Explaining the American Accent

Europeans often recognize Yankee tourists for a trait that we Yanks often don’t know we possess: our American accents. I have one. Nearly everyone I knew in the U.S. — in high school, kollidge, beyond — had one.

But, many Americans don’t know they’ve got ’em. Regional accents exist, sure: Southern, New England, New York City. But mainstream U.S.? Come on! Readers in much of the U.S. already may regard this post with skepticism, like a literary IPO for shares in the Brooklyn Bridge.

If so, I’m sympathetic. I spent most of my life in the isolated U.S.: the world’s third largest country by area, bordered by the second largest. Seventy percent of my fellow citizens are passport-less; for many of my adult years, so was I.

I get it. I’ve been there. I’m on your side.

For lifelong Americans with similar backgrounds, please permit the following sideways sidle into an explanation:

* * * * *

Like you, I understand the sentiment that English is only properly spoken in the United States.

English may have evolved in Britain in millennia past, but has become corrupted and debased there since, perhaps owing to the notorious perversity of the isle’s menfolk. Shakespeare would roll despairing eyes at the tortured syllabification of a Richard Quest, would nod with relief while listening to an A-list American celeb like Dustin Diamond, Aubrey O’Day, Omarosa Manigault. This is English, the Bard would think, and book a one-way flight.

Hold that thought.

Some of you have long secretly believed something like this, although you’re now understandably wary of me for stating the notion in such bold terms. Fine. No argument. I stand with pacifistically outstretched arms, a peaceful emissary.

Now:

Imagine yourself in the hub of a faraway European city with many international visitors. Most passersby speak in the native tongue, but you hear much English, too: in tones that mark the speaker as German, Australian, Indian, British. And in this global crossroads of a place, you also occasionally hear English spoken as God intended it to be spoken: purely, correctly, without discernible accent. Perhaps by a visiting American.

With me so far? We’re almost there.

The English spoken ‘purely, correctly, without discernible accent’ is recognized worldwide as an American accent.

Really! I mean it!

Continue your stroll about this global crossroads. Pass other English-speaking pedestrians. When you next hear the mother tongue spoken ‘purely, correctly,’ consider interrupting the speaker with a sociable question:

“What brings you here from the States?”

Expect to be answered, not corrected. I have erred only once, when posing similar questions in Madrid; the misidentified accent belonged to a Montreal-raised Canadian.

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More than a Year with Linux

I write in the wake of the WannaCry ransomware attack, which has infected nearly a quarter of a million Windows PCs worldwide. Many victims must now be casting wistful eyes at alternative computer operating systems: Apple’s macOS, or the non-proprietary, lesser-known GNU/Linux.

I haven’t used macOS since the 1980s, can’t plug or pan. I post today to update the saga of my year-and-a-half old transition to Linux.

* * * * *

I still use Linux. I’m glad I switched. I haven’t looked back.

Clockwise, from top left: Linux 'distro' logos for Mint, CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Arch, openSUSE, Puppy, Debian

Clockwise, from top left: Mint, CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Arch, openSUSE, Puppy, Debian logos

I can do ninety to ninety-five percent of what I used to do in Windows as well or better in Linux. Linux is free, so I don’t have to accommodate revenue-protecting delays for product activation, digital licensing. I trust Linux developers vastly more; I’ll never forget Microsoft’s use of tactics judged malware-like to introduce Win 10, and thus would regard any internet-connected computer running Windows as a potential enemy. I also much prefer the look and feel of my GNU/Linux “distro” of choice (Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop). My day-to-day computing experience feels superior.

But:

The remaining five to ten percent of “what I used to do in Windows” still gets done in Windows today, albeit in an offline, software-only Windows “virtual machine.” (As explained in my 2015 post) I can’t edit .pdfs, process camera raw files or layout desktop published pages in Linux as I can in big buck commercial Win software.

The thirty-eight gigabyte Windows 7 virtual machine that runs this commercial software feels locked in amber, stuck in time. I won’t put the VM online, ever, for fear of being dragooned into a nefarious “upgrade.” The VM is reasonably up-to-date by late 2015 standards, for now and evermore.

VirtualBox is not user friendly. I also feel uncomfortably bound-at-the-hip to Hewlett-Packard peripherals, which are reputed to play better with Linux than competitor offerings. I like my new European-voltage HP printer, but also might have liked to comparison shop.

If Microsoft strong-armed the Win 10 roll-out because it could, I jumped ship to Linux because I didn’t have to go along. Maybe I can’t stop the only grocer in town from doubling the price of bread, but the grocer can’t stop me from baking my own if I have yeast, flour and a cookbook.

* * * * *

There is very little altruism in finance.
… Benjamin Graham, Security Analysis, 1934.

I think that Microsoft’s tactics in the Win 10 roll-out should have been illegal, but also am not surprised that a publicly traded Fortune 50 corporation would take such extreme steps to protect a revenue stream.

Mutual funds and other big institutions own most of Microsoft’s eight billion outstanding shares. The Vanguard Group alone holds more than half a billion, on behalf of various Vanguard funds fueling IRAs and 401ks. In 2016, the California public employees retirement system commanded about twenty-two million shares; the Canada Pension Plan investment board, about ten million.

An “index fund” will blindly hold the stock as long as it belongs in the index in question, no matter if the CFO soberly stewards the corporate ship or romps naked across interstates. Other investors hold the shares because they want money from them. They can get the money from dividends — now $1.56 per share annually for MSFT — and/or from capital appreciation, if the share price goes up.

The main short term mover of share price is EPS: earnings per share. Is the corporation selling lots of stuff? Is it making money? Consider, dear reader: it has to make money, needs its revenue stream as urgently as a mammal needs air, water, food. Shareholders hover anxiously over that revenue stream, fuss over the ratios — P/E, Price/Sales, FCF/Sales — that measure it. They notice changes. Quickly.

Selling lots of stuff + making money = all may be well on the balance sheet. I own shares in Kimberly Clark. They sell personal care products, including toilet paper. People are going to keep buying toilet paper. I’m grateful that they will, especially when they ride the metro with me. Feel free to think of ol’ Tim the next time you buy a roll.

(Or while using it, if you dislike this blog. ‘I need to cast a vote for Ronald Reagan,’ former California governor Pat Brown used to say, before trips to the toilet. I’ll be in famous company.)

Secure revenue stream! The toothpaste, soap and blended frappe consumed on Monday can’t be re-materialized for fresh consumption next week. Y’all gotta buy ’em again.

But:

What if the company sells something that only should have to be bought once?

What if the company can’t pile in any more bells and whistles? What if the old, already-paid-for version works just fine?

What does the company do then?

* * * * *

The scene: the boardroom of a publicly-traded corporation selling software in this precarious category. The CEO raps a gentle knuckle on the conference table for order, casts affectionate eyes at the industry veterans seated before him.

