Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Numbers, weather, numbers, identity ...

While Britain suffers the worst winter in 18 years and I'm not there to be able to luxuriate in NOT having to go out to work in it, Spain is apparently changing it's attitude to weather. According to something I read in El Pais yesterday, up to three or four months ago they were really hoping for rain or snow. The reservoirs were empty, they were discussing piping water from the north to the south and there had been so little snow the previous winter that there was almost no run-off from melted snow. Now, in January, they regard the threat of storms with the same trepidation as the rest of Europe. Madrid has been brought to a standstill by snow (just like London, Paris, Milan), winds have brought down high-tension cables near Valencia causing forest fires, the Basque country has had floods and the weather charts have shown the whole of the peninsula covered in little clouds with rain or snow falling from them.

In the meantime, listening to the rain falling down in the "patio de luces" (central open area in our building where you can hang your washing to dry and so on - patio de luces means patio of light but in our case, being on the second floor of a thirteen storey building, it's more a "patio de sombras", a patio of shadow) I consult my weather chart to see how we are getting on. Yes, I'm just geek enough to set up a chart on my computer to monitor the weather! I find that since I started the chart back in mid-September we have had 40 days of all-day sunshine, some of them a mite cold but still sunshine, some of them very warm, 21 days when the sun shone but then the weather changed to cloudy or even rainy or vice-versa, and 32 days with some rain but only during the last couple of weeks have we really had days of continual, sometimes torrential, rain.

All these numbers! It sometimes seems as though our lives are governed by numbers - bank accounts, cards, PIN numbers, phone numbers, passport numbers - that we try desperately to remember: a kind of over-arching sudoku that we have to complete.

Be that as it may, an important number for us, having sorted out accommodation, bank and internet, was the NIE, Numero de Indentificacion de Extranjero, foreign nationals' ID number. So in early October we set out to get one of these. This involved going to the police station for nine o'clock in the morning, having scoured our street map to find the street where the police station was situated, following several false leads and eventually discovering it tucked away quite near the port.

You have to get to the police station early to collect a number (there it is again, the importance of numbers!) which entitles you to an appointment later in the day. If you arrive late, all the numbers have gone and you must return another day. A helpful policeman gives you an approximate idea of what time to return to the police station and off you go, about your business, making sure that you put your number, in fact a ticket just like the ones you collect at the deli counter in the supermarket, in a safe place. However, it pays to arrive early for your apppointment because if your number comes up and you are not there, you have to get another number (an official notice tells you this - no ifs or buts!) or, if they are feeling especially helpful, you may be allowed to wait until the end of the day and hope to be seen then. We saw at least two instances of this and several of people turning up, as we did the first time, hoping to be able to sort it out at once.

Once you have sat around for a good while, anxiously watching the number counter, wondering why some people are able to go in apparently without a number (discovering later that there are in fact two offices in one) and making sure that no-one steals your turn, eventually you get into the office. There you are given a form to fill in. If you have not brought a photocopy of your passport, you will be sent away and probably have to return later. We were well-informed and took copies!! So we were given two copies of the form to fill in there and then, instead of taking it away to photocopy as well.

It seems not to have occurred to the stressed officials, who express great concern about how many "numeros" remain to be seen, that they could give out forms WITH the numbers, thus saving time by having people fill them in before going into the office. Are they afraid that "foreigners" will take away the forms and not return them? Is it a form of extreme paranoia which demands that they see you complete the form. Whatever the truth of the matter, the harrassed lady we saw showed no sign of checking what we had written nor even of looking at our passports, which struck me a strange! We were intructed to return in the middle of the next week, present our forms and passports to the policeman at the desk, pay him 15 euros and, hopefully, recieve a document with our NIE. According to my sister who has lived in Spain, for more years than she ever lived in the UK, until recently she had a neat little ID card with her NIE which she could carry around in her card wallet as proof of ID. When she went to renew it recently, it was taken off her and replaced with a paper document, the result, it seems, of some new EU ruling.

Further fun and games ensued when we went back with our forms and passports to pay our 15 euros. The police station does not accept payments. That has to be done through a bank. Why had we not taken the relevant form to a bank? Possibly this was because we did not have the relevant form! The poiliceman tutted, retreated into the office and came out with the correct papers. Off we trotted to the nearest bank, only to discover that this was the WRONG BANK! Our NIE numbers began with the wrong letter for this bank. We needed to find a branch of the Banco Popular. There it was again, the rather picky bureaucracy of this lovely country. However, having paid our dues, we returned to the police station, handed in the papers and received another one each in return, complete with A NUMBER! It was something of an anticlimax but at least we were now completely legal.

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