Expat support – is it even possible?  The #Dickason tragedy gets expats remembering what we normally don’t let ourselves think about

Expat support – is it even possible?  The #Dickason tragedy gets expats remembering what we normally don’t let ourselves think about

Quarantining and lockdown has created some understanding of loneliness but it has always been presented as temporary, even when temporary kept extending. Most of us cope, most of the time. But when loneliness comes with huge distances, when boats are burned and there seems to be no turning back –

Following the Dickason story (I didn’t want to piggyback on their tragedy, although it triggered this blog – there’s a comment with a brief outline for the puzzled) there’s been an accusation from another expat who had attempted suicide that there isn’t enough support for expats. I don’t personally see how there could be support. Strangers, however kind, are still strangers, and while yes yes a stranger is just a friend you haven’t got to know, that’s not an attitude that helps when one is surfing angst. In fact neighbours popping over to issue a friendly greeting can trigger the despair, if it’s obvious you’re never going to be bosom buddies because they are so “different”.

Perhaps the support is in recognising that stress is to be expected, loneliness is natural, and that all those brave letters and blogs and posts from expats talking about how interesting and excitingly challenging this new life is are genuine enough, but interest and excitement and overcoming challenges is a work in progress, and bad days happen. They aren’t brilliantly succeeding where you are faltering and failing – they’re having a better day. And you will too. Soon.

It isn’t actually about losing family or friends, because thanks to phones and emails and social networks they are still there, even if no longer close enough for an impromptu coffee. It is the whole fabric of life once taken for granted and now lost. We cut ourselves out of that familiar fabric and now have to stitch a patch for ourselves onto very different cloth. The minutiae of our lives – different shops, products have different names, favourite foods never appear on these shelves, where to buy wool, no librarian keeping back a book you’d like, no reliable mechanic who knows your car inside out, an awful haircut from even a recommended hairdresser, getting lost yet again on roads which never seem to have names matching the satnav. Stupid tiny things, but so many of them that at first the alienation is overwhelming. They are mastered eventually but the interim period is – daunting. Challenging, interesting, exciting, yes, and a little bit horrible, oh yes.

Douglas Adams, in the Hitchhikers Guide, says “in moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny subliminal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth”.  (He goes on to say that as it is never possible to be more than sixteen thousand miles from your birthplace on Earth the signals are too minute to be noticed by others, but Ford Prefect was born over 600 light years away and the barman was hit by a shocking, incomprehensible sense of distance.) Great books, love them, but he nailed it there and that sense of terrible distance may not be tangible to others, but does rock the soul in times of stress.

Support lies in realising that feeling like you made the biggest mistake of your life is NOT personal failure but known to many, most of whom refuse to talk about it because the fear of it is still too close and too real. It passes. It comes back, and it passes again. We’re NOT on the wrong path – just temporarily lost and afraid. Where, after all, is home? The place you were born has gone forever and exists only in memory. The last place you were truly happy? For many, that’s lost in the past too because who would have left behind true happiness. The past is a different country. Knowing we can’t go back to the exact place and point in time we want to be makes the difficult present seems briefly even more to blame.

Perhaps the tragedy, and the other stories which will be following of suicide attempts and despair, will bring new awareness to the stresses faced not only by those who have chosen to emigrate, but refugees who have had it forced on them. The awareness isn’t to make others more understanding, but so that the displaced can be more understanding and forgiving of their own bad moments. It’s a time thing. Alien surroundings become less alien every day. Give yourself time. Support, for this, I think, can only really come from within, but it’s comforting to realise others go through it too.

Getting too old to bounce, tchah. Living with a #Podenco

In books when a character doesn’t return within a reasonable time from a dog walk other characters notice. “Harold”, for example, grabs his keys saying gruffly that something must be wrong, and off he goes. In books. So after I managed to roll over and sit up, and realized no WAY was I achieving the vertical with only one working arm, I rather wished I was in a book. Reality – I live alone, and although I’m in fairly constant email contact with a Harold of sorts, he wasn’t likely to start wondering at the silence for at least 3 hours. He wouldn’t come looking for at least 6 hours since we live in different towns – at best he’d phone my neighbours to say I was unusually silent (as I would with his).  I teach online and was due to start in 2 hours, but the school is Chinese and would just put in a replacement tutor and dock my pay. One puzzled man had walked by in the quiet street flanking the wasteland where we had been walking, and there would be others, and I even knew the necessary Spanish (ayudame, please aid me) but Purdey, my podenco, was in an absolute panic at my peculiar behaviour already and would attack anyone who came near me.

