Thursday, June 21, 2012

Testing my patience in Spain

I've ranted blogged before about the inefficiency of many of Spain's public offices, and have stated multiple times that patience is vital when living here in Spain.

I've also probably mentioned that service at a bank, for example, depends on which branch of that bank you're in and who's working that day.  If one BBVA bank tells you no, walk to the next BBVA and they could very well say yes.  If a pharmacy won't sell you a certain medicine without a prescription, keep visiting pharmacies until someone gives you what you're looking for.  You get the idea.

The below was just posted today on the auxiliares' facebook group.  Case in point.

Now I've got another frustrating experience to add to my case.  Yesterday morning I went to the Consejería de Educación at Gran Vía, 20. The plan was to go to the fourth floor and talk with Irene, the woman in charge of the auxiliares program.  I wanted to give her my renewal documents and see if there was any way I could still renew my position for next year - even though the deadline for renewing was in March.

I suppose I should interrupt my story here and explain why I was trying to renew.  Firstly, I didn't renew back in March because I didn't want to renew in March.  For at least the last month or so (probably more), I've been going back and forth between various options for the fall.  One day I'll be certain I want to stay in Madrid, then the next day I'm just as certain that I want to go back to Madison for a while.  Other possibilities have included getting a Master's degree here in Madrid, HelpXing around Europe until I run out of money, being an au pair either in Spain or France, getting a job elsewhere in the states, etc. etc.  I haven't written about any of these ideas because I change my mind so often.  Nothing is set in stone, so why worry anyone while I'm still so undecided?

Anyway, I've been getting overwhelmed with all of my options, and a friend recently suggested the obvious: Instead of just deciding, try to eliminate as many options as you can.  I thought I should go to the auxiliares office to see if they would even consider letting me renew my position for another year.  And if not, no harm done -- I'd have just eliminated an option, which is actually progress in my eyes.  When one of the English teachers at my Tues/Weds school this week also suggested I go to Gran Vía, 20 to attempt to renew, I made up my mind that I'd actually go.

Why was I a bit scared to go to this office?  I don't like getting yelled at.  It's not a secret.  I've had friends tell me that the friendliness / customer service in the office is not the greatest.  Also, I should have renewed back in March had I wanted to.  It's nearing the end of June and they program has already sent out school assignments to next year's auxiliares.  Why wouldn't they be harsh with me?  I was expecting the worst.

Since my Tues/Weds had somehow got me to agree to coming in on Friday morning instead of Wednesday this week, I had yesterday completely free.  So I printed out the paperwork needed to renew and metro'd down to Gran Vía.  On the way I realize that I had accidentally left my phone at home that morning.  No big deal, I just won't know the exact time.  I reach number 20 and see the bright yellow gobierno de España sign for the Ministry of Education, Culture, and something else.  I walk in the front door, and there's a woman security guard, a metal detector and a conveyor belt to put your stuff through.  The woman security guard asked what I was looking for.

I told her I needed to go to the fourth floor to talk to the auxiliares de conversación staff.  Then she asked why, did I have some documents to give them?  Well yes, that too, but I needed to talk with them.  She told me I was at the wrong entrance, that I needed to leave the building, go to the corner, and take the next two rights to go in the back entrance.  I was skeptical, since all year I've seen auxiliares repeatedly write on the facebook group wall, "Go talk to Irene at Gran Vía 20, fourth floor".  So I double checked, "And from the other entrance I can go to the fourth floor?" Yes.

Ok.  I said thank you and made my way around the block to the back entrance, but thinking the whole time that this had to be wrong.  At the back entrance I saw the same yellow sign, but it was obviously a different address (aka not Gran Vía, 20).  The first thing I see when I walk in are two security guards with their backs to me, talking with a woman sitting at the front desk.  There was another conveyor belt to scan bags and a metal detector to walk through, so I waited until the woman saw me, then nudged the security guards to let me through.

I made it through security just fine, then I scanned around for some stairs.  I walked in to the right and there was a huge waiting room with people seated in the middle and desks along the wall.  There must have been a place somewhere to pull a number, because there were screens on the wall showing which desk to go to when your number was finally up.  Many of the desks were empty.

I didn't see any stairs, so I went back the way I'd come in because it had looked like if I would have gone straight past the front desk lady, those might have been stairs back there.  When I went back to take a look, the woman asked me what I was looking for.  I said the stairs, but right as I said so I saw elevators.  "Oh, I found the elevators," I said.  "No, you can't just go up! Who are you here to see?" the woman asked me.  "I need to talk with someone from the staff of the auxiliares de conversación program.  They're on the fourth floor of Gran Vía 20, but the security guard over there told me to come here."

"No, I need a name," front desk lady said.  "Irene..." shoot, I didn't know her last name.  The woman in charge of auxiliares!  There's only one.  "Go to information and find out, and then come back here," she said.  Ok, information.  I saw an information arrow pointing in the direction of that big waiting room, so I walked back in and looked around.  I was looking for a single information desk.  Then I started to realize that this whole room was "information," and I'd need to pick a number and wait.

