Journalist and broadcaster Jack Troughton plays ‘Johnny Foreigner’ and casts an eye over Spain and focuses on stories that serve as a gentle reminder he remains an Englishman abroad.
At the time of writing this the stockings have been hung over the fireplace and cross-fingers, sometime between Christmas Eve and the visit of the Three Kings (don’t you just love an extended festive period) someone will pack ‘em full of goodies.
Christmas is here, peace on earth and goodwill to all men. A good old ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and a time to reread the classic Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ or rerun ‘Scrooge’ if it’s easier to take in a musical.
Spain sometimes suffers a bad reputation for excessive bureaucracy; however, as an ever optimistic follower of Christmastide and a keen fan of Father Christmas, Santa Claus, and Papa Noel – so many names for a Number One guy – in the Troughton family, we always hope that in December that red tape is something wrapped around mysterious parcels.
Sadly, the deep midwinter of 2017 is more likely to mean a serious BIG CHILL. Unless there is a miracle, those same stockings on the mantelpiece are more likely just to contain a tangerine and a handful of nuts (kids, you may have to seek parental advice at this point!).
There now follows a festive message that does not feature HM Queen Elizabeth and a cute Christmas tree background. It does have an ‘elf’ warning and a Grinch...in this case, the Spanish authorities; forgive me, because it is also a rather personal winter’s tale.
The Costa Blanca has been home for 13 years – and 2017 is the 13th Christmas celebration. However, there’s the rub. Something has gone awry this year. The family parcel from New Zealand, gifts for four adults and a dog (he likes venison chews) has yet to touchdown on the Costa.
But it has arrived in Spain. Oh yes, it is on Spanish soil; in the capital and at the airport. It is in the icy mitts of the authorities.
The warning was a letter, featuring the word ‘Correos’ as a letterhead, so the first port of call was the local post office, hoping to pick up the seasonal pressies – the form had ‘tick boxes’ so ‘gift’ was an easy one to agree with.
Contents and value were hard to describe; it should be written on the outside in a declaration – and the cliff edge came when a helpful member of staff explained the parcel was in Madrid and the Grinch required information. No one, it seems, messes with the authorities and words like ‘tax’ and ‘duty’ were bandied about.
A ‘phone call to NZ took place – apparently the Spanish government hates surprises – and a list of values, contents and even makes and labels was drawn up and entered onto a special website...even though it should be on the parcel (can’t guarantee this, it remains unseen, but the New Zealand post office insists on the paperwork).
There was one difficulty in trying to comply. The website did not accept an entry for NZ dollars (it does now, possibly the only victory in this mess) and so notes were added: Christmas gifts for said adults and a dog and the real currency.
A form duly arrived. A ransom demand: pay €194.08 for goodies worth, in Spain’s eyes, more than €420. In fact the shirt, dress, t-shirts, chocolates (exported from Europe) and bits and pieces are valued at about €200.
Using fingers and toes, this means Spain wants to charge, give or take, 100% in various taxes for something that contains personal gifts. When a similar parcel arrived 12 months ago – at the doorstep – our host government wanted in the region of €38 in duty.
Naturally, there has been more correspondence, even an apology for not having a NZ dollar key. The necessary to ensure delivery has even been reduced to €134.52. But it is still a very sizeable hit; the value of the contents has not changed....still about €200.
The situation has baffled friends who have lived here for centuries; accountants and solicitors seem unable to explain a very basic question ‘why?’ Hopefully there will be update for Female Focus ahead of Christmas 2018; perhaps in time for the next issue.
The stockings are still on the mantelpiece. The presents are still in Madrid. As the legendary ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ appears over the horizon, your humble correspondent can’t help but name two reindeer through gritted teeth....Donner and Blitzen! Happy New Year...hope you all enjoyed a good one.