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A Thin Line Between Cultural Norms and Complete Incompetence

Lights outPrepare yourself for a dramatization of a dumbfounding event that occurred at Catavino Headquarters last Thursday morning.

Scene 1: The Mystery

The scene opens with me sitting down at my computer with a steaming hot cup of coffee. While scrolling through the news of the day, which included the ongoing trucker’s strike, my computer screen goes blank, my printer light dims to black and my lamp shutters before vanishing into the morning light. Shocked, I started flipping all the light switches on and off in the house, hoping that it was simply a blown fuse in the office. It wasn’t. My entire house was without power, while the rest of the building continued chugging along heard by the elevator making its rounds from floor to floor. Clearly, only our apartment was the only one affected.

Realizing that I needed to call our electrical company, I fingered through my files to find my electricity bill, which typically lists a customer service number here in Spain. What it didn’t do, however, was tell me what the difference was between the two numbers listed. Playing inni minni mini mo, I chose the bigger of the two and dialed their number.

Endesa (Electricity Company): Hello, this is Maria. How can I help you today?
Gabriella: Hey Maria, my power just went out. Can you please help me?

Endesa: Sure. Do your neighbors have power?
Gabriella: Don’t have a clue, but the elevator and communal hallway have electricity.

Endesa: Well then it sounds like you need a private electrician. We can send someone over, but it will run you 70 euros that you’ll need to pay in cash when they arrive.
Gabriella: Ahhh, well, when we pay you every month, don’t we pay for this service too, considering that you’re the only major provider for electricity in Spain?

Endesa: No.We only handle issues that lie outside of your house, not the electrical issues that occur inside your house.
Gabriella: I see. I’ll get back to you.

Scene 2: The Big Confusion

Totally lost, I phoned my Catalan landlord for guidance. She suggested that maybe, just maybe, I hadn’t payed my bill. Assuring her that I had, I hung up the phone and dialed the second of the two numbers provided by Endesa, hoping to ease my electricity woes with an admission by Endesa that there was a fatal error on their part with my account, and while taking full culpability, all would be remedied within the hour.

Clearly, I was completely delusional.

Endesa: Hello, this is Pilar. How can I help you today?
Gabriella: Hey Pilar, I see there is another telephone number on my invoice for you guys. What is this number for exactly?

Endesa: This number is to check issues with your account.
Gabriella: Great! My power just went out, and I’ve been told by someone at your company that we need a private electrician, but she didn’t say anything about if everything is okay with my account. Can you please check?

Endesa: No, it’s not. Your power was turned off because you didn’t pay your bill for 73 euros from November of 2007.

(incredibly long pause)

Gabriella: Pilar, it’s June of 2008. Why are you turning off my power for an issue that happened 8 months ago? Why didn’t you contact me in, let’s say… in December?
Endesa: We sent you a certified letter by mail which was signed by someone in your home.

Gabriella: By whom? My cat?
Endesa: I don’t know. You have to check the post office. They know.

Gabriella: Even if you sent me a card by mail, for which I clearly didn’t receive, wouldn’t you call me first before taking away my power?

Endesa: Obviously not.
Gabriella: But Pilar, you take money out of our account ever single month for our utilities. So why didn’t you take money out of our account for last November?

Endesa: If there is an issue with your account, you must remedy it either by person or by phone, but we don’t take the money out of your account.
Gabriella: No, you just cut off my power!

Endesa: We did warn you, but if you want to remedy the situation now, you can pay me by visa and we’ll turn your power back on.

Scene 3: Full on Naiveté

Having begrudgingly paid her 70 some odd euros with gritted teeth and clenched fists, I accepted our defeat. But as minutes crawled at snail’s pace into an hour, my rage reignited, realizing that this issue wasn’t going to be resolved in a day. This, like all bureaucracy in Spain, would take the majority of my time, patience and attention.

Endesa: Hello, this is Maria Jose. How can I help you?
Gabriella: Hello Maria Jose. It’s been an hour and I still don’t have power. Can you please help me?

Endesa: I see that you just paid an overdue bill by visa. Technically, we have 24 hours before we turn it back on.
Gabriella: What!? Wait…I can’t wait 24 hours.