“Our little multinational is forty years old this week! Can anyone believe it?” He nods mischievously at a gray-haired colleague seated across the polished black walnut. “Lance! You think I’ll ever forget when you dumped that beer stein on our floppies at ’82 Comdex?! Half our inventory! We almost went belly up right there!”

Board members chuckle as Lance — a senior VP, worth millions in the corporation’s stock shares alone — hunches shoulders, mimics fear. The CEO lofts an arm.

“Raise your hand if you remember ten megabyte hard cards! C’mon, Dick, get your hand up; we were on the same team. How about hacking 286 protected mode? 12 megahertz; that was a CPU speed demon. Now I think 2 gigahertz is slow. Change came hot and heavy in those days.”

“We kept up with it,” says a board member, another multi-millionaire shareholder. The CEO grins, points a pistol finger.

“Bullseye. We did keep up with it. It’s been a long, strange trip, and we helped lead the trip. We served our customers. That’s why we’re where we are today.”

Slowly, deliberately, the CEO lets his grin fade. The board room quiets; something is coming.

The CEO pushes back his chair, rises slowly.

“We kept up,” he says. “But let’s be frank: there’s not much new these days to keep up with. Is there?”

Silence. The CEO lets the seconds tick past, nodding slightly, as if to acknowledge his own broaching of a taboo. He holds up splayed fingers, presses one down. Counting.

“What’s new and exciting now? Kaby Lake? DDR4? USB 3.1? Improvements, no question, but how much do they affect what we do? What our software does?” The CEO lowers his hand, looks pained. “You’ve heard what our critics say: the only reason we keep pushing new versions is to chisel more Benjamins out of our captive user base.

“And you know something? They’ve got a point.”

Silence. One board member slips a smartphone out of an inside coat pocket. He bows his head, moves quick fingers on the screen.

The CEO doesn’t notice. His eyes look bird bright, feverish.

“They’ve got a point. Friends, family: we’re at a crossroads.” He raises the hand again, counts off a finger. “Choice A: we can chase ARPU revenue with a software-as-service model. That would make the cash registers ring, but the EULA would be a privacy rights nightmare. We’d have to malware it onto hundreds of millions of PCs worldwide. Some of our pals in the computer press will carry our water if we buy ads and dole out book contracts, but I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror tomorrow.”

Board members squirm. Seat cushions creak. Two exchange significant glances, then pull out their own smartphones. A third follows, then a fourth. (E-trade. Ameritrade. My shares! What’s my log-in?)

The CEO laughs suddenly, too loudly. His hand shakes as he counts off a second finger.

“Or there’s Choice B: We call it a day. Stand pat. Security patches. Minor updates. But no new version unless our users can really benefit from a new version, and let’s be frank: at this stage, that may never happen. We’re officially in wrap-up mode.”

Silence no longer. Lance looks sick. By now half at the table have smartphones out, busily key in passwords for brokerage trading apps. (Sell, sell! Worry about the 10b5 rules later. Better judged by twelve than bankrupt by 6:00.)

The CEO looks triumphant. Spittle gleams on his lips.

“Of course, that’s going to put a dent in our cash flow. A big dent. A crater. Our shareholders are going to get one lollapalooza of a negative earnings surprise at our next conference call, and can expect plenty more of the same in the future.

“I’m still confident that stakeholders like you will want to hold onto your shares, out of the legendary personal loyalty that stock market investors so regularly show to the companies they own shares in.”

* * * * *

Not very realistic.

I humbly regard good government as important, think a marketplace can be carefully and respectfully regulated to check excesses. World Cups and World Series require referees. Alas, it’s tough to expect honest watchdogging from a U.S. Congress that would sell its citizens’ online privacy down the river, as in the recent vote on FCC privacy rules.

Europe hasn’t forgotten Adolf, the Stasi or the KGB, and does a better job of helping Jonas Q. Public keep his online shades drawn. The EU also still has reservations about Windows 10. (And Facebook) There may be hope!

* * * * *

(Linux ‘distro’ logos:  Linux Mint, CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Arch, openSUSE, Puppy, Debian.  New at Linux?  Leave Arch alone.)

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Madrid Impressions: Round Three

Spain has worked out well for me. I might never make tenure track at Instituto Cervantes, but navigate chats in español far more adroitly than when I arrived last summer. I’ve made new friends, hope to stay put.

I stand by ‘impressions’ rounds one and two, but will humbly judge this latest contribution to be more valuable, if only because your aging author has now dwelt within the to-be-opined-about burg for nearly a year.

EUROPE-ROAMING SPANIARDS

European Union citizens can live and work at will in any one of the EU’s twenty-eight member countries, which together command a bit less than half the land area of the United States.

This map shows EU unemployment rates:

Eurostat: Unemployment rate, 2016

Eurostat: Unemployment rate, 2016

Please note up-north-blue and down-south-orange.

If you were an out-of-work millenial in Sevilla or Córdoba, what wallet-fattening life change might you contemplate? One similar to that undertaken by the impecunious young in high unemployment Alabama and Louisiana: you pack up your skateboard and move where the jobs are.

The crucial difference: the ‘Bamer might move to Utah, North Dakota or another work-rich state within the U.S. The EUer moves to a whole ‘nother country.

A Madrileña told me that she fields calls on her móvil from childhood chums now scattered in jobs continent-wide. Spaniards routinely report long work stints on European foreign soils: as au pairs in the UK, customer support reps in France.

Negotiating meaning among the EU’s twenty-four official languages? One gets by. Language challenges come with the EU territory, literally.

U.S. LIFE ROMANTICIZED

Or the U.S. life depicted in mainstream movies, especially.

Angelenos rarely romanticize the SoCal movie biz. “Film crew at work” doesn’t suggest glamour, mystique, a chance to glimpse a favorite celeb at work. To me, it meant a phalanx of trucks at the curb, and picking my weary pedestrian’s way across a sidewalk cluttered with lighting gear, buffet tables and bored stand-arounds, all likely on hand to shoot a beer commercial.

That’s ’cause I lived there. I never paused to wonder how Hollywood everything might be regarded elsewhere in the world, among Europeans weaned on films, TV shows and music vids produced in distant Southern California.

Something clicked when a Madrileño told me that he knows California from his collection of Clint Eastwood movies. An Australian expat sagely suggested that the U.S. entertainment industry may wield more global clout than any weapons system.

Gran Via near Callao metro in Madrid

Gran Via at Callao metro in Madrid

Before last year’s Trump win, I felt amazed by how often I saw Spaniards adorned with American flags on t-shirts, back-packs, other garments. Fellow Intercept readers may grumble that these Spaniards drank P.R. Kool-Aid, regarded the Obama-led U.S. through unwarrantedly rosy lens. The point here is that they did drink it, despite the colossal decade-past protests against the Iraq war and former Prime Minister Zapatero’s (immensely admired by me) early withdrawal of Iraq troops.

The U.S. flags mostly disappeared from Madrid sidewalk fashion after November 8, 2016. Spaniards have sounded afraid and scandalized while posing Trump-related questions before and since, but a few still seem to view the U.S. as a baseball-crazed Cincinnati teen might have seen Pete Rose after the 1989 gambling scandal. The U.S. flag t-shirts may now sit at the bottom of the laundry hamper, but I sense a longing to rekindle sentimental old flames.