Purdey is an absolute sweetie but very OTT and protective. I said in the first blog I ever wrote about her that pods were timid and if trouble struck would lead the way to safety, expecting you to follow. I was wrong. She is still timid, but with a home and owner to protect she has become extraordinarily fierce.  She’s particularly wary of men, and rarely lets herself be stroked or patted, preferring to keep a safe distance unless they are sitting down and, even better, offering treats. My invaluable friend Nick, who did most of the work on this house, visited – when he stood up and started waving his arms she bit him. Oops. The fact that he was pointing to where the walls had to be replastered, and had been peacefully drinking coffee until then, held no sway. Even worse, a guest who had been using the laundry walked back past my door and paused to look in – to call me, being inquisitive, who knows – and Purdey went for her, too. Just a nip, and didn’t break skin, but honestly a warning bark or growl would have more than met requirements, stupid dog, plus saved me grovelling apologies and a brimming glassful of my best brandy. So we are working on that, and very nice local brave friends pop in every now and then to get her used to the idea that people do come and go, and she watches them narrowly and with deep suspicion. Since in normal non-Covid times I let holiday rooms this is a Problem. Normally there would have been a constant if erratic stream of guests from the time she came to live here but of course that’s been impossible and continues to be unlikely for weeks yet. We will get this sorted by then. I hope. She’ll hate being locked up.  

In every other way she is an absolute joy. She and the cat have a truce so long as he doesn’t want too much affection from me – she resents that very much. She’s stopped scavenging, and although she occasionally disembowels one of the potted geraniums it doesn’t happen very often and she is very apologetic about it. We house-sat a young terrier for a day and he was so enthralled by Leela’s old toys that Purdey has learned to play – she gallumps after a ball, even occasionally returning it, and is charmed by squeaky toys, keeping all her treats upstairs on the patio and returning them there after play.

Still squeaking. She’s giving it a chance to catch its breath.

She is ‘clean’ to the point of obsession and waits hours longer than normal for a walk if there’s an unexpected delay, although she’s nearly cross-eyed with strain by the time we reach the great outdoors.  She’s good with other dogs – there’s a pitbull with personality issues often met on our morning walks. When he’s off-lead in the wasteland he’s violently friendly, but we met him once in the street on-lead and he lunged at her, snarling and growling. She defended herself vigorously and we went on our way. A minute or two later there was a despairing Spanish scream of warning – Lou had slipped his collar and was charging after us. He grovelled apologetically (didn’t realize it was you, so sorry?) and she behaved impeccably while his owner puffed up to reclaim him. My last dog, Leela, would have resumed hostilities instantly!

She has been for one long hike in the mountains, with the company of Nick’s quite elderly pod, and proved she can be trusted to return when called back.  While I keep her on the lead in the streets I can now let her off in the wasteland and she can stretch her hunting legs in a gallop or two before returning to the lead.

2 pods on a walk

The wasteland was once a large allotment for a small herd of goats, and is surrounded by well-maintained allotments which probably wouldn’t welcome a digging dog. The last time she’d returned with muddy paws so this time I was trotting gently after her to see what she was destroying. One minute trotting, the next minute face down with an unceasing blaze of agony from my left arm . . .

Eventually I got to my feet using her as a support – she stood like a rock, never buckling, little heroine – and got home and Nick collected me to go to hospital and I had impacted my humerus and am out of action for, apparently, months. Oh great. I may do a blog on living alone with one working arm and two working hands because that’s proving a learning curve of note. From Purdey’s point of view the two main changes are that she’s now fed on the stairs out of an old saucepan with a long handle, and there’s no more harness. She’s now walked on a slip-lead, which is much easier for one hand, and so solicitous, and keeping so protectively close, I am in constant danger of tripping over her.

Having a pod was the reason I’m in this one-armed pickle, but it’s hardly her fault I’m a clumsy clot and she has been quite possibly the nicest dog I have ever adopted. Time and patience are being repaid with devotion and fun and even as I type this she is dozing on her blanket on the sofa, one eye on me to make sure I don’t suddenly do something else inexplicable and need her help . . .

