The story of how I quit my job and went to play in Madrid

Our apartment and the Spanish bureaucracy, or How to turn the lights on in Spain

Obviously, we knew that things aren’t the same in Spain. We were prepared with our patience and open minds. However, we never imagined things would be this ridiculous. 

You may remember that I mentioned I thought we were going to be in our apartment last Thursday. Well, it’s now Tuesday afternoon, and we are not there just yet. Currently, we are staying in a little studio in the building next to our real apartment.  The problem, it seems, is that no one can turn on the lights.  

Let me explain.  Here’s the rundown of what has happened to us in the past 8 days regarding our apartment and the Spanish bureaucracy. I’m sure it will make a fun story someday…

1) Step one. Open a bank account. Sounds straightforward, but it took about 2 days, 3 trips to 2 different banks, and we still have yet to figure out how to get money in the damn account.

2) Prove to the leasing company that we have a bank account. We can’t prove this to them until the bank has the leasing company’s bank account information. The leasing company won’t give us their bank account information until we have an account. We can’t give them our account information until we get theirs. Spanish circular logic #1.

3) Two days later, pick up the paper that says we have the correct amount in the bank. This must be notarized before taking it to the leasing company to sign the lease. 

4) Arrive at the notary all the way downtown, and realize that a notary is a BIG DEAL in Spain. We are severely underdressed and uncomfortable in the office that looks like a big-time lawyer’s office in La Jolla or something.  A woman reads the lease out loud in Spanish for Margaux and I. Luckily/unfortunately, neither of us are very fluent in Spanish legalese, and we just sign everything she points to.  (To all my former students, never sign anything you don’t understand.) Then an old guy comes in and asks us if we understand everything. We say yes. Then he signs all the papers.

5) We take all these papers to the leasing company, where we sign some more stuff. The landlord (?)  some lady comes to sit next to us and nods when we look confused.  We go to another desk in the office and pay the deposit, the aval (which is a whole different headache) and some more fees. Then the landlord lady asks Margaux’s boss, who has been driving us around the whole time, if she can get a ride back to the apartment.

6) Before finally getting the keys to the apartment, we have to go to this tiny cigarette store to buy some stamps for the official lease. I asked if we have to mail something, and the landlord lady says no. We just have to buy $50 worth of stamps to put on the paper so it’s official. (Despite having notarized a million things just 3 hours earlier.)

7) We take our stamped, signed, notarized copy of the leasing papers to the manager’s office at the apartment complex. After this whole long day, we couldn’t wait to get into the apartment.

8) The Manager Miguel informs us that, yes, we can have the keys. There is only one small problem: the electricity is not on in our apartment. We said, uh, so what, go turn on the lights. The landlord lady says, well, I’m glad you got the keys, and bounces out. The Manager Miguel calls the electricity company, let’s call them SDG&E, and they say they will call right back so we can verbally sign the contract. Since we don’t have cell phones yet, we wait in the tiny hot office for SDG&E to return our call.  We wait. And wait. And wait.  2 hours go by and SDG&E hasn’t called back. Now it’s time for Manager Miguel to go home. And SDG&E is closed. So no lights today. 

9) Since we had already checked out of the hotel, we explained to Manager Miguel we can’t really afford more nights in a hotel, since we are already paying rent at the apartment, what should we do?  He says, well, you can go in there and it will be ok, you just won’t have hot water, or lights, or a fridge or stove.  I almost lost it right then. It had taken us 5 agonizing days to get the keys in our hand, the end was so close, but this???

10) Manager Miguel feels bad, guilty, human and lets us stay in a little studio that is conveniently furnished and has electricity.  We feel lucky, disappointed and frustrated. It’s especially awesome because the studio is equipped with a twin bed and a shower smaller than a phone booth. We take heart in the fact that we know we should be grateful to have anything at all 

11) Now it’s Friday and Margaux’s boss lends us a phone so SDG&E can call us directly instead of having to wait in Manager Miguel’s office for the call. So early the next morning, I get my best Spanish ready and call to get the lights turned on. An hour later, I had been hung up on 2 times, on hold for a reaaaalllly long time, and chastised for not understanding Spanish enough. Finally, the mean lady on the other end of the line says, “Quieres hablar en ingles?” “SI!!!!” So then I get transferred, on hold, and finally someone says, how can I help you?  I explain, and then she says, oh vale, all you need is the confirmation number listed on your boletin. I ask, what is that? She says, well, if you don’t have it, you have to get it from an electrician. 

12) Manager Miguel gets another visit. I need a boletin, please, I told him. Long story short, Manager Miguel calls SDG&E for us. He spends 2 hours saying bad words in Spanish to the electric company who will not turn on the lights unless we get a boletin. 

13) Apparently, no one in the entire complex has needed a boletin for at least 18 years. According to Manager Miguel. A boletin is a paper saying that the apartment is properly wired to have electricity. WTF

14) The crappy news is, by the time Manager Miguel finished cussing out the company, it was closing time and there were no electricians who would answer his calls. He says, come back on Tuesday, oh yeah, Monday is a holiday. 

15) A long three day weekend in a studio, and now it’s Tuesday. Today, I went to say hello to my new friend Manager Miguel, who says that maybe the electrician can come tomorrow. Once the electrician comes, he makes a boletin. 

16) Then we can call SDG&E to tell them the confirmation number on the boletin. Or something. That will take a few days to process, of course, and we should be able to get the lights turned on by Friday. 

17) Fingers crossed! 

It sounds crazy, but it’s actually more complicated than I can even explain here. We are in good spirits though, after all, this is what we signed up for, right?  Cheers and love to all!


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