Endesa: Sorry, that’s our policy. You just need to wait like everyone else.

Scene 4: The Bullshit of Bureaucracy

Accepting the fact that an online wine marketer’s worst nightmare had come true, I packed up my backpack and trucked 25 minutes by foot to the nearest hell hole of an internet cafe with food encrusted keyboards and antiquated software like IE 6. As day ebbed to night, Ryan and I entered our pitch black apartment to four glowing eyes looking eagerly at us for food. Using the dim orange light from the street, we stepped on cat tails and stubbed toes until we uncovered our first candle. Smiling at each other from our feeble success, we continued our hunt to eventually uncover a half dozen more candles, which we scattered across the kitchen while preparing our steak and potato omelets over a much-appreciated gas stove. Let it be known that chopping potatoes under the candlelight is not only dangerous but completely stupid, as you cannot see if what your cutting is actually a potato or your finger.

Our bellies full, and our house filled with odd aromas of chocolate and lavender from our scented candles, we turned in for the night, confident that tomorrow our electricity would be fully restored and our lives would return back to normal.

Stupid wine blogger…

Endesa: Hello, this is Beatriz. How can I help you?
Gabriella: Hey Beatriz, it’s been 24 hours and we still don’t have power.

Endesa: Oh, well technically, we have 48 hours before we have turn on your electricity.
Gabriella: WHAT!!! I was told that it only takes 24 hours.

Endesa: Whoever told you that was incorrect. We have 48 hours.
Gabriella: I can’t wait 48 hours.

Endesa: Where are you located?
Gabriella: Terrassa

Endesa: One moment

5 minutes pass costing me 1.8 euros a minute

Endesa: It appears that the technicians in Terrassa are quite busy are not answering their phones. So you can go to their office located on the north end of Terrassa.

Gabriella: Um, let me get this straight. You cut off my electricity without warning me. Then you tell me that I have 24 hours before I get my electricity back, which was suddenly changed to 48 hours. Now, you tell me that I have to physically walk to the opposite end of the city to tell the electricians to come to my house to switch my electricity on!?

Endesa: Yes. Or, you can call this number. They never answer, but you can try.

Scene 5: The Grand Finale

Looking to Ryan with tears in my eyes of frustration, I was wondering how long I could go without downing a few aspirin to ease my throbbing headache. Should we dial, knowing full well that no one will answer, or just suck it up, pack a frisbee and spend the day in the park hoping for the best when we got home? Sighing, I literally crossed my fingers and dialed the number. On the third ring, to my complete astonishment, I was met with a human voice.

Global Electricity: Buenas Dias. This is Jose Manuel of Global Electricity. How can I help you?
Gabriella: Hello. Do you work for Endesa?

Global Electricity: The better question is, who doesn’t do work for them?
Gabriella: Listen, I don’t have power, and they told me to call you.

Global Electricity: Do you have the order number?
Gabriella: No.

Global Electricity: Then I can’t help you.
Gabriella: But I was told to call you. Please help me!

Global Electricity: You need the order number located on the piece of paper.
Gabriella: I don’t have a piece of paper!! All I have is your number and no electricity. Can you please help me?

Global Electricity: Is this a result of an overdue bill?
Gabriella: Yes, and I paid by visa.

Global Electricity: Did you pay over the phone?
Gabriella: Yes!!!

Global Electricity: Oh, well that’s different. So where do you live?
Gabriella: Rambla Sant Nebridi

Global Electricity:Ah, we didn’t get an order to fix your electricity. So we assumed you have it.
Gabriella: Obviously, that would be wrong.

Global Electricity: So you want us to come fix it?
Gabriella: …………………

Global Electricity: Got it. We’ll be there shortly.

For me, this is a pure testament as to how much persistence, patience and pure, unadulterated passion one needs to actually manage and run a successful wine business in Spain. The long lines, forests of paperwork and ridiculous number of hoops you need to jump through is astonishing, and I’m constantly bewildered how Spaniards can not only keep their cool under such frustrating conditions, but make such amazing wine. What’s your secret? What keeps you Zen in moments of total and complete chaos and confusion with Spanish bureaucracy?



Photo by Nicola Fioravanti on Unsplash

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