(Others seem to have simply lost interest, moved the U.S. down the list of visit-worthy foreign countries.)

Some Madrileños also compliment the U.S. justly, appropriately. Many Americans are egalitarian, friendly. Many American businesses are well-run. Many Americans do admirably take initiative.

A DIFFERENT ASSUMPTION SET

The European comes of age:

()  amidst antiquity unheard-of in the states. Acropolis, Colosseum, Acueducto, London Tower, Versailles.

()  in close proximity with other countries and languages. Spain is only 20% larger than California. Travel 550+ miles southwest from S.F. and you’re in Vegas, yakking in English with a fellow American. Travel two-thirds that distance from Madrid and you’re in Toulouse, yakking in French with a Frenchman.

()  without an American’s illusion of potency in some international affairs. Barstool Joe in Sioux Falls may exert no influence on policy, but still holds citizenship in a sovereignty bankrolling a globe-dominating military empire. Joe can imagine he plays a part — e.g., “I’ve decided it’s time for us to take a stand in North Korea.” — as a sports fan may employ the pronoun “we” when describing a home team’s victory.

Courtyard of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid

Courtyard of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid

The European entertains no such delusions. Iraq War? Crimea Annexation? You wring hands, watch.

So far, I have shared my impressions of this different assumption set with several Europeans, and have drawn self-consciously quizzical expressions when asking for feedback. They have not been able to imagine coming of age with my assumption set, as I haven’t been able to imagine coming of age with theirs.

A BLEAKER VIEW OF THE U.S.

Spain is free to romanticize the U.S. I don’t. I feel at times that I have emerged from a propaganda haze, marvel at the bare-fannied nonsensicality of some claims routinely presented as fact to the American public. Drones and troops invading countries halfway around the globe are said to be — what? — “defending American values” or “protecting our freedoms.” (Why not say they’re “upholding constitutional principles,” if you’re going to be that silly?)

I knew this stuff was malarkey before I left, but the absurdity seems far more plain on this side of the Atlantic. I think of Soviet propaganda while watching a music video, of Solzhenitsyn’s “Don’t stop applauding” anecdote while watching the Ryan Owens speech. I feel sorry for former students. They are grown now; some must struggle to reconcile the torturously narrow scope of public debate with unasked questions begged by 2 + 2 = 4 common sense: Aren’t torture and secret prisons unconstitutional? Why does the U.S. keep getting in wars with countries thousands of miles away?

The stuff of another post, perhaps. I’ll stop here. I have not met other American expats expressing similar views.

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Spain Expat Odds and Ends

Or, a round-up of heretofore unmentioned tips for expats and expats-to-be:

MAIL AND DELIVERIES

Almost everything I once ordered through amazon.com stateside is available through amazon.es in Spain. I use the same account and log-in, have received deliveries without incident. An amazon.es CSR called to verify bonafides for my first order.

Plaza de Oriente

Plaza de Oriente

I missed a couple of print issues of the Economist after transferring my subscription, but now receive them and other items via conventional mail. Expect to plow through much red tape to book an apartado de correos post office box, if you want one.

DHL has offices all over Madrid. So does SEUR. UPS doesn’t, but does deliver here, and a UPS My Choice account can be used in Spain as handily as stateside. UPS’ Madrid phone number is 902 888 820.

Expect to pay through the nose to ship to the U.S. via DHL.  I did, twice.

BROADBAND INTERNET

Vodafone.es promotes high-speed fiber broadband. I got it, regularly clock downloads at close to 300 mbps, even through a VPN, and have found the service reliable, at least so far.

INTERNATIONAL CALLS

Or, more specifically: calls to the U.S.

I had good luck with PennyTalk for awhile, then luck bad enough to discourage further patronage.

I set up a Viber account, called a Los Angeles friend, chucked Viber after sampling the connection quality. Viber may legitimately complain that I didn’t give them a fair trial.

I don’t want to use a computer that can stare back at me, paste black tape over display camcorder lenses, and am thus an unlikely source for Skype tips. Sorry.

I tried direct dialing the U.S. from my Spain Vodafone cell phone account. The calls got through, but the Vodafone network didn’t like the sudden, unexpected appearance of so many international calls on my bill, and sent dark text warnings of account restrictions.

Cercanías platform at Madrid Atocha station

Cercanías platform at Madrid Atocha station

Vodafone’s English tech support can be reached by dialing 22189 from a cell phone with a Vodafone SIM in it, and pressing ‘3.’ You also can visit one of many Vodafone centers in Madrid for an all-in-Spanish yak about your plan, but should plan on arriving close to opening time, unless you enjoy long sits in waiting rooms.

After much back-and-forth, I now have:

()  A ‘tarifa prepago internacional’ SIM in an old smartphone. The plan is separate from my regular Vodafone plan, and I use this phone only to call the U.S.

()  An extra called ‘International Bono’ on my regular Vodafone plan. I’m fuzzy on details, but think I’m accepting a small monthly account surcharge to make relatively inexpensive calls to the U.S. As importantly, the pairing of International Bono with an account tells the Vodafone network that the customer wants to call overseas, and shouldn’t be pestered with text messages about account restrictions.

(English tech support may want to tell you about an older option than International Bono. Ask the tech to check.)

I can use International Bono if I devour the minutes on my prepaid internacional SIM, regard it as a back-up.

Please note: I set up both these plans only a few weeks ago, don’t yet entirely understand what I got, may write prematurely. I’m sharing what I know. I no longer receive threatening text messages, and think I can call stateside without spending a leg and an arm on future bills.

Competitors Movistar and Orange may be way better than Vodafone for expats, for all I know. I own Vodafone stock shares.

TARJETA ANUAL DE MUSEOS ESTATALES

36€ and the NIE number on your visa entitles lucky you to a Tarjeta anual de Museos Estatales, good for free admission for a year at the link-listed museums. I don’t have to wait in long lines to commune with de Ribera’s masterpieces at the Prado!

Strongly recommended, but you’ll need that NIE to get one. Not for tourists.

(I’m sorry, tourists! Don’t hate me! I was once a tourist here, too.)

Felipe IV statue at Plaza de Oriente

Felipe IV statue at Plaza de Oriente

SERVICE IN SPAIN

On this very URL in 2015, I wrote:

Barcelona and Madrid both struck me as efficient, businesslike places. Some Spaniards reading that last sentence may have just coughed up coffee on their shirt fronts, but that was my impression, and I’ll stick to it.

That’s still my impression today, after six continuous months in Madrid. I expect deadlines to be met and businesses to open on time, and they have. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’m much more inclined to judge stereotypes-to-the-contrary as malarkey.

Some Spain businesses do close for several hours mid-afternoon.

BUSINESS RECOMMENDATIONS

Just one new one, for now: if prepared to chat entirely in Spanish, consider Euromof as a source for home office furniture.