The Postman Always Rings Twice – okay, leans on the bell and hammers on the door for good measure #livinginSpain

I was online in my virtual classroom when the familiar dingdongdingdongdingdong bang Bang BANG sounded at the door and there was nothing to be done about it – my junior pupils pay through the nose for their 25 minute classes (at least five times what I am paid for teaching them, at a guess) and there’s no question of putting them on hold and sauntering off to deal with a delivery. Strictly verboten. When school was over for the day I collected the notification from my postbox and made a mental note to get up early in the morning.

We’re lucky, in Velez, to have a correos at all because as towns go we are tiny. Stamps, and weighing of letters, is actually done at the tabacos and parcels have to be sent from Motril but we do have a tiny branch office and it is much appreciated. It opens early and at 10 am the local Postmistress General* shuts up shop and sets off on foot to deliver post so the window of opportunity, for a night owl like me, is narrow. I glumly reasoned it was probably an official letter from yet another authority with the sudden passionate desire to see my NIE, (tax document) there had been a couple of those lately, so I wasn’t hugely motivated and when roadworks rattled me awake at 9 I went back to dozing. The alarm went off at 9.30 (snooze) and only when it went off at 9.45 did I remember the delivery. Bugggerrrrr I was up and in yesterday’s outer clothing, hair hastily brushed, face still unwashed (masks do have their uses), dog in harness and striding down the street in 4 minutes. It took a minute or so to register it was raining a little. It does, even here, and normally is very welcome but bugggerrrrr. The farmacia street clock said 10:02 (no way) but we quickened our pace anyway. The rain quickened a little, too, and as I rounded the corner of the correos I peered in the window. Open, but a queue. Buggggerrrrr! Leela, my former dog, was stoical about being tied to the school railings and left for a few minutes, even in rain (she’d lived in Scotland, after all, rain was no novelty) but the very last word that could be ever applied to Purdey, my fairly new rescue podenco, is stoical. She is excessively timid, very flighty, and a Houdini into the bargain, and we’ve not started working yet on Waiting Outside On A Lead. I wasn’t prepared to emerge to an empty harness. I squared my shoulders and took her in with me.

I do love living in a small town in Spain, you know. The postmistress blinked, vanished for a second, and reappeared with a beaming smile to hurry past the queue with my delivery. We were out and on our way for the important business of the walk with barely a check. (Best of all, the delivery was a parcel for Christmas, YAY, well worth the collecting!)

*I don’t know if she’s the Postmistress General but a recent official had-to-be-signed-for letter about presenting my NIE to the water department within 10 days or be disconnected was signed by our “Mayor President” so I think she probably is. As a teacher I am, in Spanish, a Profesora or a Maestro. We do nice titles.

That was a mission in itself – I don’t work on Mondays, so trotted up to the ayuntimiento on the following Monday with my NIE, oops, long weekend. Returned on Wednesday to learn the policia have taken over the offices. The policeman was nice, even spoke a little English, and told me where to find the ayuntamiento, opposite the Casa de la Cultura. Except – not. The first person I could find in the Casa de la Cultura said the ayuntamiento was now next to the Jardin Nazari. And so it was, no sign up whatsoever but a long queue because there was temporarily no electricity. I had to fill in a form, in Spanish, saying what service I wanted (Mayor President he may be but his letter was obviously not sufficiently explanatory for burocracia) and the whole business of showing the authorities my NIE and letting them take a copy took a lot of walking and the best part of an hour – the other side of living in Spain.

Next time I go to the ayuntamiento I might take Purdey, it could work as a queuebuster again.

Living with a #podenco – a month later

Purdey the podenco has now been with me for a month – my lovely Dutch neighbour, who handles animal rescues and rehomes dogs all round Europe, borrowed a chip reader from the policia and there was a truly nasty moment when it pinged – she was chipped after all, against all expectations. Oh hell. She hadn’t been emaciated when found, she had adjusted so very quickly to walking on a lead, was she a loved runaway pet after all? The law requires notifying the owner, who has three weeks to respond. M got the owner details from her vet – she’d been chipped 3 years ago, reported as missing shortly after. M rang him from my house and all was well, he didn’t even remember her, was intrigued to learn she’d been found near Los Tablones, didn’t want her back. In Spain we are in municipal lockdown and my small municipality doesn’t have a veterinarian, so an appointment was made with a vet in Motril. Armed with the confirmation on my phone to show to the policia if I was stopped, I drove into town for the first time in WEEKS and got the chip officially changed to my name. The vet, who by the way looked like a teenager, hell I must be getting old, did her shots, created her ‘passport’, and gave me a printout authorising buying dogfood while I was in town. Although we have mini supermarkets in Velez their range of petfood is very limited and the cat went on a hunger strike in protest at the range they carried, living on dry food and tuna and tripping over his lip. CATS. I grabbed the chance to buy other things the local minimarkets don’t stock for their predominantly Spanish customers – Ryvita, marmite, Bournville cocoa, cheddar – my stocks were alarmingly low as the lockdown extends, and extends, and extends.

