are some visits on the horizon (I will describe them after the fact so as not to jinx anything – but hint: visits are awesome).

And there are, as always, just under a thousand children ages 2 to 10 to imbue with a love of English – in the next weeks my kindergarten teaching extends to pre-schoolers too.

In the meantime, there is half a month of January to go. Remedies involve books, splurging on 6 euro bottles of wine, and watching the seconds tick by.

In school news:

I am now well-versed in the cool toys after hearing ALL about my students’ Christmas and Epiphany gifts. In case you were wondering, Nancy dolls, remote-controlled helicopters (!!!) and all things Wii and Nintendo 3DS are in, as is, thank goodness, Playmobil.

I got a few Happy New Year cards (my first ever, I believe). One is tied shut with a plastic ribbon and reads HAPPY NEYW YEAR and was made during the class that I was teaching.

I had the following conversation with a coworker this week:

-Is Alberta close to where you live in Canada?
I show her Canada on Google maps, showing the distance between Alberta and Ontario.
-My cousin is going to Alberta on exchange.
-Oh, which city? Do you know? Edmonton or Calgary?
-No, she’s going to Alberta.
-Oh, I see. It gets pretty cold there!
-Well, where we’re from in the North of Spain, it’s very cold in winter, like -5 sometimes at night.

So you see, Spain and Canada aren’t so different after all.


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Happy Merry Almost Christmas

It’s my last Thursday before the Christmas holidays. That was a great motivating factor in getting out of bed today… So anyway, I’m seeing classes for the last time this year.

And I asked my first class (my favourite class, but don’t tell?) what we say for Christmas, to which they responded “Merry Happy Christmas!”

All of them!

“Merry Happy Christmas!” is the best expression ever.

A close second is “It’s my happy birthday!”

No, not, “It’s my birthday.”

“It’s my HAPPY birthday.”

Speaking of birthdays, last week was my happy birthday. Oh, and today, after an hour of singing and dancing to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my class of fourth-graders sang me happy birthday belatedly. It was lovely.

For said birthday, I was with my Dad in Bilbao. We went to the Guggenheim, and it is a really great museum. Bilbao gets a bad rap, but, in my opinion, it’s totally undeserved. People say it’s industrial and not beautiful. But really, it’s a pretty city. We also went to Santander, which has great beaches and lots of nice places to walk. I understand why the royal family would summer there.

As of today I have four days of school left. Next Wednesday I journey back to Canada. 6:40 am flight from Madrid to Brussels, then Brussels to Montreal, then Montreal to Ottawa. I have decided that I have a big enough inventory of travel disaster stories already and don’t need any more to add to my collection, so everything should go smoothly. As long as it’s a complete 180 from last year’s adventure I should be ok? Last December, 12 hours stretched into something like 36 or 40. Anyway. This year is my year.

Cross your fingers for me! Wednesday, remember. Send me good air currents (?) and pray to the weather gods and whatever else you can manage. In the meantime I will be Christmas shopping, cookie baking, carol singing and suitcase packing. ‘Tis the season.

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Autorización de Regreso, or in English: Ridiculousness

At the beginning of the month we had a long weekend (“long bridge” in common Spanglish). I spent five days in Porto, which is a beautiful, calm, nice city. I stayed at the best hostel I’ve ever been to, too – the Oporto Poet’s Hostel.

But I’m not here to talk about beautiful, nice, calm things. I’m going to tell you about my most recent experience with the Spanish bureaucracy.

This morning, I had an appointment to get a piece of paper called an “Autorización de Regreso” – permission to return to Spain after leaving, since my residency card (NIE) has expired and is in the process of being renewed.

Carrying your renewal documents around is just not good enough, and you need this form to re-enter the country any time you leave, if your NIE isn’t valid. I thought for non-EU countries, but no, it’s actually for ANY other country.

So, you pay 10 euros, bring them copies of the stamped forms that THEY gave you, and then they give you a piece of paper that says you can come back. Mine expires February 14th – they are valid 90 days. It is only valid once. Once you show it at passport control, they take it, then that’s it. If you want to leave and return again, you need another form.

No, you can’t get more than one form at a time. Even if you pay.

Technically, though, I imagine that you could have an appointment at 9:00 am, give them the photocopies, get the Autorización, have an appointment at 9:15 am, repeat, and have two forms …

Here’s what gets me. I am living in Spain legally. I don’t have a current NIE, which would permit me to come and go as I want (and as I feel is my right, but that’s a feeling and a perhaps not a fact, I don’t know, so never mind). But the REASON I don’t have a current NIE isn’t through any fault of my own, it’s because I’m waiting on the government to give it to me. And I’ve been in the process of renewing it since two months before it even expired. Which puts me four and a half months into the process, with no end in sight.

Here’s what I propose. When you have your appointment to renew your NIE and bring the twelve pounds of required photocopies, and pay the 16.32 tax, you can, at that time, pay a 10 euro fee for an Autorización de Regreso form, and get it, and it is valid until such time as they get their act together and give you your NIE card. It could even have a limit, for example, three months. Why not keep it at 90 days? And then the onus would be on them to get you your NIE within three months.

Because, dear Spain, as much as you are doing me a favour by giving me a job and letting me live and work in your awesome country, at some point, there has to be a little give and take. Am I not doing you a favour by helping some of your children speak better English? I am offering to keep the ridiculous 10 euro fee so that you don’t miss out on any cash (I hear you’re short of cash these days).

Back to today.

The appointment was near metro Aluche at 9:00 am – the address they gave me for the appointment was “Avenida de los Poblados, S/N, 28044). As in, Poblados Avenue, no number. Seriously Spanish. Giving someone a street and postal code and saying “Go!” is considered adequate direction this country. But really, it was easy to find.

Apparently it’s on the grounds of Franco’s big prison in Madrid – Cárcel de Carabanchel. Next to the driveway into the Oficina de Extranjeros, there is a mysterious door. Like, the rest of the building has been demolished, but they left the door and a few bricks around it. A cursory internet search yielded nothing, so anyway, mystery door.

My appointment was at 9:00, so I arrived at 8:45 and got into line – there were hundreds of people about, and about 20 or so of them in line for the Autorización de Regreso. I was seen by about 9:20, and out by 9:30. The people who had 9:00 am appointments and actually arrived at 9:00 had a really, really long wait. They have photocopy machines there, outside, for people who forget a photocopy of one document or another. I know I did.

I have a lot of friends who aren’t bothering to get the Autorización de Regreso, and are just going to take their chances. Im not really a risk-taker, and don’t think I have particularly good luck, so I’m not going that route. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to get the form itself. It’s just the logic, or lack thereof, behind it that defies understanding.

Checklist for Autorización de Regreso:

  • EX-13 Solicitud de autorización de regreso (I left empty the section where it asks you to explain why you need to leave and how long you expect to be away.)
  • Tasa Modelo 790 – Codigo 052. Tick off 1.6.3 Autorización de regreso. Take to any bank. Pay 10 euro fee. Cry a bit inside.
  • EX-00 Solicitud de autorización de estancia y prórrogas. The stamped form from your NIE appointment. And a photocopy.
  • NIE card and a photocopy
  • Passport and a photocopy of the main page
  • Also bring the printout of your “justificante de cita” (proof of appointment) OR (like me) just write down the number and have it handy
You can make the appointment itself online here: https://sede.mpt.gob.es/icpplus/citar


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