ONLINE RESOURCES

I could point out other personal web sites, but think it smarter to hand off to fellow expat Bill Dietrich’s excellent Moving from USA to Spain round-up at: http://www.billdietrich.me/MovingToSpain.html .

ExpatExchange, Expatica and Expat all host online forums for Spain expats, but I suggest visiting ExpatForum first. Me thinks you’ll find the most users there.

Major Spanish-language newspapers include El País, El Mundo, La Vanguardia and ABC. Tiempo offers weather reports.

APPS

The Spanish student ready to look past Google Translate may consider:

()  Diccionario RAE y ASALE (DLE). Both dictionary and teller-about-verbs, if you press the CONJ. (for conjugate) button with a verb on screen. DLE also IDs transitive vs intransive verbs.

()  SpanishDict may be an easier conjugator-of-verbs for new students.

()  Linguee offers uses-in-context translations of phrases uneasily translated by conventional dictionaries.

I’m happy with the official Metro de Madrid and Renfe Cercanías apps.

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I introduce Madrid Cercanías commuter rail

Zurich, Berlin, Copenhagen and Munich have their S-trains. Parisians ride the RER; Long Islanders, the LIRR. Torontonians brave snowdrifts on the GO, perhaps while grunting ‘Eh?’ at one another after maple syrup-sogged moose chases. (I haven’t visited Canada in awhile.)

Cercanias en route to El Barrial-Centro

Cercanias en route to El Barrial-Centro station in Madrid

Commuter rail is the inadequate and often misleading moniker for transit services of this type. Bigger and faster than trams, with spiffier seating (usually), longer routes and their own right of way, often shared with regional rail networks. Suburban householders ride commuter rail to weekday slaves in the financial district.

I was lucky enough to sample many such systems worldwide during travels in ’14 and ’15. (But still kick myself for missing the huge regional New York grid.) I noted that the S-Bahns, RERs, S-Togs and so forth ran much more often than equivalent services in the Golden State, but can be a dense old codger at times, and never bent my brain around the big picture of how such frequent commuter rail service might impact mobility for a year-round resident. Hadn’t I privately dismissed California commuter rail as a big yawn? How many errands or meetings had I attended via Metrolink in 10+ years without a car in L.A.? 3+ hour mid-day waits between trains on the Ventura County line, no weekend service! Come on.

Cercanias platform at Atocha Renfe station

Cercanias at Atocha station

I now live in Madrid, and can remain dense no longer. The Cercanías commuter rail grid is nearly as fundamental to the transit infrastructure here as the metro, and matters far more than the relatively trivial Ligeros light rail system. Long stretches of Cercanías run underground in central Madrid, alongside the metro. Cercanías links with the metro at stations all over Madrid; riders bustle through one system’s fare gates, pass through another’s a minute later. I’ll never again see commuter rail as I did out west.

* * * * *

I’ll let the timetables talk.

On weekdays, six trains on Metrolink’s Antelope Valley line depart from suburban Santa Clarita before 8:00 a.m. for the hour long slog to downtown Los Angeles.

Signage for Madrid Metro and Cercanias

Signage for Madrid Metro and Cercanías at Atocha station

Want to ride in later? Here’s your departure schedule:

9:13 a.m., 10:05 a.m., 11:35 a.m., 12:42 p.m., 1:54 p.m., 2:44 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5:14 p.m., 7:34 p.m.

That’s it. Nine departures.

Eager to zip downtown for a late afternoon pow-wow with an accountant, lawyer, business associate, or to bag some yummy pastries at Queen’s Bakery? Better bring a book, maybe War and Peace. How about if you don’t go to bed at 7:30 p.m., and fancy a Friday night club hop in the Arts District? Better bring a sleeping bag. The trains don’t run that late.

How about transit alternatives? Non-existent or unappealing. (Although I’m not as swift with a SoCal trip planner as in my TransitPeople years, and may have missed a route.) The loud-and-clear message: you need a car to live in Santa Clarita. Or Uber, or plenty of cab fare.

Cercanias ticket machines at Principe Pio station

Cercanías ticket machines at Principe Pío station

The Bay Area’s Caltrain runs more frequently, with one hour mid-day and weekend headways (time intervals between vehicles). But I don’t want to wait an hour between rides, and ignored Caltrain proximity while scouting transit-friendly digs in 2011. As for Ace Rail in the East Bay: eight trains a day, four westbound in the morning, four eastbound in the afternoon. That’s all.

In Madrid, in contrast, I came within a whim and a hair of a long-term apartment lease in suburban Aravaca, largely for the unit’s proximity to a Cercanías stop. Consider the headways I looked at from the El Barrial-Centro stop to the metro link at Principe Pio: ten or fifteen minutes mid-weekday, fifteen to twenty minutes on weekends.

Cercanias seating

Cercanías seating

Admittedly, this is a best case scenario. El Barrial-Centro is only a fifth as far from Principe Pio as Santa Clarita’s thirty-seven miles from Union Station, and is served by two Cercanías lines. So I’ll compare apples to apples. Aranjuez and Guadalajara are about thirty-two to thirty-six miles from central Madrid. Mid-day weekday headways are twenty to thirty minutes for the first and a mere fifteen for the second. And, mind you, Cercanías isn’t in the same league as some commuter rail lines found elsewhere.

(For reasons unknown to this newcomer, however, headways into Madrid from the El Escorial station are more Caltrain-ish: hourly on weekdays.)

* * * * *

A cautionary note:

So far I have toured the Cercanías C-2, C-3, C-4, C-5 and C-8 lines. Occasionally I have wondered during these travels if the transit pixies may have erred, and inadvertently bequeathed to Madrid a transit infrastructure intended for the booming NorCal tech hub. I imagine a benevolent Godzilla peeling back the Bay Area’s rocky crust in the wee hours — say at 3:00 a.m., when houses are moved — and depositing a cloned Madrid transit infrastructure in BART and Caltrain’s stead.

Apartments near Las Retamas station

Apartments near Las Retamas station on C-5 line

Imagine! Long-suffering commuters in San Rafael, Novato, Petaluma, Vallejo would wake up to find Cercanías hubs in their respective city centers, offering departures four times an hour to Market Street and Jack London Square. San Franciscans would blink and pinch themselves while tapping in Clipper cards at un-grimy new metro stations on 19th, Divisadero, 3rd Street, and at least three on Geary.

A Tracy native told me that some of her neighbors have to wake up at THREE IN THE MORNING to beat the rush hour jam on the 205 and 580 freeways. If only this kindly Godzilla could have its way! Tracy commuters might get to stay up later, offer homework help to their children.

I am doodling an idle fantasy here, so will not consider the legitimately bitter objections to such radical changes. I contend only that a brawny, Madrid-sized transit infrastructure would be a reasonable fit in the Bay Area. Since 1992, the populations of San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties have swelled 18, 24, 34 and 16%, respectively. Google, Facebook, Twitter and Uber didn’t exist in 1992; now they’re headquartered in the Bay Area.

