Did you know that the “Terminal” with Tom Hanks was based on a person’s real-life experience? And no, not mine but you can read about it. Many days I am reminded of this movie.
I recently learned of the “Tarjeta de Familia Numerosa” — it’s a card for large families to which having three children qualifies and gives significant discounts on museum passes, train tickets, etc. I decided I would try to sign up for it. I was feeling bold last week. I found the right office after finding the wrong two to begin with. I wasn’t really sure if we qualified for it as we are not permanent residents of Spain but I decided I’d try anyways. And with all things, the language barrier was difficult. She spoke no English. I spoke no Spanish. She was at least tolerant to me using Bing Translate on my phone and reading what I wanted to say. After finding the right office, I had to make an appointment to return in a week for my paperwork to be reviewed. Okay. Sure. I’m learning the pattern here. And maybe it’s the same pattern for someone moving to the U.S. as well. I just never had to go through that process. I had my meeting (with itchy, Scarlet fever Clara with me) and I’m pretty sure I still don’t qualify but the woman took my paperwork, was friendly and I think I am suppose to return once I get mine and the girls official papers to be here (an NIE number). Or maybe even then we still don’t qualify. I’m not so sure I will return.
Yesterday, I went to the post office to pick up a package. But I was told to put my name on my mailbox and return tomorrow to pick it up. I did and it was worth the wait! Thank you Danielle!
Jeff spent two days with a gentleman from his school’s International department going to Madrid to find the correct office to receive his “student id”. Our passports are student visa’s (which are only valid for 90 days) that say we have to go to the official police station within 30 days of our arrival for a student id card. I tried the local police department but it wasn’t the right office. Jeff talked to the International department several times as they discussed if this card was needed. Several folks weighed in on where we should go. Some suggested the American Embassy. Others suggested we just ignore it. I know that someone at the consulate’s office in San Francisco took the time staple this paper to my visa so I’m inclined to actually get a student id card. Finally, Jeff and this gentleman went to Madrid in search of the right office. Half a day and a parking ticket later they had not found it. But they did learn that Jeff was in “the system” but no record of me or my student visa or the kids’ student visas were found. I like to joke that may make me an illegal alien but I’m not really sure it doesn’t. I know, “The Terminal” right? After a series of calls and in-person questioning, the International Office managed to set up an appointment for Jeff to complete his paperwork; which included another set of fingerprints. But first he had to go to City Hall in Buitrago to register with the town that we indeed live here. This involved two trips. The girls and I are still waiting to hear when our appointment is. And after which, maybe I’ll qualify for a Large Family Card? I should probably just give up hope on that one.
I went to City Hall to sign up the girls for Rhythmic Gymnastics. On my first visit, I was told the registrar was out and to come back Monday. Can you see the pattern? When I returned I was told the registrar had to check with the instructor and then she would get back with me. And by told, I mean spoke to several times in Spanish before I got the general idea and they found someone in the building with basic English skills (yeah!). This was October. And the thing is, I’ve been a registrar. Isn’t it part of the job to know what’s available? I returned last week to follow-up as I never heard back. Then again, I might not have called the woman back that I knew spoke no Spanish either. The registrar was very pleased to let me know there was indeed space! I then got the paperwork to fill out – which included copies of the kid’s passports and submiting their photographs. Oh, and I needed to go the bank to deposit the tuition into the city’s bank account and bring the receipt to city hall to finalize signing them up. Okay. The bank representative simply yelled louder at me in hopes I would miraculously understand her. A gentleman three people behind me began yelling the translation to us. Argh. And lucky for me, I get to do this same process every month to keep them enrolled. But they are now signed up for the class, twice a week for $15 euro’s each a month.
And why was getting the internet so difficult? First off, the language barrier. But the internet/phone company that services our area does have an English department. Please think of “English” department loosely. I had my order in once before. I couldn’t use a credit card to secure the order. And while I indicated I planned to pay my monthly bill at the post office (which at that point I hadn’t found yet) I needed a Spanish bank account number to finalize the order. It took me weeks to gather my courage to go into a bank and open an account. The first one I went in looked at me like I had two heads when I clumsily stated in Spanish I wanted to open an account and did anyone speak English. I left in near tears but determined to get internet. I went to the next bank and the youngish, gentleman spoke some English and did lots of clicks on the computer, copied my passport several times, printed lots of stuff off and in the end gave me a bank account number. Just a number. No requirement to have money in the account (although I’m not holding my breath on this one). Just a basic account. I went home and called the internet company back. Actually, I called them 9 times before I actually was connected to the English department. You see, they have an English department but all the auto-prompts are in Spanish so I would just randomly hit numbers in hopes of getting a live person so I could blurt out “Department de Ingles, por favor.” Once I finally spoke with a representative, they indicated that another person would call me to go over the details (again, the pattern is repeated) but this person thought they no longer accepted post office payment. The next representative called me back, confirmed I could pay at the post office, I tried to convey that yes I have a bank account but there was no money in it. He told me to call back in a week to change my billing method from bank to post office. Okay. But we now have internet!
This is not to mention all the paperwork that was submitted to get to Spain. And the cost. Our passports and Visa’s arrived 2 days before we got on the plane. It took twice as long as expected. And unbeknownst to us we had to include a self-addressed express envelope for the Spanish Consulate in San Francisco to mail our passports and visa’s to us. No mention of this was in the paperwork. Our Spanish consulate contact did not mention this. It was however “our fault” and he passed long the $135 fed-ex air bill to us — which he collected when he visited the school in Buitrago last month.
Some days, the slow pattern of multiple trips, visits or calls is just about the last straw. Other days, I smile and have a glass of wine before heading off to the next appointment and pretend this is what it must have been like before the internet. Maybe, even before the telephone. And certainly before credit cards!