Postcard from... Madrid



Compared with UK newsagents, Spain’s equivalent institutions – quioscos, or kiosks –  are radically different. Normally, they are smaller, often just an outdoors booth the size of a large transit van. And they are much more colourful.

This is partly thanks to a very Spanish predilection for coleccionables (collections), sold in instalments, with the start-off point a container of some kind (sometimes, but by no means always, a folder) available at the kiosk on huge slabs of gaudily designed, deliberately oversized, cardboard packaging.

Phase two consists of the buyer making his or her increasingly weary way to the kiosk for weekly units of the coleccionables’ subject matter – which can be, literally, anything. For €1 or so a time, you too can furnish a dolls house, piece by piece, or discover different types of dinosaur. The more adventurous may opt for courses in Spanish mushrooms, or the “universe of thimbles”.  The most popular? English language courses, probably snapped up by Spaniards desperate to emigrate.

Spain’s 28,000-odd kiosks mirror the wider world, too:  in 2009,  a year into the recession, their average income slumped by roughly 40 per cent.

But in what is essentially a one-person business, individual sales pitches are almost de rigueur. A kiosk outside a railway station in Madrid recently provided a prime example: three dozen Japanese DVDs on the pavement, with home-made cardboard sign defiantly announcing: “Akira Kurosawa Festival”.