Tag Archives: Spanish mail

Is There Customer Service in Spain?

11 Nov

I love most things about living in Spain, but customer service is not one of them. I have even contended they should remove the Spanish words for customer service, “atención al cliente,” from the lexicon. I have previously recounted my problems in receiving packages with my personal belongings from California. When I first reported no monetary value for the old personal items mailed to me, the Spanish authorities returned the package to the U.S. I tried unsuccessfully twice more to have my belongings sent. The last time, I completed all the requirements within the mandated time period, paid nearly 100 Euros in customs fees, and they still returned my package to California. By this time, all the potentially breakable items had broken. I never received the refund I requested. One package I did eventually receive was gaping open and the contents from the top of the box were missing; the Spanish postal service was not even professional enough to tape it closed. Then the postal worker who “delivered” the box claimed it was heavy and asked me to help carry it into my apartment.

 

If I mail order something from the U.S., there are huge import taxes, but there are some things worth paying extra for that I cannot get here in Spain. I have also mail ordered items from Spanish companies, and more often than not, the couriers claim they tried to deliver my package, even when I had been home the whole day. When I call the number they provide for the supposed missed delivery, they argue with me, saying they did come to my place and ring my doorbell. They are never wrong, and never apologize. One agent insisted they had a photo of the courier at my door, but when I asked them to send it, I was told they could not.

 

My friends and I have had similar difficulties when using a taxi. Some drivers will ignore directions I provide to avoid traffic snarls. They may bark at you for having an inadequate command of Spanish. The other day, our cab driver from our town of Altea was unfamiliar with any of the streets or major landmarks in our village.

 

Most of the time the food here is great, but there are occasions when the restaurant serves sub-par food. If they ask how the food was, and you give an honest assessment, most of the time, I have received the blank “Bambi in headlights” look, with no offer of any reparations. Once, when I tried to return or exchange a podiatry device which broke after one use, the pharmacist looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said there is no guarantee on products they sell. WHAT?!

 

I recently learned of an even more ridiculous incident. A woman bought a pair of shoes, and when she got home and looked at them, she discovered they had given her two different sizes. When she went to correct the error, with receipt in hand, they insisted they had made no mistake, even suggesting she may have gone to another store to buy another pair to make a mismatched set. Her husband had no better success in attempting to rectify what should have been a simple exchange, accompanied by an apology.

And I won’t even start on confounding, changing requirements of the government bureaucracies in getting required documentation for a visa, registering your living address, getting a bank account and more. There is even a hilarious videos representative of many people’s  exasperating experiences, which I have previously viewed on YouTube, although it seemed to have been removed when I tried to find it.

My recommendation in Spain is to remember, The client is always wrong.

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Quirky and Different Customs in Spain

6 Feb

I love my new life in Altea Spain. However, there are some quirky and unexpected things which I have encountered or needed to adjust to.

 

I recently read that when local children were enacting a bull run using toy wooden bulls that this year they would not be allowed to have the bulls’ horns lit on fire during the run. Apparently this was perfectly fine in prior years.

 

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Tree on which people climb to tie on their t-shirt at the St. John festival

During the many Spanish festivals, people sometimes engage in dangerous behavior. At the local St. John festival, participants carry a tree to the church plaza while encouraging observers to throw water on them. Once in the plaza, they pull the spindly tree to a vertical position and fueled with alcohol attempt to make the perilous climb to the top. What I found particularly interesting was the ambulances that were waiting just a few feet away. One has only to think of the running of the bulls in Pamplona for another example. Or the “baby jumping” festival near Burgos, where people in costumes jump over a mattress on which lie babies born in the prior 12 months. This ritual serves to rid the babies of evil spirits and guard against illness.

