Queuing up for bread, stamps and tobacco

Improvised food bank in Valencia

The decline of a nation never happens suddenly. It’s a very long, slow process and therefore more difficult to notice. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t equally painful to watch.

This morning I went to my bank again to find out how to avoid that in about two weeks they freeze my account if I don’t show evidence of how I support myself while living temporarily in Spain.

They really made this threat in an email that I received on Wednesday! While this dubious measure wasn’t ordered by the almighty Spanish tax agency, for me it’s another proof of the rampant arbitrariness in a country that is fast becoming a police state.

Just like yesterday, my so-called personal advisor wasn’t available. Still, I got kind of lucky that the middle-aged lady in charge also turned out to be nice. She tried to comfort me by saying that I shouldn’t take it personally and that a lot of clients had been targeted that way. What a relief!

When I left the branch I noticed that right next to its windows there were two dirty mattresses on the floor, obviously the improvised bedroom of homeless persons. In the park across the street a few benches have also been occupied…

Already on the street, I spontaneously I decided to buy a loaf of the bread that a Ukrainian acquaintance had recently recommended me. To my big surprise, when I arrived at the bakery there were eight people queuing up. It’s not fair, but my first and somehow understandable reaction was to shout out lout: “Like in Venezuela”!

I went to another one nearby where I wouldn’t have to wait in line and the female owner told me this was only due to the special anti-pandemic regulations. Nevertheless, this argument didn’t convince me.

Every evening when I pass by the post office that’s just five minutes away from my building there are at least half a dozen customers standing in line outside. I find such inefficiency shocking and very representative for the waning service industry, which was never great in the first place.

If I want to buy some small cigars, I need to be prepared to queue up, especially during the weekends and the supply of my favorite brand is a matter of luck. It has been sold out for days in the past.

I have experienced around 15 unannounced power cuts in the last two and a half years and recently the quality of the telephone network coverage has been declining fast. Sometimes I suddenly get cut off and have to call again!

Though what reminded me the most of the various Communist countries that I visited in my youth was a bizarre experience I had at the barber shop suggested by the friend of mine who went with me.

When I told the friendly guy whose parents are from the Middle East and Europe that I had lived in Asia for almost 20 years, he asked if I had US dollars to exchange into euros as somebody wanted to go abroad!

His words brought back memories from Budapest, Moscow and Prague in the 1980s, where the locals where desperate to get foreign currency by any means. Total strangers would discretely approach Western tourists for that purpose.

The current leftist coalition government in Madrid, which relies heavily on radical Basque and Catalonian Separatists, has already turned Spain into a second Argentina. When will the Venezuelan phase begin?


  1. I would kindly disagree. Decline is frequently something which arrives all of a sudden (the fall of the USSR -or its creation- is a good example, but in Spain you have such examples in 711, or in 1808). What is difficult, long and never-ending is restauration: Russia will need quite a long time to rebuild after the USSR fell apart, and Spain needed a number of centuries to recover from 711 (and is still recovering from 1808; actually it is getting worse and worse).

    • Well, the decline of Czarist Russia and the USSR was long and obvious before both entities disappeared all of a sudden, much faster than most people had expected. So in a sense we are both right.
      In the case of Spain, I didn’t mention the broader political implications, which would be worth more articles. Even a year ago I totally rejected the idea that this country might fall apart anytime soon, but considering the latest developments I’m not so sure anymore.


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