Al funcionario español

There are probably 3 aspects to my life here in Spain. One is teaching (see previous post). One is traveling (getting to that, I promise). But the third aspect is definitely having to deal with funcionarios, or bureaucrats, here in Spain, and the incessant delays they cause.


This should not be a surprise to anyone. We all know what it is like to have to wait at the DMV (see a few posts ago). But for some reason, I feel like Spain takes this annoyance to all new levels. For example: on Tuesday the 4th, I took the bus into Jerez to go to an orientation for all of us auxiliares, to get information on health insurance, applying for the NIE, etc. Getting to Jerez on the bus was a piece of cake, but when I got off the bus at 8 am, I discovered that the citywide bus system was on strike, and had been for weeks, so that the bus lines were running at about 25% of their normal capacity. I waited rather pointlessly for a bus with another auxiliar, but when 2 more auxiliares showed up to wait after 40 minutes of no buses, we decided to take a cab to the meeting together.


The meeting was at a youth rec center, and after we signed in and picked up our health insurance packets, we all sat down in an auditorium to listen to 2 people welcome us, and then talk at us about the NIE. In our welcome folders there was some information about what documents we needed to bring to the police station, half of which I did not have. For example, I had no rental contract, since my living situation was basically that I moved in and gave cash to my landlady. I also didn’t have any passport photos, or photocopies of the entry stamp into Spain. But from what I had been hearing from most of the other auxiliares, none of that was needed. What wasn’t on the list was the background check and the medical certificate that I had been at such pains to get in the United States.


So during the speech and the question and answer period, the funcionario from the Junta told us which police station we had to go to depending on where we lived. I had been assuming that I would have to go to Cádiz, but the funcionario told me to go to El Puerto de Santa María, although the office was officially in Puerto Real. After a coffee break where I chatted with several other auxiliares, I left the meeting early and walked back to the bus station in Jerez to catch a bus to Puerto Real.


Well, there wasn’t a convenient bus to Puerto Real, so I took the bus to El Puerto de Santa María, and when I got off the bus, I hailed a cab to take me the rest of the way to the Foreigner’s Office in Puerto Real. By this point it was almost 1 pm, which is when the office closes. This was not unexpected, as most things close at 1 or 2 pm. What was unexpected was that the office did not have afternoon hours. What was even more unexpected was that when I managed to ask a funcionario there about the documents I would need, he told me it would be best IF I WENT TO CÁDIZ.


. . .


So I exited the police station and stood waiting in what was my second sketchy neighborhood of the day (the first one being the one I walked through getting from the youth center to the bus station in Jerez). Caught the first bus I could that would take me to Cádiz, and got off in front of the police station there at just before 2. I knew from the Internet that this Foreigner’s Office would be closing at 2, but I hoped that someone would take pity on me. The funcionario there did not disappoint. She took all my documents, looked through them, and told me exactly what more I needed (just one passport photo, photocopies of my visa and entry stamp, a payment form from a bank. No rental agreement, no background check, no medical certificate). However, she told me that most banks would be closed until 5 or so, and that they themselves were closing in about 2 minutes. This office had no afternoon hours either. So back out to the bus stop I trudged.


I get to go back another day, and I have already decided that day will be tomorrow. I will bring all the papers I need, and I will go directly to Cádiz at 8 am. I will get that stupid number. I will then go to the Movistar store and open an account and get my Internet picker-upper. The bus doesn’t go back to Alcalá until 2 pm, so I will most likely go to the beach! And when I return home, no one in town should expect me to do anything except the horrific pile of laundry in the corner of my room, and to be glued to my laptop. Socializing will have to be saved for the outing my colegas and I are having on Saturday.


Here’s to the Spanish funcionario. Making life more complicated, and Internet-less, since October 4th.


Driving to Europe

So here is another thing you don’t think about when you are preparing to leave the country. You realize that you will have to consolidate all of your things and store them at your parents’ house. You will not be renting an apartment anymore, and not paying for electricity and Internet access. You will need new luggage. But somehow, until the reality smacks you in the face one day, you don’t ever think about what to do with your car.


Obviously I cannot drive my car to Spain. And I *thought* I knew what I was going to do with my car: store it in a barn owned by a very generous friend of the family. Until yesterday though I thought that was the end of it.


First problem: my license plates. I didn’t renew them for the upcoming year because I knew I was going to be giving up my apartment, and so I wouldn’t have an address to register them under. Unfortunately, not only do my parents live in a different state, but they want the car to have tags in case they need to drive it. The tags that are on it will expire TOMORROW because I simply didn’t think about this problem until this past weekend.


Second problem: the car title. I bought the car here in my parents’ state, but when I moved, I retitled the car. What I didn’t know (until yesterday) is that our two states differ in their handling of titles that have a lien on them. In my parents’ state, you get the title back with a note on it saying that you don’t fully own the car yet. In my state, the DMV keeps the title until you have paid off the lien. I guess I got busy with life and didn’t really realize that I had no car title, until yesterday when I went through every paper in my filing cabinet and couldn’t find it.