 

As I have mentioned in prior posts, dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy is nearly always fraught with difficulties, often because what you are told you need to do changes with successive visits. Similarly, I have had my rental cars towed two of the four times I rented them. In one case, I parked in a handicapped spot and put up my disabled placard. When I returned to retrieve the car, it was gone. When I contacted the local police, they informed me I had parked in a handicap spot reserved for a specific car, as indicated by the numbers on the handicap parking sign. I said I have travelled to and driven in many countries, and have never seen handicap spots for specific vehicles. I received a blank look, and was told I had to fork over around $150 to get the car out of impound.

 

I have also previously mentioned the multiplicity of problems I have had in receiving packages sent from the U.S. One box arrived gaping open, with items missing. Then the postman asked me to help carry it because it weighed a lot. Another box of household items was twice returned to my son, first because I declared there was no monetary value to items which were only sentimental, and the second because they did not see the documentation that I had submitted the nearly 100 Euros customs fee. I have been trying unsuccessfully for more than two months to get a refund for that, and there is no chance of getting a refund on for the hundreds of dollars I spent in having the box mailed here twice.

 

The sidewalks in my village are made of attractive, but incredibly slick tiles, especially when wet. It is so precarious that people typically walk in the road when it rains. I see many more people here with arms and legs in splints or casts, which I would bet is related to the falls people have. I have jokingly suggested that maybe the tile sidewalks were the idea of the local orthopedic physicians.

 

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

The Spanish definition of opening early means 9 or 10 in the morning. Such opening times are understandable in light of the lengthy afternoon siesta, and businesses and meals occurring late at night. Often when businesses close for several weeks or months, there is no sign informing the would-be patron of the closure. Nor are there websites for businesses which provide that information. Businesses including grocery stores are closed for national and local holidays, which can sometimes last several days. After the several day local Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) festival, all businesses were closed for the day, not for the holiday but for a day for people to recover from the festival. After four days of festivities and drinking starting at 8 or 9 in the morning, and ending around 4 a.m., they need a recovery day.

 

I find Spanish people generally genial, and polite. They always greet you when you enter their business. In their vehicles, they are very good at stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. However, when walking, they may suddenly cut right in front of you or stop and block the sidewalk while conversing. When picking up my dog’s excrement from the sidewalk, I have had people step over my head, and roll over my foot with a stroller.

 

Sometimes there are what seem to be arbitrary rules. When we recently went to a high end musical and dance variety show which featured a choice of two dinner menus, we were told everyone in our group had to order the same menu. Otherwise, we would be placed at separate tables based on our dinner choice.

 

Have you ever encountered unexpected behaviors/customs while living in or travelling to a new country?

 

 

Mailing Mishaps and More

25 Apr

After almost two months, I finally received the second box of items I had mailed to me here in Altea Spain after I had gotten a permanent apartment. As I previously detailed, in preparation of the move from California’s Central Coast to Spain, I sold my large house and all its contents, with the exception of family keepsakes, a few travel souvenirs, and my most cherished kitchen items. It is not worth shipping most things, but I am quite attached to certain pans, my kitchen knives and the wooden block that holds them. To that end, before coming to Spain, I packed two boxes; I brought two large suitcases with me on the plane. That was all.

 

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Marie Sharp’s

Before the second box was packed, I decided to purchase spices and condiments I could not find here in Altea. Most of these were Asian, like fish sauce, black bean garlic sauce, sriracha, sambal, and surprisingly, crushed red chili flakes. Spanish food is seldom spicy, and I crave that taste profile so much that I carry a small bottle of the world’s most delicious hot sauce, Belizean Marie Sharp’s habanero pepper sauce in my purse.

 

Besides the outrageous shipping rate for mailing my box, (over $300), after several weeks, I feared it was lost as I had heard nothing, and the first box had come quicker, (not quick, mind you.) When the first box arrived, it was gaping open and the postal worker asked me to help carry the box as it was heavy. What??!! A few items were broken and missing-I now only have three of the “big five” animals from my collection from my safari in Africa. Given the shape of the box, I was surprised more items weren’t broken.