We’ve got our Christmas guidelines, by the way, while on the subject of permission to cross municipal borders  – the message is please stay at home but if you MUST go out, family gatherings of up to ten people only. Curfew is extended to 01h30 on special days (including, naturally, NYE). Family being important to Spanish life, municipal, provincial, even regional, borders can be crossed, depending on local restrictions.  Close friends is a bit hazy – some authorities say si, some say no way José. The burning issue of whether this will be an honour system or whether permission must be obtained in advance is still hanging. While the thought of spending a whole day with a good friend after all these weeks and weeks of almost uninterrupted solitude is dizzying, neither of us fancy being stopped at a checkpoint by armed officials expecting a fluent well-worded plea to continue outside municipal limits. Bugger. Watch this space.

Back briefly to Purdey. She and the cat have signed a peace treaty and are now locked in a quiet but determined struggle for territory. Anything the cat can do, Purdey feels she surely can too – I do have washable covers on the sofa and bed so had no objection to her getting up on either, but it took a while before she did. The cat has his own preferred baby blanket and she folded herself up onto that first . . .

It took a while but a chilly evening, a fire, and a long day for both of them, achieved a breakthrough.

The Spanish couple who rescued Purdey from a tumbledown finca in the middle of nowhere had advertised extensively for her most recent owner and got a reply last week – a month after he took her hunting. She vanished the first time he fired a shot. He doesn’t want her back as she is of no use to him, but he’s glad she has found a home.  She does HATE shots, the first time she heard the hunters in the hills round Velez she turned firmly for home and led me straight to the door. That was a few days in – I was pleased she knew the way, pleased she sees home as a safe refuge.

Oh and yay, we  had a breakthrough on using the great outdoors as the bathroom of choice. It took a while, filling her to the brim with food and water before long long walks, and she still prefers the privacy of the terrace, but since it seems to please me so very much when she uses the outdoors, and  she likes to make me happy, she now performs dutifully. She does still insist on kicking over her traces when outdoors so pavements are still out, but we have patches of wasteland a few minutes away in two directions which are patronised by other town dogs and fascinate her. She’s shy with other dogs, but slowly making the occasional friendly contact, ducking behind me to avoid unfriendly or bossy dogs. Like other pods, she communicates through dance – springs about like Tigger when walks or food are in the offing, sits hopefully in front of me (sometimes nearly tripping me) when wanting attention or treats or me to stop stroking the cat please, and jiggles from foot to foot when she needs a walk.

Living with a podenco? It’s great. Three walks a day is doing me a world of good, too –

Buckle up, and other irritating safety laws #livinginSpain

Just as well the whole safety-belt-in-car business was hammered out before we all became so aggressive or you can imagine the furore now. Furious complaints about being constrained. Argument that it stops you being able to reverse easily, or reach a crying child in the back seat. PROOF that wearing a safety belt won’t stop you being injured or killed in an accident. Passionate refusal to be immobilised in the car. How DARE you tell me what to do? Toys being thrown from a million cots.
Look at the stubbornness when it comes to texting while driving. To some, it is so obviously stupid that to do it at all should carry an automatic charge of attempted manslaughter. Others will argue they’ve never died or killed anyone as a result so it is ipso facto ridiculous to think that it is dangerous. The belligerent will insist that if they need to read or send a text while driving, they will.
Whatever.
Wearing a mask, even a scarf or a bandana over your nose and mouth, won’t stop the spread of this virus in its tracks. It won’t guarantee you won’t get the virus. It won’t guarantee you don’t spread the virus. I know we’ve been told we shouldn’t, then told we should, then confused further by the muppets in the public spotlight who don’t. Our leaders have lost some credibility in recent months, and we are all loudly forging our own paths. I’m not shouting about much and I actually hate wearing a mask. It’s like putting on a safety belt when driving. It’s a nuisance, hot, uncomfortable, and yes you have to live with your own halitosis while in public. 🙂 Grow up, shut up, put it on and improve all our chances just that little bit more.