As for the muscularity of the Madrid transit grid in Madrid itself: I don’t know. The trains I sampled sported goodly crowds, but I also rode past many empty acres while touring the extremities of the C-2, C-3 and C-4 lines. Sheep, trees and bare hills don’t need close proximity to Cercanías stations, but have them here. I passed attractive transit oriented apartment buildings like those shown above, but also some that struck me as grim, an auto lobbyist’s ‘transit gulags.’

3 trains an hour for these sheep on the C4 line

Three trains an hour for these sheep on the C-4 line

I don’t know. I don’t understand the Madrid economy, the Madrileño perspective on public sector spending, urban development expectations before and after the financial crisis, much, much more. I don’t understand Madrid or Spain, period, and haven’t yet met other transit buffs here.

But, with confidence, I’ll conclude:

If you’ve spent most of your life in California, as I have, please don’t think that Metrolink and Caltrain are representative of commuter rail planet-wide. They’re not.

* * * * *

Update, 1/23/2017:  You’ll find lotsa Cercanías-related photos at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/36217981@N02/albums/72157675867332463

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Conversations with Techies

I joined many public hikes in San Francisco, and while thus wholesomely engaged often found myself talking shop with techies: querying a coder about the merits of Java, C, Python while we panted our way up Bernal hill, or absorbing security tips from a sysadmin under the Lands’ End cypress boughs.

Two reasons why: IT pros are about as scarce as parking meters in the tech-centric Bay Area, and I was a receptive audience, almost a fan boy. I’ve never forgotten my numb-lobed wandering through the pages of a Javascript manual. Coding is hard. Expertise impresses me.

Only after moving 5,800 miles east did I realize that these chats with insiders in a tech hub were unusual. I learned a few things, think I ought to share:

Without exception, techs regarded potential privacy intrusions as real, serious, worthy of attention.

The Snowden revelations. Spyware, Big Data. Yes, it’s a problem. Yes, it deserves attention, plenty of it. No question.

I was usually the one to bring the subject up. In a few chats, I inferred from my partner’s tone and body language that he had been a professional part of the problem. (Boy, you should have seen that script we whipped up at StartUp XYZ, he might have thought, while yakking with ol’ Tim. If the majors ever start pulling stuff like that, we’re all dead.)

So goes the often disillusioning path of the careerist, and the familiar temptation to the dark side. You want to code profitably. So do others. You’re good. Others may be better. Your activist kid brother with the ‘Occupy’ t-shirt will flush with pride if you gig for EFF or Wikipedia, but maybe they’re not hiring, or don’t pay anything, and your landlord doesn’t smile at ‘late rent’ jokes.  But that startup with the borderline malware script for the Big Tobacco “affiliate” or “partner” site, well …

Only one tech appeared to take special precautions to safeguard privacy in his own computing.

The Mark Zuckerberg ‘dadada’ example will serve. I once knew a former professional mechanic who would let the oil level drop to inexcusably precarious levels in a personal car. Same psychology, perhaps.

The tech who did take precautions noted that PGP and other privacy protectors have been freely available for years, but that Joe Q. User doesn’t know why or how to use them.

Endless Job Interviews

In my Salaryman years, I took a long job interview as a sign of a likely hire. Not in this field, or at least not among the folk I talked to. Tech giants will unabashedly pass over applicants who submit to seven, eight, ten hours of interviews, multiple meetings, questions up the yin yang.

“But of course you’re going to get the job,” said innocent moi to a mapping software specialist, before I figured this out. He’d just described a full day interview at Apple.

“I hope so.”

Hope so?! They kept you there all day!”

I met him again on another hike some weeks later. Still no job, and certainly no job with Apple.

A senior manager self-consciously defended marathon interviews, noted that would-be hires had to be grilled by staff in many departments. Only one tech rebelled, and cheerfully told Google that they could review notes collected in past interviews if they wanted to consider him for a new position.

Ageism Concerns

Techs over thirty often cast worried, occasionally dismayed eyes at potential competition from juniors.

I inferred (perhaps incorrectly) that tech-employed grey-hairs are hobbled less by lack of skill than by inability to manufacture fresh interest for new technology. Maybe the synapses don’t fire as quickly as they did in your undergrad years, but you’ve learned a lot, recognize traps that would trip up a greenhorn.

Alas, you’ve also sweated your way up too many learning curves. First it was HTML. Okay, great: you learned HTML. <HEAD>, <P>, <UL>, you got ’em down cold. Then Javascript, CSS; you learned those, too.

But it didn’t stop! Flash. Dreamweaver. HTML5. ENOUGH! Not another start from scratch. You’re done.

But, too bad for you: the kids are all hot and bothered for HTML5, and it does clear hurdles once uneasily leapt (you reluctantly admit), and your inability to paste up a sincerely enthusiastic grin for HTML5 Boot Camp is tantamount to a career death sentence. Off to the programmers’ pastures you go!

In a few chats, I sensed an unstated (and unreasonable) expectation that techies would bag some sort of windfall to make late years employment unnecessary. I met one fifty something who cashed out of a start-up in the 1990s with funds to buy a house, but, as he straightforwardly put it, had to return to work after squandering ten years ‘watching youtube videos.’

Benevolence toward the Uninformed

Without exception, every tech showed commendable modesty while listening to my own primitive forays into geekery.

“Boy, you installed Linux, all by yourself! Wow! Way to go, Tim!”

This is a bit like being clapped on the back by a Marc Adamus for posting a smartphone selfie on Instagram.

Boiling Frog anecdote

“You know how to boil a frog?” said the tech, as we hiked. “You can’t heat up the water too quickly. The frog will jump out. You turn up the heat a little bit at a time.”

A worrisome anecdote in the EFF/NSA era! One might fear a tapped home phone when The Conversation came out in ’74. Now we all carry tracking devices that make phone calls.

The employer of the tech who offered this anecdote?

A household word megacorporation, strongly associated with global privacy issues.

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Spanish as Spoken in Spain

Madrid is 4,975 miles from Bogotá, 5,600 miles from Mexico City, 6,200 miles from Buenos Aires. The lingo may have originated in España, but regional differences have evolved among the 400+ million speakers worldwide.

I have encountered some in Spain, post this New Year’s Day to tell the tale. Expect little of interest if your Castellano ends at the bottom of the Taco Bell menu, aside from my discussion of hombre at post end.

GREETINGS

Hola, buenas will serve morning, noon and night here.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” you object. “‘Hello, good.’ What kind of a greeting is that?!”

A common one. You’re free to say Buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches, and many do, but I live here, receive and offer Hola, buenas daily.

Hasta luego seems to be the standard goodbye. I infrequently hear adios.

VALE

Vale = okay. That’s all. No more, no less. Pronounced vah-lay.

I will know I have settled in when I catch myself saying vale without forethought. So far, I haven’t. Spaniards say vale as often and effortlessly as Americans say ‘okay.’

