Tell Her I Love Her
April 27, 2006
We'd been debating for weeks between "Julia", "Laura", and "Marta". The big day arrived on Tuesday 25th April, and here is my daughter at about 2 hours old, looking like a hairier Churchill during one of his famous naps. Yesterday I filled out the form to get her name (and existence) registered (this can't be done in Spain until 24 hours have passed following the birth, a law which harks back to the time when sadly, fewer babies than now made it past the 24hr mark), and this morning I sat for two hours in a waiting room with the form in my hand. So born on Tuesday, she doesn't start legally to exist until Thursday. I entered the office, handed over the form. "Everything seems to be fine here," the woman said. "But there is just one thing missing, and it's rather important...what's it to be?" I took a deep breath. "Laura," I said, and, sleeping in a clinic on the other side of Madrid, she suddenly became a part of everything.
They Don't Make it Easy For You to Give Them Your Money
June 29, 2005
"The bird always knows which branch will bear its weight."
A couple of weeks ago, it was time to pay our annual taxes. This involved driving for half an hour to an office which is not an actual tax office, just a temporary one. There was no physical sign indicating this, so after worrying that we were in the wrong place entirely, stranded in a Madrid suburb, we had to ask an old man on the street if he thought they were doing tax returns inside, and he thought they were and he was right. After entering just in time for our 9.30 appointment we finally got to see the woman at 10.15 and went through every detail of our financial year, which involved buying and selling a house. However, we had forgotten the piece of paper which confirmed that we had paid off our old house, which we needed, and also a piece of paper from 1999. The end result was that we owed the Spanish government $2400, which we didn't understand since our earnings are precisely the same as last year.
We left without filing our tax return. Now my job was to find the missing document so that my wife could do the tax return in the afternoon instead. Back home again, after another 30 minutes drive through slow traffic, I phoned my bank, but the line was busy. I found an alternative number and dialled it, where someone told me she'd prepare the documents sometime this morning. I waited about half an hour and then thought I'd phone again to see how it was going, knowing in my heart that it wasn't going at all. And indeed it wasn't. The woman told me that the subdirector of the bank had better deal with the problem after all, not her, but that he had left a note on the subdirector's desk and the subdirector would call me back. This particular subdirector, however, has never been known to phone me back in 3 years.
I asked what time the bank closed, got in the car - another 30 minutes - and got there just before 2, when the bank closes for the rest of the day, which is handy when both partners work. The subdirector's first words to me - after a 10 minute wait to see her - were "We already sent the document to you, you know". "No you didn't," I explained. "You sent the documents for 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, but not for 2004, which is the one I need to file my tax return for 2004. Oh, and hello." That put her in a bad mood. Eventually I got my hands on the document and faxed it to my wife, so she could try to do our tax return again in the afternoon. But she didn't - we were fairly sure the woman who "helped" us do it had made a mistake: I couldn't owe them $2400 this year when I only owed them $60 last year.
Anyway, after all that (and this is where it gets serious) it transpires that I don't owe them $2400 after all - in fact they owe me $800 (we got an expert on the case). This despite it being a person who works for the Spanish income revenue system who assured us that we did owe them $2400. If I knew her name, it would be all over this post. I feel bad for the people - the elderly, the inexperienced, those who need every cent - who have paid out unquestioningly. The state creates obstacles, not help. What can I do? Nothing that would make the slightest difference. Because the help the tax office gives is given as that, not as an obligation, so in the same way you can't sue someone who gives you bad advice, you can't sue them, even when they leave you $2400 out of pocket. They were just trying to be helpful. Bureaucrimocracy, let's call it.