Our law here right now in Spain as we move into the prolonged stage between “Alarmed” and “100% Normality” is that we must wear one “when contact is unavoidable” – shopping, public transport, etc. Already I can see some who carry one but only put it on if a policeman hoves into view. Seriously? It isn’t about tricking the authorities, you gloop. It’s about reducing the impact and spread of the bloody virus. You enjoyed lockdown so much?
ONE HUNDRED DAYS IN A STATE OF ALARM WAS SO MUCH FUN?
It’s about never having to go back into lockdown. If an occasional mask in the fierce heat of Spanish summer is the price of avoiding that, it is one I pay gladly and it won’t actually kill you to do the same basic courtesy to your community. Kill you hell, it might save your life. Just like that nuisance of a safety belt.
Peevishly yours
Elegsabiff

trikini

Not me. Sigh.

Solitary confinement #livinginSpain

I’m about to go out, so I have spent 20 minutes dressing and putting on (eye) makeup (masks are a great timesaver) and doing my hair, humming under my breath.  There’s a full bag of rubbish waiting by the front door, I’m planning to take that up to the town’s central bins. I’ve always liked the Spanish system of big central bins emptied daily anyway, and now it’s a double boon.  You poor buggers who have your bins on your own properties!

quarantine mask

Was a time I’d have struggled up there laden under the bag and the recycling bags to save extra trips, oho, none of that now, play my cards right there’s three good outings in that lot. Life is change.

There was, until Tuesday past, dog walking – quarantine law allows for a dog to be taken up to 100 metres from the house. There’s less clarity on whether owners must then turn back or can traipse back and forth until nature takes its course. The cantankerous old trout who inspired the dog Maggie as far back as Three Four Knock On My Door in 2013 has mellowed and faded a great deal over the years and on Tuesday her story had to end. In the weeks of quarantine it has been I wistful for walks and she who groaned reluctantly and humoured me. This pic was taken back in Scotland. RIP old girl. You are missed.

15 OCt 002

I’m used to friends popping by, work intermittently being done on the house, Spanish classes and trying out my abominable Spanish on the patient. Since May 2018 the house has also had a steady trickle of guests. Being alone was sometimes a luxury. I won’t deny that a month into enforced solitary I’ve not felt the strain sometimes. Lurked at the window to watch for people walking by, that sort of thing. Red letter day when someone goes by without a mask and I can feast my eyes on actual features. Ooh!  A nose! A mouth!

I did get one unexpected social outing one day  – my battery-powered thermometer became, I think, unreliable (25 degrees is quite low – but on the bright side, no fever) so I decided to walk to the local farmacia for another. Wow, unplanned treat!  Five of us were at one point queued in the street, 2 metres apart, all masked and gloved, and as all the gloves were all different colours there was a definite air of fiesta. Everyone talked at once, the colourful hands flew, I was dizzied by the sociability of it all. Sold out of thermometers, though.

I did see a bloke from my  Spanish class the other day and we stood on opposite sides of the street catching up on quick news. He and his wife had bought a house just before we went into lockdown a month ago. He said they’re living in it now. Well – camping in it now. The furniture couldn’t get through in time.  They seem to be coping okay. He was on his own but then under Spanish quarantine only one member of each household can leave home without specific, written, dispensation. They mean it, too. Fines are becoming epic, thousands issued, doubling and tripling (or serving a future jail sentence) for repeat offenders. This couple always came across as companionable and affectionate  but he was still probably pleased to have a break, I’ve seen jokes about couples stuck in quarantine together, you know, begging each other not to blink so loudly.

This is a big (10 roomed) house, would it have been fun with someone else sharing the space or would we be planning murders by now? I’ll never know. It’s quiet.

Very very quiet.

Oops, that’s it, siesta over, I can sally out with my rubbish bag and maybe there will be glimpses of other people taking theirs. This is so EXCITING!

