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Spain through the looking glass

The Spanish way to cheat

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A long time ago in a suburb (not so) far way, I taught English to impossibly cute but horribly spoiled Spanish children.

It was a match made in heaven: me and kids. Except for the part about the kids.

Thankfully I was well prepared for the task. Having been initiated into the intricate art of “stir and settle” – a complex pedagogical teaching technique which requires years of rigorous study and which, for the layperson, is based on the idea that one should alternately wear children out with frenzied activity and then lull them into a deep stupor – my classes usually went off without a hitch.

Over the years, I devised a plethora of exciting games to teach our beautiful language. For most of these games I divided my class into two teams and the games were always highly competitive, not to say vicious. From a practical standpoint, they generally involved the kids running in circles or jumping up and down or thumping something (or – even better – each other). It was all hysterical good fun and could go on for several minutes at which point one of three main things generally happened. Either one of the little nippers would incur a serious injury (a common scenario) or the children would collapse, panting and unable to continue (less common but by no means rare) – or, and this was by far the most frequent occurrence – one of the teams would surround me in a tight circle.

And this is when the chanting would start. ‘Estafa!’ the kids would shout. And again: louder each time.  Estafa! Estafa! Estafa!’

For a long while, I didn’t know what this curious word meant. I just assumed my students were engaged in some purifying dance-based ritual. Or maybe they were singing to the spirits of the earth. They did seem a little upset at times, and there was a strange atmosphere in the air but I assumed it was just a cultural thing.

And so it went for some weeks, until one day I decided to ask my manager about this puzzling Spanish rite. ‘Estafa?’ said this woman, clearly put out by my question. ‘It’s means a swindle or a con.’

And suddenly everything became clear: the post-class hostility, those death stares I’d been at the receiving end of – it was all because my students thought I had been cheating them during the games. The losing team assumed I was manipulating the system for the benefit of the other side. I was clearly an estafador, or con artist.

Of course I already knew that children had an almost pathological sense of justice. It was another fact I’d learned during my many weeks years of demanding training (along with how to spot which kids were on Ritalin). What I didn’t know was how strongly this sense of right and wrong was, in Spain, accompanied by a sixth sense for the estafa.

The art of detecting the estafa is a key skill in this country, like knowing the opening hours of all the various government departments or picking exactly the right moment to buy cheap railway tickets online. Outsiders can never really hope to master these fine arts and are probably destined to a life of hopeless victimhood as they fall prey to one scam after another.

But even the canny Spaniards cannot avoid the staggering variety of estafas in this country. They too, for instance, have to pay €3 in bank charges every month and then spend half of a Sunday afternoon wandering around the city looking for a cash machine that is actually working. And most Spaniards have absolutely no way of avoiding queuing for half an hour at the local office of their electricity company just to complain about twice daily blackouts.

It’s also impossible for honest Spaniards to avoid paying the higher goods and services tax brought in last month so that the government can foot its bills.

And all these university students who spend 16 years getting an education only to end up jobless and living with their parents and wondering whether they might not be better off moving to Germany or Chile? Well they are at the pointy end of the biggest con of all.

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Written by georgemills25

November 19, 2012 at 09:54

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