Culture Shock

Helping out the street sellers in Spain!

I’m guessing people have been selling stuff on the streets in Spain ever since they invented the peseta. I’m not a massive fan of actually buying stuff from street sellers in Sevilla because necklaces, handbags, and scarves just ain’t my thing.

street seller in spain
Paco Vender, the first street seller in Spain. Photo by dreabjb

Saying that, I was impressed when I read this article on El Pais in English about how Barcelona street vendours are living less in fear from the police. It states that in Barcelona the City Hall seem to be helping the street sellers to gain work visas, give them training, and provide them with grants.

I think it’s great that people in charge in Barcelona are slightly more open-minded than ones down in the South of Spain. It’s good to see the government helping immigrants to make some hard earned cash while they provide a service for the public. I can never imagine that happening down in Andalucía.

I find it quite entertaining to watch the street sellers in action in Seville, especially down the Avenida Constitucíon, Sierpes or around Nervion Plaza. They often set up their products for sale over blankets on the floor, so they can snap them up and leg it when the police are close. They signal to each other by whistling, then wrap up their stock and scarper up the road; normally hiding in shop doorways or round the back-streets.

It might seem sad, but most of the time they are laughing as they play hide and seek. I guess they see it as a type of game, albeit a dangerous one. On a few occasions I’ve actually warned them that the cops are close to help them out. I’ve never seen the sellers get caught though. The police must know they are there, but are probably too lazy to do anything about it, can’t be bothered with all the paperwork involved, or fancy getting a new handbag.

You can also catch some guys selling packets of Kleenex at the traffic lights. It always baffles me how they make any money and how they survive, but I guess they earn more than they do in their own country.

The most famous street seller in Seville has to be Howard Jackson, the guy who sells packets of Kleenex by the traffic lights in front of Plaza de Armas. I used to live by that area and everyday I’d see him in a different outfit, normally of the female type, strutting his stuff, joking about and selling tissues.

A couple of times I also saw him pissed out of his head; dancing about to music and having a laugh. Good on him. The guy has had it hard, after losing his family in a war in Liberia, he battled hard to get to Spain and is now studying law.

I wonder just how many of the street sellers in Spain have a similar story.

What do you think of the street sellers where you live in Spain? Are they more integrated or constantly being hunted by the police? What do you think can be done about it?

Culture Shock

El enchufe in Spain, is it wrong?

enchufe-in-spain
Enchufe in Spain…it’s who you know…Photo by Daquella Manera

If you’re not familiar with the term, enchufe, then here’s a definition: the influence or recommendation of someone to get a job, or similar benefit, without the qualifications or merit. It other words, getting work or something of use because of who you know, not what you’ve done.

I’ll give you an example. Imagine the Head of a school has 14 brothers and sisters. Now imagine that all of those brothers and sisters were teachers, and just by chance, they all happened to work for same Head because they got them the job, well, that would be a massive enchufe.

After reading an article this week on El Pais English, titled The Dirty Business of nepotism at Seville University, I wasn’t shocked. After checking what nepotism meant in the dictionary (favouritism to family), I read that Maria Luisa Diaz, a cleaning supervisor, gave 22 cleaning jobs to family and friends. This includes close family, in-laws, neighbours, and it’s even been reported that she gets her dog to run errands for her around the premises.

Does it really matter if the boss of a cleaning company has helped out her relatives? I guess not. What’s wrong in helping people you know? After all, she must have trusted them, and what’s more important than trust in the workplace?

The whole enchufe business is ripe in Seville, and I think Andalucía, but I can’t honestly comment about the rest of Spain (maybe you could below). It’s a phrase I learnt early on. I remember a comment from a student in a business class as we were talking about work ethics. Three of the employees were cousins, and their uncle was the boss.

‘I had to work my balls off to get this job. I had to do oposiciones, which took nearly 3 years of study, but these guys got in by a big fat enchufe.” I had to laugh as the cousins shrugged.

I guess really it comes down to who you know, not what you know, but isn’t that the same in any industry around the world? If you get on with people, then they’ll be more likely help you out.

I think the main issue is that there are loads of enchufes in politics, but there’s no surprise there.

If I could get my nephew a job in the future in the school where I work then I would. If I have some writing contacts in the publishing industry and my daughter decides to become a writer, then I’ll help her out, why wouldn’t I?

The problems come into play when other people miss out. Going back to schools. The system to become a primary and secondary school is extremely complicated. Basically you have to get a degree in teaching, then pass exams and fall in the top 10% before you are given a slight chance of a job, and even then it might not be in the same city, or even region. So, if a director of a school sorted out their relatives a job, but they hadn’t done the necessary exams, then I guess that is unfair as they have done over the ‘system.’

Personally, I’ve only ever benefitted from an enchufe once, and it wasn’t related to work. A student’s father is a lawyer, and helped me with some major issues when buying my property. If he hadn’t been around when we were closing the deal, then we could have lost a lot of money. I offered to pay him, but he wouldn’t accept, so I bought him a lovely bottle of red instead. Can that be considered as an enchufe too? If so, then what’s the problem? People help each other, you look after your own, and so I don’t see the problem.

My wife, however, did get a massive enchufe when she got a job working for Iberia. There were loads of brothers and sisters and cousins working there, but we didn’t complain.

Maybe you know of more incidents of the enchufe? Have you suffered because of it? Leave a comment below.