The Dance Defence #LivingInSpain #quarantine

It seems to me that this wretched virus seems to bounce fairly lightly off the young and/or active and home in on the sedentary and if that’s true, lockdown is more than just the opportunity to write uninterrupted but presents some unusual challenges.

typing

We’re in full lockdown in Spain and my elderly dog, who entirely approves of brief constitutional outings, is slightly indignant at being hauled out several times a day instead of the usual morning and evening. I do also have the whole house to paint, alone, since my usual support and helper is similarly locked down, but it isn’t enough to keep me as active as I suspect I need to be.

uh oh
 

So that’s it, back to my Zumba DVD 20 minute workout three times a week. It turns out all the work of running and maintaining a guesthouse, plus the dog-walking, didn’t keep me as fit as I had thought (puff puff). I’m planning now also to download some of the more hectic songs from my teens and create a playlist to dance away the virus on non-zumba days. Who’s with me?

head banger ”

 

 

What’s in a name? #LivingInSpain

I carry a concertina file with every single piece of paper I may need to prove my identity and / or address every time I go near the authorities.

This is in part sensible practice, because you often have no idea what may be required (I list some of them below) and it saves an awful lot of running back and forth and standing in the same queues more than once. It is also in part because my parents generously gave me four names at birth, none of which are remotely Spanish, and the Spanish authorities must have, so far, at least seven variations on record.

My favourite variation came from Movistar, the telephone service, which has my middle names, Joanna Lamprey, as Yoanha Lanprey. My car is registered to Elizabeth Jonanna Lamprey (i.e. my actual surname doesn’t appear at all) and my new driving licence has, I think perhaps fortunately, been issued in the same name.

The main problem is that in Spain most people have at least four names including two surnames, their mother’s and their father’s.  The mother’s surname customarily comes last. Most choose to use father’s surname as main surname but you do have the choice, every Spanish form you will ever fill in asks for 1st apilledo, and most have a separate spot for 2nd apilledo.

So along comes Elegsabiff with four names and quite often the authority I am dealing with decides I am too ignorant to know that my 1st apilledo is the third name, so they correct my mistake for me. Quite often said authority is in Madrid, or Granada, or Jaen, so I’m not there at the time to correct it back.

Even the ones that get it right struggle with the spelling – hence  Elisabeth, Yoanha, Joann, Jonanna, Lanprey, etc.  Those who do add in my actual surname invariably do spell it right. Nobody can pronounce it, though, so I always have to spell it out. It includes a Y.

Y is pronounced i griega. No, no reason, just thought you’d want to know.

So, flipping through my concertina file, I have

  1. My NIE – número de identidad de extanjero – has my name perfectly, in full, but shows me as being born in Durban, United Kingdom. Oh well, we in Natal always did call ourselves the last outpost of the British Empire. You’re asked for your NIE all the time. Learn the number by heart.
  2. My Padron – Joanna was skipped as being unnecessary / too difficult to spell / not needed on voyage.
  3. My official bank certificate, for bank details – Lamprey was skipped as being confusing.
  4. My permission to run a guest house from the Turismo y Deporte – Joanna not included
  5. My registration as self-employed (autonomo/a) and a tax payer is perfect – now – but originally had me as Elisabeth Joann etc
  6. The Fremap one reversed 1st apilledo and 2nd apilledo.
  7. My escritura (deeds for my house) are, phew, perfect. That’ll make the will much easier, so long as the name is right on the will.
  8. My medical card is almost right – who needs the final A in Joann?
  9. My residency card is perfect, but took three tries and the translator I luckily took with me getting really, really emphatic.
  10. My name on the tax register had two errors and eventually I had to get an accountant to correct it.
  11. Six photocopies of my passport – which I carry on me at all times.
sigh

In every single case I had to provide either my passport or a notarized copy at the time. I really hope there won’t be tears before bedtime with all these variations, not one of which was me being ditzy.  If I lose this concertina file I suspect I will cease to exist.

I do rather wish my parents had liked the name Maria, and hadn’t bothered with the others, useful as they have proved as pen names.

moping

 

Driving licence, tick #LivingInSpain (permiso de conducción)

If you are living and driving in Spain, no matter which country you come from, you get six months grace before you have to go to the DGT (Dirección General de Tráfico for a Spanish licence – the permiso de conducción. 

Getting the replacement driving licence is something the authorities have not been too rigorous about up to now. They want you to, they encourage you to, you are supposed to, and there are threats of fines if you don’t, but they haven’t been nasty about it before.

Oh, hello Brexit.

Don’t be using your UK licence, when living in Spain, after the UK leaves the EU, or you will have to retake your test.  In Spanish.

scold

Well if you’re going to be like that about it  …

I used, and recommend, DrivingLicences.es – you register with them, load all your documentation (I’ll go through that in a minute) and pay them a fee which works out around 40€. They check everything is in order, tell you step by step what you have to do, make the appointment for you at the local DGT,  (mine was Granada) and give you a letter in Spanish to give to your burócrata which explains you don’t speak good Spanish and provides the answers to the commonest questions they may have.