And then I saw a row of computers along one wall.  I walked over and logged into my email account to find out this Irene's last name.  I found it, wrote it down on a piece of paper, and wrote down the only other name I've ever seen on an email from the program.

(Another side-story here: Yes, the auxiliares program lacks organization.  The other thing I don't like about it is that communication with the people in charge of the program is all virtual.  I think we may have seen Irene once at the first orientation, but I have no idea what she looks like, or a good way to contact her.  Every now and then we receive an email from the program, but most are sent to us by a generic "" email, and they're signed "PROGRAMA DE AUXILIARES DE CONVERSACIÓN," followed by two lovely lines in red: "POR FAVOR NO RESPONDA A ESTA MENSAJE.  PLEASE, DO NOT ANSWER THIS EMAIL."  Alright, if we can't respond to this email, to whom do we ask questions?  Which is why people are constantly flooding the facebook group with program questions.)

Anyway, so I find the two names of the people in charge of the program and write them down.  I return to the front desk lady and hand her Irene's name.  She types it in her computer and makes a face.  Who is this? (It's a weird last name).  "Here, tell me how to say this," she says, as she hands the slip of paper to one of her security guard pals who is now involved in my issue.  He tries to pronunce it, but it's a really weird name.  Meanwhile I'm thinking why does she have to pronunce it, can't she just type it in and search?

Then I tell her, "Or you can look up the other name too," as I show the security guy that there's another name on the other side of my piece of paper.  This name is a lot more Spanish.  So she types in that name and the computer doesn't come up with anything, so she asks me, "Who gave you these names?  You got these names in information?"

Unable to lie I just explain, "Oh, I saw the computers in the other room so I looked up the names on my email" (Because those were the people I needed to speak with.  And I found the names on my own quickly and efficiently.)  She rolls her eyes and cuts me off, "Just go to information.  Like I already told you to do."  Then she complains to her security guard pal, "Psh she doesn't even listen to me..."

So this front desk lady is peeved at me.  I'm peeved at her, and the other people I've already talked with because I'm fairly certain this is not where I'm supposed to be.  Everyone else who's gone has said Gran Vía 20, fourth floor.  Why was I having so much trouble getting there?

But I decided to humor the lady, so I grab a number and sit down to wait.  I know this is a ridiculous waste of time, so my frustration is peaking by now.  I wait and wait.  Finally my number is called.  I go to the numbered desk and start explaining myself from point zero:

I want to speak with this woman (show him Irene's full name) from the auxiliares de conversación program.  Her office is on the fourth floor of Gran Vía 20 (not this building).  When I tried to enter on the other side, the security guard sent me here.  And the front office lady sent me to information.  And here I am.

Luckily, this funcionario was actually nice and treated me like a real person.  He asked if I needed to see the Consejería of Education or the Ministerio of Education.  I have no idea what the difference is between these two entities, but all of my paperwork says "Consejería de Educación," so I told him that.  He said the building we were in was for the Ministry of Education, not the Consejería.

He googled Irene's name and showed me what came up.  (Um yeah, I already know she works for the auxiliares program).  He was trying to find her office.  I told him it's on the fourth floor in Gran Vía 20! Arg.  I don't remember what he said after he googled her name, but I said I would try at Gran Vía 20 again.

So I leave, not saying anything to front desk lady when I pass on my way out.  I'm still mad at her.

By now I figure that Irene and whoever else works up in the office will probably be at lunch.  But I walk back to Gran Vía 20.  The woman security guard is no longer standing in the doorway, so I walk in.  A man security guard asks me what I'm looking for.  I hold out my piece of paper with Irene's full name and say I need to speak with her.  She's up on the fourth floor.

The guy says, "I know, I remember."  And then I recognize him as the front desk lady's security guard pal from the other entrance around the block.

"She doesn't work here," he tells me.  "No?!" I ask, not believing him at all.  "No," he says, shaking his head, looking at me like I'm an idiot.  "Maybe she's on Paseo del Prado street, number 28," he tells me.   "Really, Pasdo del Prado?" I ask again.  "Yeah, try there."

Uggg.  He was not going to let me in.  In hindsight, I probably should have tried to convince him again I was right or something, but by that point I'd had enough.  I was sick of going on some wild goose chase through Madrid's public governmental offices.  What a nightmare.  I couldn't believe that so many other auxiliares had come here and gone up to talk with Irene, yet after an hour I hadn't even made it through security of Gran Vía 20.  I'd wasted enough time.  So I said ok, left the front door, and headed straight to the metro to come home.

Hannah and Gregorio both offered to go back with me today, but I'm done with that office.  I'm taking it as an omen (I just finished reading The Alchemist, so omens are on my mind); I'm not supposed to renew auxiliares for another year.  And so I continue eliminating options...

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