 

With regard to the second box, I finally received a letter from the Spanish post office demanding I download forms from their website, fill them out regarding the exact contents of the box, and provide receipts for the items. In Spanish, I tried to explain that most items were personal and old, with the exceptions of the condiments I could not get here. I subsequently received a demand of about 55€ for tax and other fees to get the box released. That is about the same cost of the condiments. If I had taken off the seals, I may have avoided this fiasco, but I had been worried, they might think I was transporting contents other than what was listed on the bottles. If they were opened, they would spoil, so I left the seals intact so as not to raise any suspicions. After a few more weeks after paying the fee, I received notice my box was now being sent to customs. So I paid the fees, but could still have customs deny my delivery? Such are the frustrations of adjusting to the Spanish bureaucracy.

 

Taxed condiment and spices

The box finally arrived yesterday. Once again, the postal worker asked me to help carry it. No dolly in sight. The box had been resealed, but once open it was evident the contents had been randomly thrown into it. Even the knives were not put back into their wooden block, protruding every which way. And since I am accident prone, it was inevitable that I would get cut. At least it wasn’t too deep. Once the bleeding stopped, I was able to unpack the contents, wash the dishes as well as the Provençal style napkins and hot pads, and Williams Sonoma t-towels. I experienced the simple joy at having those cheerful Provençal bright blue backgrounds punctuated by vibrant yellow lemons, as well as the thick, quality t-towels.

 

Now inspired to cook, I decided to make a Caesar salad, as I now had anchovy paste (which I find easier than fresh anchovies) and my immersion blender. I mashed together the garlic, anchovy paste, mustard, egg yolk, and then prepared to gradually blend in the oil. When I turned on the blender, I heard an electrical cracking sound from the outlet, and the blender would not work. That wasn’t all. There was no electricity in my apartment at all. I had used other American appliances with electrical converters without any problems until now. I only hoped I could figure out how to get the electricity back working. I remembered during one of my apartment tours that when the electricity wasn’t working, the realtor went to a small metal box on the wall near the entry door to turn on the electricity. I repeated what I had seen her do, and after flipping all the switches to the same direction, electricity was restored. In every house I have ever owned in California, whether old or new, all the electricity circuit breakers are located outside at very inconvenient spots outside and in the back of the house, making for difficulty in locating or fixing when it is dark or inclement weather. I think the Americans could take a lesson from the Spanish…at least in this regard.

 

I had difficulty getting the salad dressing to thoroughly blend without the assistance of the hand blender, but it still was tasty, along with the perfectly cooked boiled and peeled eggs, with their perfect soft bright golden orange yolks, with nary a trace of green around them. I am still surprised when I go to a restaurant, and egg yolks are covered with an unappetizing green outer layer. It is incredibly easy to make them without that hideous green. If you don’t know how, let me know, and I will post it. Hint: the key is bringing the water to a boil, shutting heat off, then adding the eggs and covering for the time needed to cook them to your liking.

 

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Altea

The arrival on the second box allowed me to get my piso (apartment) up and running in full. I had already covered the gold velour couch and two matching chairs with fundas de sofa (couch and chair covers blue with a little background gold keeping with the Provençal and Spanish color theme) and I covered the pink shellacked side board with Provençal table cloths, blue with lemons, of course.) The same pink shellacked headboard and bedside desks “adorned” my bedroom, so I bought neutral sheets and comforter, and bedcover with a touch of pink to bring the room together. The mattress provided was not to my liking, and given how much time is spent sleeping, I splurged and bought a mattress from an upscale hotel chain, on whose beds I have always slept well. It was well worth it. My apartment here in Altea does not begin to compare with the home or furnishings California, but I am quite content here. The neighborhood, views and people can’t be beat.

 

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Pepper: local celebrity

And now Pepper and I am heading out to buy a new immersion blender in the hopes of rehabilitating my pathetic Caesar dressing, and then heading to the beach for the beautiful weather and view, a tasty two course menu del dia, and later cavorting with friends.