So what you need is:

  1. Residency certificate or card and at least one copy (if card, front and back)
  2. Valid passport from whichever country issued your current driving licence, and at least one copy
  3. Medical certificate
  4. Two suitable photographs
  5. Your original driving licence
  6. If your address does not match your residency certificate, you’ll need a current original padron and at least one copy. I took one anyway. Just in case.

You could probably do the whole thing yourself but I found paying the DrivingLicence.es fee worth every cent for peace of mind.

The photos cost 5€ to be done by a local photographer but a photo booth would have been fine.

The only tricky thing about the medical certificate is that it has to be current so I waited to know my appointment date at the DGT (because of Brexit, the delay in certain areas can be months, but mine was three weeks, ideal).  It was then a case of finding the nearest place which was authorised to do the medical test – look online. Rather than try to book an appointment (cita previa) over the phone I pitched up in person to make the appointment in my limping Spanish and they very nicely tested me there and then.

You need to take your residency card or certificate, and your original driving licence. They’ll fill in the form (do check that they entered everything that is on your current licence, or it will only be filled in for driving a car) and do two separate examinations in two separate rooms. The first is eyesight and hearing tests, blood pressure, height and weight.  The second is a reactions test, and fun – you get a fifteen second trial run at keeping on two sets of tracks which twist and turn (and occasionally go in two different directions, exactly the way the wheels on a car don’t) without being beeped at too often, then do it for real. Your photograph is taken and your certificate, with photo, printed out. The cost was 45€.

The DGT appointment was made with a reference number so when you get there, find a terminal in the main hall to punch the number in, and it will tell you which floor to go to and which desk you will be seen at. You then sit and wait for your number to come up, which mine did bang on time.  I had a very nice burocráta  who spoke not a word of English but briskly processed everything, took away my UK licence and gave me a form confirming I had applied and paid (24.10€) to present to any enquiring policia before my temporary licence arrived, which it did within the week.

The card licence arrived today – in the name Elizabeth Jonanna Lamprey. Oh well. Matches the car.

 

 

Medical card, tick. #LivingInSpain (Tarjeta Sanitaria)

I don’t suppose Spanish bureaucracy is any trickier than French (which is infamous) or English (which is tortuous) but it’s all in Spanish and my command of this lovely language is still strictly limited. Don’t shout at me – 90% of my guests speak English as their second language if not their first and I teach English every day.  Even my Spanish guests wince so much at my slow careful pronunciation they suggest I let them practice their English instead.

However, matters bureaucratic must be conducted in Spanish. Getting my Tarjeta Sanitaria (health or medical card) was actually pretty easy. I went to my local medical centre for a form to complete, then returned that with my passport and a copy of same,  a current padron* and copy of same, and a letter downloaded by my accountant off the tax website confirming  I am registered as autonoma and paying my Social. The receptionist checked it, said Madrid would be in touch if there was a problem, and sent it off a few weeks ago – card received today, and now I am covered completely for any illness, issues, or coronavirus symptoms I care to develop. At the same time I got a letter inviting to get my innards checked as I’m over fifty, very efficient, AND my name is 100% correct, which is more efficient than very nearly every other authority I’m registered with in Spain.**

*The Padrón Municipal de Habitantes was on another blog, but in brief your local town council, or ayuntamiento, needs to keep track of how many people are in the town to do accurate forecasts for town necessities. Anyone living more than 6 months of the year in the town should therefore go to the ayuntamiento, complete the form, and present it with proof of address ( your escritura (deeds to your house) or your rental agreement) plus your passport. The form is issued promptly and efficiently and has an effective shelf-life of several months, although few are sticklers about that.  Getting a replacement, at least at my friendly ayuntamiento,  is just a question of handing in the first** and saying your address hasn’t changed, Bob’s your uncle (which is not Bob es tu tio, I haven’t yet learned the equivalent colloquialism because my Spanish, as mentioned earlier, is still decidedly basic despite free local lessons twice a week and listening to the excellent Michel Thomas CDs whenever I’m in the car).

**I always have my concertina file containing every piece of paper ever issued to me when I go near the authorities, just in case. It saves a lot of running back and forth and if I lose it I might as well jump off a cliff as I will have ceased to exist. There’s going to be a blog about that too.