Unemployment may still be at record levels and the economy in a parlous state, but as I found out this week one Spanish institution – its labyrinthine state bureaucracy – has come through the recession in a state of depressingly robust health.
My mission, at the local government offices, was hardly a major one: I wanted to remove the official “no parking” sign outside our garage door. I ended up talking to three separate civil servants in three offices, filling out a form in triplicate and then, after 40 minutes of wandering around from one part of the building to another, was told to come back in three weeks to do it all over again.
“Removing this sign has to get approval at the next local council meeting,” one of the civil servants gravely told me, as if it would be subject to intense political debate and, who knows, maybe even a vote.
The police get in on the act, too, checking the sign is no longer in place and writing up a report. “They may want to talk to you,” the civil servant warned. “Only take the sign down just before you hand in the application.” When I asked if she meant hours, or days, by that, I got a glazed look: clearly, in post-recession Spain state bureau-crats still don’t do humour, either.