So I can’t retitle my car in my parents’ state because I have no title to surrender to the DMV. I can’t get that title unless I 1) pay off the lien (that will not be possible in the next 3 weeks as I have no income and have not worked since July, and won’t be working again until October), or 2) send a letter to the bank requesting that they release the title to the DMV so that I can change the titling state. I can’t get new tags that are not expired because my car is titled in a state where I have no address. I can’t renew in my state and I can’t switch tags without the title.


Also, I need to call up my insurance company and work out something with my car insurance.


Cars: They require more paperwork than humans!


Yes, that’s right, I got my visa! After all that agonizing over the background check, and the layer of DC grime, I have my passport back in my hands (well, not right now, I’m typing) and the visa firmly glued into the back of it!


It was a slight surprise that I was able to get it because I hadn’t planned on it; I was driving out of town on Tuesday morning and there was a ton of traffic on the Beltway. So I took some improvised detours, like I always used to do when I was living at home and commuting to American University for classes. Once I was in the AU area, I thought, hey, Washington Circle is like right there, I am already an hour behind schedule, I may as well check. I used the one quarter in my purse to get 8 minutes of time on a parking meter, and was in and out of the consulate in less than 5. Success!


It is really starting to hit me that I am leaving the country in a little less than a month. Last night I had my first of what I already know will be several farewell parties. It’s hard to believe I won’t be starting school with these people next week.


I also stopped in at my church so I could give them my tithe (which I had forgotten about until I had already moved back into my parents’ house). The associate pastor told me that was the “most awesome reason ever” to come back and visit. I don’t know what the church situation in Spain is going to be like but I am going to miss those guys.


Coming up: the wonders of packing!

A layer of DC grime

Well this is embarrassing. Over a month since my last post. I do have an excuse for the lack of updates though: absolutely nothing was happening on the Spain front. I still hadn’t received my background check from the FBI. There were no new emails from the Junta or from my school. I really didn’t want to bore the Internet with posts every week basically saying, “So . . . I still have the exact same papers as last time.” Thus passed a very long and very tedious 4 weeks.


Thankfully, that time is through. First of all, I received my background check on Tuesday, July 26. It felt like an anticlimax, since it looked exactly the same as the previous background check I had requested, except that this one came with an ink signature, and a raised seal, as well as a piece of paper explaining how to get an Apostille of the Hague. I was all set to drive up to DC after I finished my class Thursday evening and get downtown as early as possible on Friday morning. Then I did some research and discovered that the consulate of Spain is closed on Fridays. It was slightly frustrating knowing that I would have to wait until Monday (because MONDAY was AUGUST, not July! I would be applying for my visa in AUGUST! Horrors!) but there wasn’t much else I could do.


So on Monday I woke up at 5:30 am. My awesome mom packed me a lunch (I was going to say, aww, just like high school! except I packed my own lunches in high school) and I was on the Beltway at 6:15. After a lot of confusion and some terrible parallel parking, I was standing in line at the Office of Authentications, which is actually not in the State Department building at all. It is up and across the street in a little shopping plaza, next to a sketchy convenience store and a most welcome coffee shop. My number was 12 and I guess it took about an hour to be called and give them my background check. I raced off to feed the meter and then came back to the office to wait. 45 minutes later I had my document back, and a fancy sheet of paper attached to it with the apostille. This was about 9 am, which was great since that is when the consulate opens.


Back to feed the meter again. This is when I realized that I had exactly 2 quarters left, which would be great anywhere but DC, where 1 quarter will get you 7 minutes of meter time. I put in the quarters and hoped for the best, as I turned around to march back up to Washington Circle.


So, DC summers are always hot and muggy, but this one has been especially atrocious. My parents, who as you may have surmised live in the DC area, have been telling me all summer how disgustingly hot it has been, but today I got to experience that for myself. By the time I got to the consulate, I felt like every inch of my body was covered in sweat. I was wearing jeans and they felt like they were shellacked to my skin. Even the AC of the consulate was not helping.


The line at the consulate was much shorter, and since I had made 5 photocopies of every document I had, it took less than 10 minutes at the counter to apply and pay. In 5 weeks I should have my visa, according to the woman who helped me. Cue me racing back to my car, sure that I was going to find a ticket flapping in the breeze. Either the cops were slacking this morning, or I am just lucky, because my meter was expired and there was no ticket. I jumped in the car and drove directly to work.


Today was exam day, so I didn’t have to do any teaching, but I did have to be present. By the time 7 pm rolled around, I was tired, having been up 13.5 hours and taking a long car trip from my parents’ house to my work. I was still sweaty. Also, I was more or less filthy. With nothing else to do while my students took their exams, I examined my fingernails and discovered a thin layer of DC grime stuck to my sweaty skin. I was also facing going back to an apartment that had no furniture, no TV, and very little food.




