Spain through the looking glass

One-man army

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Graffiti, Seville, Spain. ‘We’re not going to pay your debt.’

Although he’d be mortified to hear me say it, one man on our street is in engaged in a single-handed war against the crisis.

José isn’t taking part in Spain’s general strike today. He’d certainly be out there if he could. It’s just that the large company he works for have sent him to the boondocks on an all-day training course. He smiles wryly when he tells me this. He knows exactly what’s going on and he knows that I get it too. He’s just too much of a gentleman to make the connection explicit.

José is an elegant fellow in his mid-forties who runs the narrow-fronted furniture store a few doors down from my place. From behind an over-sized pine desk, he sells very reasonably-priced furniture that is neither fashionable nor dumpy. His shop is almost never empty. Whenever I stroll past, there’s a young couple in there checking out beds, or maybe a family testing out a sofa. You see, José has a killer sales tactic: he’s honest. In fact, he might just be the most scrupulous man in Spain; when I went in a few weeks back to buy a €20 pillow, he made me sign two contracts.

Until recently, I’d only spoken to José once. Yesterday, however, I decided to drop in to his ship to get his take on today’s general strike. And even though it was a month since I’d been in there last, and although the guy barely knows me, José greeted me by name and didn’t seem at all put out that I was only making a social call.

José told me that although business is ticking over he’s noticed a shift in the last 12 months. ‘Last year, people fitted out entire rooms. Now they just come in and buy individual items like a sofa or table.’ He also said that, in the last half year or so, not one of his customers had been granted a line of credit by his company’s head office.

‘And one of those people was a public servant too, on a fixed contract and with a good salary. If he can’t get credit, no one can.’

When I asked José was going to hacer huelga (go out on strike) today he shook his head. ‘If it was up to me, I would – out of solidarity with the people in this [working class] neighbourhood. But, then again, I know the demonstrations are all just a show really. The unions are as much a part of a problem as everyone else.’

José knows Spain’s dilemma is not new. He’s convinced everyone knew full well what was happening with the debt a long time ago. It’s just that no one wanted to own up to their failures. ‘Spain is like a man standing in a room that is slowly filling up with water. And now that it has reached his neck, he’s finally beginning to admit what’s going on.

‘But what we need now is solutions that make it easier to do business. We need to be more open in our outlook – more American – and stop being so traditional.’

So José isn’t striking today. You won’t spot him on TV and he won’t appear on the front page of your newspaper. He won’t be adding to the numbers surrounding some parliament building somewhere and he won’t be parading with his family in front of a cash-strapped hospital. Instead, he’s learning how to sell kitchens.

And it’s not that José is part of some dozing silent majority. Far from it. He’ll happily offer his opinion if you ask. It’s just that this guy is fighting the crisis one meticulously honest transaction at a time. Criticise him if you will, but the guy’s got my business.



Written by georgemills25

November 14, 2012 at 09:07

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