USE OF VOSOTROS FORM

Vosotros = informal you, plural. Non-existent in the Americas. Maestros had warned darkly of vosotros-izing in Spain, but I let myself imagine that uses would be rare, saved for special occasions, like eggnog punch recipes.

Wrong! Spaniards ‘os’ each other, tack -áis and -éis onto verb roots with abandon. Get ready.

CABALLERO

Like señor, but more formal and (perhaps) flattering. Expect to be caballero‘d half to death if shopping for anything in a gift box while male and gray-haired at Corte Inglés.

I don’t remember hearing caballero in Mexico. I liked the mouth feel of the word, but also thought it sounded a bit fruity, akin to calling a cabbie ‘your kind sir’ while offering a tip. I have used it gingerly when addressing other males, and the occasional blinks received in response suggest that I still don’t quite get conventions of use.

And now, the most interesting, at least to me:

HOMBRE

Hombre = man. That’s what I learned in Spanish 1A, and I remember no speech, text, lesson or conversation in the Americas suggesting that I regard hombre as anything more.

Not in Spain. Speakers in one-on-one conversations here routinely address their male and female listeners as hombre, not to say anything about their gender, but — and pause with me, please, as I choose my words with care — to request a candid facing-of-facts while implying listener sympathy.

A few invented Spanglish examples:

“Of course you can go at 9:00 on the dot, but hombre, you know they won’t be ready by then.”

“Hombre, you know he won’t be faithful. Why kid yourself?”

“He promised that during the campaign, and you believed him?! Hombre …”

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For Expats: an International Move

Behold, the innards of my 10′ x 15′ locker at Storage Pro in flat, uncelebrated Lathrop, California.

Storage locker

Locker #5090

I paid CrownWMS about eight and a half grand to cart this gear 5,700 miles east to Spain. Expats-to-be will contemplate similar transactions, may thank me for sharing what I learned.

OVERVIEW

Imagine hiring a crew for a local move in California: from Hollywood to Culver City, say, or from San Leandro to Hayward. The truck pulls up; the crew loads your stuff in the trailer, drives to your new address, unloads. One day. Easy.

Please hold this image in mind while eyeballing the Dodger Blue container below.

If you’re moving from Hollywood to Paris, Melbourne, Singapore, your stuff goes in one of these guys instead of a trailer. The container is towed to port, loaded (securely!) onto a container ship, and sent on a weeks’ long transoceanic journey to your new expat stomping grounds. Once in port, a destination agent arranges delivery to your new address.

That simple?

No, of course not. You’re crossing national boundaries, are both exporter and importer, whether you want to be or not. Laws. Customs. Thick rule books. The international mover will want to handle packing, as they must vouch for container contents, will pack more carefully than a local shlepping your gear into a different zip code. I furnished docs and jumped through hoops never encountered in U.S. moves past. Others will, too.

Shipping container (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 photo by Brunurb)

Shipping container (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 photo by Brunurb)

But, with that said: your stuff goes in a container, crosses an ocean on a container ship, is opened at your new home overseas. (You can go halvsies on a container with someone else, if so inclined, but don’t need to. I didn’t.) I think better informed writers may scare off potential clients by dog-paddling unnecessarily through some details. It wasn’t that bad. I’d do it again.

But will cite one disadvantage:

A LEAP OF FAITH

I realized early in my research that I’d have to trust an unfamiliar partner more than I like to trust strangers on four figure transactions involving precious personal items. I either took a calculated risk or never saw my stuff again in Europe.

Two reasons why:

(♦)  International movers aren’t widely reviewed. Netizens will yelp up a storm about the lychee tea in the new boba bar, but infrequently ship Hoosier cabinets to Europe, and thus have little counsel to offer about obscure global movers. I could check a moving company’s membership in FIDI or OMNI, but don’t trust trade organizations to police dues-paying members, and thus felt little comforted.

(♦)  The fundamentals may be as simple as into-container-in-USA, out-of-container-abroad, but the behind-the-scenes regs and red tape are too complex to be kibbitzed by a backseat-driving client. I saw a just-do-it-the-pros-way process, with little room for oversight or stage management.

Container ship (CC BY-NC 2.0 photo by LiteMeterPix)

Container ship (CC BY-NC 2.0 photo by LiteMeterPix)

My online Sherlocking convinced me that Graebel, Stevens and CrownWMS were reputable companies. “You’re gonna have to work with someone, Tim,” I told myself, and picked up the phone, likely with a fatalistic swallow.

HOW’D IT GO?

Well, overall. Not perfectly, but well. On time. Nothing missing. No damage. A score in the ‘success’ column.

International movers generally want to visit your home for a free survey. They have to vouch for what’s in the container, expect to do the packing.

Alas, I didn’t get serious about the hire until my stuff was in the Lathrop locker shown. Adios Graebel; distant exurb Lathrop was out of their service area. CrownWMS sent a friendly rep to check out my locker. (Maybe he was just looking for an excuse to visit Lathrop, or to brag that he’d been there.) Stevens thought my photos were adequate.

I chatted with Janet Bowen of CrownWMS on the phone, judged her as honest and knowledgeable, chose CrownWMS as my mover. Pre-move quotes from Stevens and CrownWMS were similar.

I flew to Spain, waited until my Permiso de Residencia was official, called CrownWMS, told them I was ready to wave the wand on my first-ever international move. They charged my credit card 25% up front. I sent locker access instructions and a rough inventory.

CrownWMS provided contact information for SpainSIT, the Madrid agent that would take over my shipment after it reached port. I called, was instructed to register my NIE number with the Agencia Tributaria tax agency, and to furnish documents proving that I’d lived in the U.S. (and thus wasn’t trying to sneak intended-for-resale items past customs).

Container at port (CC BY 2.0 photo by Command Webmaster)

Container at port (CC BY 2.0 photo by Command Webmaster)

My inadequate Spanish made my trip to the Agencia Tributaria more of an adventure than intended, but the number got registered, and my residency docs passed muster. I communicated with SpainSIT in Spanish, but didn’t have to; they employ bilingual staff.

Back in California, CrownWMS set a date for the move. The first of two problems arose. A friendly but forgetful CrownWMS staffer had neglected to inform ol’ Tim that someone would have to sign off on the contents of my locker. I had left behind no bosom buddies in Lathrop, and thus had to sign, scan and email a blank inventory form.

(“There goes my 14-24 lens,” thought I, darkly. I imagined a crew of recidivist kleptomaniacs cackling at my blank inventory form, stuffing personal pockets with everything that looked like an easy pawn. The $1,900 Nikon lens was a prime candidate. I decided it would be my Van Halens’ brown M&Ms test: if I found the lens when I opened boxes in Spain, I could be confident that I’d wronged the crew with unjust suspicions, and that they hadn’t taken anything else, either.)

The move date came. I wasn’t there, but presume that CrownWMS trailered my container into the Lathrop storage facility, transferred the contents of my locker into it, re-boxed and wrapped as they thought appropriate, trailered the container back to Route 5.

