Before Spain we lived in Colombia, and while the “que vamos hacer” (what are we to do?) phenomenon did exist to a certain extent there, at least the attitude of the Colombians was much different. In Colombia if you have a problem with a product or service, the Colombians will tell you “que pena con usted” (what “sorrow” with you,) here in Spain they say “que te jodas!” (go f--- yourself.) Now I in no way wish to promote vulgar language on this website, however, these are the exact words that they use. I believe, for me at least, the hardest adjustment one must make when living in Spain is dealing with the level of aggressiveness. When I am out on the roads here, I jokingly say “God, the Spanish civil war isn’t over, they just exchanged arms for cars.” Unfortunately, in reality I think there is all too much truth to this.

I believe, that I do not exaggerate in saying, that if you live in Spain you will eventually encounter the “que vamos hacer” phenomenon but you may choose to take it in stride and with humour, or you may do as the Spanish and swear and scream at your adversary.

IMMIGRANTS IN SPAIN My first experience with the “que vamos hacer” phenomenon was when we first arrived. I was looking for a small furnished apartment rather than continue the four months in a hotel. However, when I called to visit an apartment the owner asked me « Quien Eres ? » (Who are you ?) I was perplexed until he continued and asked me « Are you Mexican? You understand, I can’t rent my apartment out to just anyone and that I need some sort of guarantee!»

I was furious, but later was quite complimented that my Spanish was so good that he mistook me for a native-speaker ! I told him that I was American and had all the guarantees that he could want for his miserable apartment and that he was a « sin verguenza » (person without shame) bigot before hanging up.

Now I have dealt with bigots in every country where I have lived, but rarely have I witnessed such open bigotry. I was later to learn that in Spain it is next to impossible for immigrants to rent housing themselves, and usually must rent through third-parties, often opening themselves up to abusive practices and higher prices. Additionally, these people are often offered as little as 3.50€/ hour (the minimum wage in Spain), making the life of immigrants here extremely difficult, but they still come in-droves from Eastern Europe, Latin America, and increasingly from Africa.

I increasingly see more and more similarities in the immigration problems taking place in Europe today, as those which took place in the US, but Europeans constantly deny any parallel. Which is unfortunate; they could learn a lot from mistakes already made by the Americans! - QUE VAMOS HACER!!

CONSUMER PROTECTION IN SPAIN There does exist a consumer protection agency in Spain, but appears to be more for show than anything else. In the case that you are unsatisfied with a product or service that you have bought you may contact the Oficina Municipal de Información al Consumidor (OMIC), in your area. However, before you do so you might wish to read about my experiences with this consumer “protection agency.”

For the past 25 years I have been a « fitness-club junky » and as soon as I found out where we would be living a bought a yearly subscription at a large established club in the Centro-Oeste (right next to Equinoccio.) Simple, no?!

Well, not so simple, to make a long story short after an initial 6 months, their services became a joke. Now the Spaniard’s reaction was to get into shouting/insulting-swearing matches with the receptionists, however, I preferred to try and speak with the manager. Neither method did much good.

So like a “good citizen,” I went to lodge a complaint with the Oficina Municipal de Información al Consumidor. First, they tried to talk me out of lodging a complaint then, they told me they had no juridical powers and unless the gym voluntarily wished to make retributions, then there was nothing that they could do! I mean if I had ended up there, wasn’t it because the gym had told me to “go take a hike!”

Additionally, every “machine” that I have bought in this country (from computers to food-processors,) have not worked and needed to be returned, often several times. In the case of the food-processor – I have a broken one sitting in my kitchen - the store told me that they did not “accept” manufacturers guarantees! What was I to do? Return to “Consumidor?” - QUE VAMOS HACER!!

MY BELOVED `89 VW GOLF Last year at this time there was the worst accident of the year. A kid without a driver’s license was going 140km in a 90km zone, passing in a no passing zone, and killed 5 people in a head-on collision. Unfortunately, this story is not that rare, and even the police drive like this.

I spend my “Taxi-Mom servicing hours” on these back road and am constantly trying to “shake” off some car who believes that security distances are measured in nano-seconds. And, one day one of these nano-second drivers rear-ended my beautiful Golf; she is my best friends and has never failed me, even in the middle of the Sahara desert. First, the other driver told me it was my fault, because I had stopped; no matter that there was a 10 car pile-up in front of me! However, the worst part is that the policeman who stopped said “We are powerless; we can do nothing about these drivers!!” - QUE VAMOS HACER!!

THE LEGAL SYSTEM IN SPAIN Now, while admittedly Americans have a tendency to go to far in their zealousness for litigation, the Spanish are on the other end of the spectrum. First, if you wish to bring a lawsuit in Spain you have to go through Spanish bureaucracy. However, their exist a deterrent even more important; even if you win the court case, YOU will still have to pay for your lawyer fees which in all probability are much higher than any compensation that you will receive. Effectively even if you win, you lose!

Shortly, after moving into our new home our dog was viciously attacked (on our property) by the neighbors pit terrier who apparently terrorizes the neighborhood and had even killed another dog. However, the only concern of the dog owner was that we had unfortunately filed a complaint with the police. We refused to withdraw our complaint in the hope that the danger to animals and especially children in the neighborhood would be removed or at least contained. Even though we won, our lawyer’s fees cost more than the settlement.

By the way the pit terrier still roams freely around the neighborhood. - QUE VAMOS HACER!!

KITCHEN REFORMS IN SPAIN To make a very long-story short, we hired a “highly recommended” architect to re-do our kitchen in the hope that we could avoid the horror stories that you so often hear in Spain. WRONG!!!

The estimated one month became four, the quality of work was comparable to a 3 year-old making mud pies, and then the architect tried to charge me twice the original estimate.

A Spanish friend later told me that the problem had been that the architect thought I was stupid because I am a women, and even more stupid because I am a foreigner. Unfortunately, for him I am not as stupid as he thought, and knows a little something about contract law. This time at least he was the one left saying, - QUE VAMOS HACER!

Quenby Wilcox – Fall 2006