I have applied for my visa.

Mr. Hague and his Apostle

I am starting to really hate this process. After yet another day of having no background check in my mailbox, I called up the FBI and was told that it is still in processing. It hasn’t been mailed yet! So that means I won’t be getting it by tomorrow, which is the last day I can get it to be able to take it up to DC this weekend and get the apostille.


I had it all planned out too! I was going to get all my documents together, get up super early on Friday, and drive into the state capital to get the state apostille on my letter of good health. Then, onto the Department of State in DC to get the apostille on my background check, with enough time left over to make it to my dentist’s appointment at 2. Then, after a fun-filled weekend, back downtown on Monday to go to the consulate, apply for my visa, and leisurely head home knowing I would have my visa in ridiculously enough time to go to Spain.


Now there is pretty much no way I can apply for my visa this weekend. I am not worried about getting my visa on time. I have been hearing from people who have visa appointments for the first week in August. However. It is not exactly a day trip to go to DC and I have already blown my gas budget for this month with more to be spent this weekend as I’m obviously still going to my dentist’s appointment. Which is why I wanted to combine the two trips in the first place.


I can’t go back next weekend because I will be at a hiking conference. I can’t go the weekend after that because I have guests here at my place. That leaves the weekend of the 16th, and basically means that I will not be in my apartment on the weekends for the entire summer. Or, I could take a middle of the week trip sometime in July. Or, I could apply in August. Despite what others are doing, I am not willing to cut it that close.



No news is no news

I promise I haven’t forgotten about you all, readers of the Internet. I just don’t have anything to report. I am still (still!) waiting for my FBI background check to come back, and I am also still (still!) waiting on my renewed passport to come back.


The summer session for one of my classes is almost over. I am happy about this but as always I wish I had more time with these students. I feel like they are just getting the hang of concepts from weeks 1 and 2, which is normal, but also normal is getting 10 more weeks after this to progress. Instead we will be done by the end of June. I hope I’ve set them off on the right foot.


One of my former students lent me a DVD series by Rick Steves. I had never heard of him before, and he is kind of cheesy, but so far I have watched all the Spain and Portugal shows and everything he mentions, I want to go visit. There are 70 more shows covering the rest of Europe, so I’ll watch those and then I will have no choice but to travel more.


Last time I posted about visiting Monticello, which is up in a mountain-esque area. This past weekend I was at the beach with one of my best friends from college. I learned nothing of import to Spanish, Spain, El Quijote, or Thomas Jefferson, but boy did I get tan.

Alcalá de los Gazules

After a day of panic, and emailing the Junta de Andalucía, and general freaking out, I got my letter in the mail today. It just came in a regular envelope, but instead of a stamp there was a box that said “Franqueo Pagado” and the logo for the Consejería de Educación de Andalucía. I ripped that sucker open before I even got to my front door . . . and my heart fell when I saw the town, because I had never heard of it before: Alcalá de los Gazules, Cádiz.


It seemed like my computer took a million years to start up, and then the modem was acting weird, so I had to reset my connection, and FINALLY when I got to Google Maps I found that although Alcalá de los Gazules was in the province of Cádiz, it was about an hour and a half away from the provincial capital of Cádiz. It was also nowhere near Sevilla, or Granada, or Córdoba, where I really wanted to go. The satellite view was telling me I could fit the town on a postage stamp, and Wikipedia let me know that the population was somewhere around 5000 people.


I won’t lie to you, I was bummed. How was I going to live in a place out in the middle of nowhere? How would my fantasies of late-night tapas and meeting new friends happen in a town smaller than my graduate school? For one wild moment I considered rejecting the placement.


Fortunately, my sense got the better of me. Alcalá de los Gazules is a traditional town, which means most of the original architecture is still intact. It is one of the “pueblos blancos”, or “white towns”, named because of the white facades of the houses. As a matter of fact, a book on Andalucía I read called “White Wall of Spain” referred to these towns. Why would I want to live in a city that would look the same as a city here in America? I might as well not leave home then.


Also, I found several bus lines (well ok, 2. It is a small town!) that go from Alcalá de los Gazules to some surrounding mid-size and big towns, including one about 15 minutes away: Medina-Sidonia, which is twice as big as Alcalá de los Gazules, and another about 30 minutes away: Arcos de la Frontera (6 times bigger).


So now, I am super excited about going to this town! I’ve spent the past hour or two looking up info on the area and I am really eager to get there!


The only thing I worry about is that I have to return this letter accepting my position, and I have to attach a copy of my passport. Except . . . my passport is at the State Department, getting renewed. So I emailed them to see if they could hurry it up a little, because as it stands I will not be getting it back before I have to send this letter. Ah, bureaucracy . . .