Problem #2 arose just before my ship was due to leave Oakland. I needed an EIN number. At the last minute. The same well-intended staffer had neglected to apprise me of said necessity. I scrambled, got one in time.

MY GEAR REACHES SPAIN

SpainSIT informed me that my container was aboard the SeaSpan Dalian, and showed me how to monitor the ship’s progress as it slogged south to Panama, cleared the canal, headed east across the Atlantic. Date-of-arrival at port in Valencia: October 28. Add a 200+ mile trip to Madrid and processing through customs, and I might see my stuff in early November.

Container on truck (CC BY-NC 2.0 photo by JAXPORT)

Container on truck (CC BY-NC 2.0 photo by JAXPORT)

My contract included delivery to a Madrid home, but I didn’t have one yet, so rented another storage locker. Storage price-per-meter usually tracks proximity to city centers, so I looked as far into the Madrid hinterlands as I dared without sacrificing transit access, and chose a Trasteros y Almacenes locker in Leganes, a fifteen minute walk from the next-to-last station on the southbound 10 metro. (I also considered a trastero with BlueSpace, which operates nine facilities in Madrid.)

The big day came. A SpainSIT crew met me at my Leganes locker with a container-toting truck like the one above, asked me to watch while they exposed the interior to its first whiff of European air, and unloaded the contents into my storage locker. When I finally found the apartment of my dreams, I booked Madrid’s Procoex for the move, judge myself a happy customer.

(And fret that this post is beginning to sound like a press release. Folks, I’m sorry. I’m reporting a successful move, don’t want to invent complaints.)

I had a lot of unpacking to do, but eventually reached the box with my Van Halen brown M&Ms test. Son of a gun: there was that pricey 14-24 lens! Everything else had made it, too. Unknown-to-me CrownWMS crew: please accept my apologies for having harbored unjust suspicions.

120V USA ELECTRICAL GEAR

Amazon.es and other retailers sell ‘step down transformers’ to permit operation of 120V U.S. appliances on 230V Spain power. I didn’t like the tenor of some online reviews of these transformers, but felt persuaded by the testimony of an AcuPwr marketing director in an Expat Exchange article.

AcuPwr AD-1500

AcuPwr AD-1500

I lack an electrician’s understanding of how transformers work and do not know that the article was accurate. Marketing prof Robert Cialdini might leer at me for associating high price with quality. He might leer with reason; I don’t know’ I thought the article smelled straight, still do, felt impressed by AcuPwr’s online presentation, drank the Kool-Aid, bought the 1500 watt model.

My problem: getting my hands on one in Spain.

Amazon.es didn’t have it. Amazon.com did, but wanted a mere $610 to ship to Madrid. I could buy directly from AcuPwr, but their shopping cart choked on an international zip. I called, several times, and occasionally felt as if I were yakking with a Mom n’ Pop hardware store. Don’t expect anything like Fortune 100 caliber service from these guys on international orders, at least not yet. When the transformer shipped, it didn’t include the import duty; I had to fork over an unexpected 109 € to the Madrid UPS driver. Ouch.

I’m still glad I got it. The transformer weighs twenty pounds, looks ready for a prepper’s bunker, emits no noise and seems to function perfectly. (Albeit after limited testing.) Maybe the cheaper units would have served as well. My bottom line: if it holds up, I’ll be able to use my pricey U.S. equipment to blend, grind, print and shred in Madrid.

SOME RECOMMENDATIONS

(♦)  Regard paper documents as an enemy. It’s almost 2017. You don’t want to send bankers’ boxes full of old letters halfway around the globe.

Buy or borrow a sheet-fed document scanner and crosscut paper shredder. Scan those stacks of docs to .pdf, back up the .pdfs and shred after you scan. If you don’t know how to scan and deal with .pdfs, get someone to teach you.

(♦)  I bought two big check-in suitcases (as noted in an earlier post) and flew to Madrid with what I couldn’t live without. I’m glad I took that approach, would recommend it to others. CrownWMS did me right, but I would have survived if my container had tumbled in the drink off Venezuela.

(♦)  Consider voltage requirements in future machinery buys. Some gizmos can be had only in 120V or 230V versions, but many modern appliances are available in dual voltage versions.

(Please don’t confuse voltage requirements with electric plug type. If the gizmo can handle U.S. and European voltages, I need only fit a $5 adapter to the Type B USA or Type F Spanish plug to make it work in either country. If it’s 120V only or 230V only, I need a transformer.)

(♦)  Cull mercilessly before you leave the U.S. Mercilessly. If necessary, ask a friend or family member to help browbeat you to leave stuff behind. I’m not a hoarder, but still packed stuff that made me groan while opening boxes in Madrid. (“You brought that?! That old thing?! A quarter of the way around the planet?!”)

(♦)  Number boxes and write an inventory of the important stuff that goes in each one.

I’m immensely grateful that I moved my gear, but can offer one strong argument to leave everything behind, at least if moving to Madrid: in this city, many of the best apartments are available only as furnished rentals. Landlords stuff the units with a few thousand € of furniture, tack hundreds onto the monthly price tag, rent for a price premium (often for the short-term, without the aval bancario and other hoops described in my last post).

I looked wistfully at many shots of these furnished-only apartments while shopping Idealista for an unfurnished flat. Eventually I found a great place, but the search took awhile. I could have rented quickly — for much more money per square meter, true — by choosing ‘furnished only.’

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For Expats: Renting a Madrid Apartment

I did it, rented a great place, gained knowledge not seen elsewhere online, think I ought to share it.

WHERE TO LOOK

Idealista.com or fotocasa.es, and I spent nearly all my time on Idealista. Some will recommend the protections afforded through a search with ‘empresa municipal de la vivienda y suelo.’ They may be right, but I smelled a potential red tape nightmare, and went pure private sector.

Apartments near Parque Enrique Herreros in the Chamberi district

Apartments near Parque Enrique Herreros in the Chamberi district

Be sure to select the Sólo cocina equipada tab under Equipamiento in the Idealista search tools dialogue, if planning to outfit your Madrid dream home with furniture from the states. Many of the snazziest Idealista listings are available at a ‘fully furnished only’ price premium.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Apartment owners are free to post on Idealista, but rental agencies placed the vast majority of the ads I saw in 2016. These inmobiliarios show apartments, field questions, vet applicants, explain contracts, and are generally paid for their trouble with a flat fee equivalent to one month’s rent.

(Who pays the flat fee? Please look in the mirror, renter-to-be! Lo siento.)

Aparthotel Centro Colón and Torres de Colón

Aparthotel Centro Colón and Torres de Colón

Share my horror in learning that some landlords book their apartments with multiple inmobiliarios. Idealista visitors may see several identically-illustrated listings for that 1,200 € two bedroom in Cuatro Caminos, differing only in the inmobiliario’s logo and contact number. It’s the same apartment. The inmobiliario who introduces the apartment to the eventual tenant gets dibs on the fee.

