26 January 2011

Doom, gloom and plenty of clichés

It is hard to find good news about Spain these days.  Unemployment is over 20% and still rising, a third of people who are in work are on temporary or part-time contracts, and public sector workers have had their pay cut by 5%.  Petrol, gas and electricity prices are rising way ahead of inflation.  Zapatero's PSOE government (Spanish Workers' Socialist Party) is moving inexorably to the right - albeit at a reluctant canter rather than a gallop - in an attempt to reduce the public debt and pacify the IMF:  freezing pensions, selling off public assets, making it easier to sack employees, cutting unemployment benefits and raising the retirement age.  The right-wing opposition party, the Partido Popular (PP) are well ahead in the opinion polls despite repeated revelations of corruption, a leader totally lacking in charisma, and a noticeable lack of policies.

Zapatero smiles disarmingly as he canters to the right, and Rajoy
gazes into space while trying to think up an economic policy.
Note the identical ties ...
Homelessness is on the increase, despite over a million new dwellings standing empty, and house prices are still falling. The Basque separatist group ETA's recent announcement of yet another ceasefire was greeted with almost universal scepticism.   Bar owners and disgruntled smokers are complaining bitterly about the new smoking ban, and the PP mayor of Madrid has promised public money to provide heated outdoor smoking areas in an attempt to harvest their votes.  A few days after Nissan announced they would be expanding their car plant in Barcelona (on condition that wages are frozen till 2014 and working conditions are worsened), Yamaha announced the closure of theirs.   Air pollution in Madrid and Barcelona is well above EU acceptable levels and nobody can agree what to do about it.

And to cap it all, we are experiencing one of the coldest, greyest, windiest, nastiest spells of weather I can remember since we moved here, with no sign of a let-up.

Nevertheless, a recent survey by the Centre for Sociological Research revealed that while 60% of respondents believe Spain's economic woes won't improve in the year ahead, this doesn't seem to affect them at a personal level as badly as you might think.   75% of those questioned said that they were very satisfied with their lives, and 55% said that things had gone well or very well for them in 2010.

Morale seems to be worse in Britain, whose economic optimism is apparently among the lowest in the world.  Every day the expat forums get new enquiries from people anxious to escape the horrendous implications of the public spending cuts (why do they call them a "review"?) and start a new life in the sun; postmen, window cleaners, air-conditioning salesmen, teachers, nurses, herbal therapists, musicians, and guys who had a great holiday here a couple of years ago and have done a bit of bar work.    It's hard to know what to say to people who think they can find a job here, or even just pick up enough casual work to get by.  You don't want to trample on their dreams too harshly, but the reality is that there are four and a half million people chasing very few jobs, and those people already speak fluent Spanish.

On the other hand, if you don't need to find work, there are still many good reasons for coming to live in Spain.  The bad weather won't last long - that's guaranteed! - and the wonderful things that attracted us here in the first place, like the view over the mountains from our terrace, are not affected by the economy.  So let's batten down the hatches, tighten our belts and weather the storm, things can only get better ...

And apologies for all the clichés, but at times like this they come in handy!

The best things in life are free.  And who knows, there might be a pot of gold
at the end of that rainbow ...

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