Libertarian readers may applaud this laissez-faire approach. I don’t. I saw too many unready apartments in late stages of incomplete remodels. The inmobiliario who first guided me past the construction gear and hanging cables could claim squatters’ rights on that inmobiliario fee, at least if I signed a form stating that he’d shown the property first. Yech.

Idealista lets you click on the inmobiliario’s link to see how long they’ve been in business.

You might thank me for a link to the ley de arrendamientos urbanos.

HOW MUCH UP FRONT?

A lot:

(♦)  One month rent for the inmobiliario’s finders’ fee, as noted above, unless you manage a rental sans inmobiliario. (As I did.)

(♦)  One month fianza, aka ‘security deposit.’

(♦)  The first month’s rent.

(♦)  (Usually) An aval bancario.

Aval bancario = bank guarantee. The renter provides the landlord with a bank-certified letter guaranteeing payment for the aval bancario term. Three and six month terms are typical.

On Calle Gobernador in the Centro district

On Calle Gobernador in the Centro district

Madrileños with credit-worthy relatives and employment histories may be able to land aval bancarios without pushing big piles of chips into the pot. I couldn’t. My Spanish bank set aside three months of rent in a special account that I own but can’t touch. I also paid a set-up fee, a management fee and navigated a week’s worth of red tape to make the aval bancario official, even though I worked with a great bank staffer and ponied up all necessary funds up front.

(Sidebar: I’ll betcha a finance industry pro could profitably market streamlined aval bancarios to expats here.)

Payments are often made through online bank transfers.

NEIGHBORHOODS

Madrid nabes are well-described by others online. Don’t rule out rentals in some relatively distant ‘burbs served by Madrid’s commuter rail system. Cercanías trains run much more often than CalTrain and Metrolink equivalents in California. I seriously considered a snazzy apartment in Aravaca, wouldn’t have been much cut off from central Madrid doings if I’d rented it.

Have a look at the schedule. Six minute travel time from Aravaca to the metro at the Principe Pio transit hub, with quarter hour headways in the middle of the weekday. A subject for another post, that I may or may not get around to writing.

* * * * *

Edit, 12/10/16: Corrected subheading.

Posted in Expat, Madrid, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

USA to Spain: Going Expat

I completed paperwork for a Spain long-term visa, moved to Madrid, live there now, intend to stay.   This morning I feel oddly motivated to sum up what I’ve learned about the process for transitophile readers.  I wonder why!  Who knows where these weird whims originate? Maybe something happened.

The U.S.-to-Spain expat wanna-be must:

  • qualify for the visa in the states,
  • register the paperwork in Spain,
  • settle into Spanish life.

In order:

QUALIFYING FOR THE VISA IN THE U.S.

Your United States passport qualifies you to spend three months in Spain visa-free, without additional paperwork. Buy tix, bring your passport to the airport, fly. Don’t forget to leave in three months or fewer.

Teleférico cars cross Casa de Campo in Madrid, Spain

Teleférico cars cross Casa de Campo in Madrid

If you want to stay longer, you need a visa. These can be applied for at Spanish consulates. Find the web site of the closest, click on the visas section, pick an appropriate visa category — e.g., Non-Lucrative Residence, Work and Residence — load the .pdf’d requirements, groan while contemplating the to-be-jumped-through hoops.

Consulates in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami work with private sector VFS Global to field questions and book appointments. Expect courtesy and short hold times. Other Spanish consulates may do just as well; I haven’t worked with them, don’t know.

I successfully applied for a Non-Lucrative Residence Visa. The getting-through-the-hoops information that follows may or may not be useful to seekers of other visa types.

Certified Translation: Some paperwork may need to be submitted with a “certified translation into Spanish.” I paid several hundred to get this chore done by Idesli, one of the translators listed.

Think you can translate docs yourself? Call VFS Global or the consulate, see what they think. I erred on the side of safety, didn’t want to see my app gutter-balled for rotten español.

Cover letter: My app required a Notarized document explaining why you are requesting this visa, the purpose, the place and length of your stay in Spain and any other reasons you need to explain, with a certified translation into Spanish.

I kept this short and sweet, and explained that I would seek permanent accommodations once in country.

Background check: My app wanted: Police Criminal Record clearance must be verified by fingerprints. It cannot be older than 3 months from the application date with a certified translation into Spanish. The certificate must be issued from either:

(a) State Department of Justice. Original clearance letter form signed (from the States where you have lived during the past 5 years). It must be legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention from the corresponding Secretary of the State.

(b) FBI Records, issued by the US Department of Justice – F.B.I. It must be legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention from the US Department of State in Washington DC.

I took path (a), above, found a handy visa/immigration page at the California Department of Justice web site, completed the downloadable form, took this form and my dry fingertips to a Livescan center.

A California Secretary of State web page tells how to get the ‘Apostille of the Hague Convention’ — e.g., a fancy-schmancy piece o’ paper with a stamp. I traveled to Sacramento to get mine over the counter, waited less than a half hour.

International medical insurance: I suggest that you try to verify requirements before your consulate appointment. I didn’t, found out the hard way that the consulate wants a policy with a zero deductible.

I got mine through Cigna Global. Cigna has adroitly fielded phone questions, but I can’t yet praise or pan them as an insurer: I’m a healthy guy, haven’t yet visited a doc here.

At the consulate: I strongly suggest an advance look at the ‘appointments’ section of the web site, to see how long you’ll have to wait for date. I had expected a two week wait, found that the lag had more than doubled by the time I was ready to sign up.

The San Francisco consulate lives in an unpretentiously furnished Victorian.  The sometimes crowded waiting room collects Spaniards, future expats and anyone interested in long stints on Spanish soil. Staff speak fluent English, and are prompt, cordial and reserved. Remember: you are there to ask for something that they might not want to give you. They don’t want to give an impecunious Charles Manson a bye for that year long Barcelona vacay. They’re ready to say ‘no.’ Señor Manson can go right ahead and Yelp a one star.

The consulate notified me by email that my app had been granted. Be forewarned: the email arrived with an unexpectedly simple subject line: “Positive Answer.” I didn’t recognize the sender’s name, saw nothing in the email’s header to indicate communication from a consulate, came perilously close to banishing the unopened missive to the binary circular file. Please learn from my near-blunder, and keep careful tabs on your inbox while awaiting word.

AFTER ARRIVAL IN SPAIN

The S.F. consulate told me I had to register my visa after I reached Spanish soil. Alas, they didn’t tell me much more than that. I learned the hard way that requirements are tougher than anticipated, and wound up seeking professional help once in Madrid.

Spainwide helps entrepreneurs start businesses and deal with tax issues. They don’t generally hold the hands of newcomers eager to register visa paperwork, but agreed to assist me. Color me grateful. I’d run out of patience.

If you’re bound for Madrid, and decide to jump through the hoops on your own: the Madrid extranjeria to be visited for visa registration is on Avenida de los Poblados, a fifteen minute hike from the Aluche station.  Feel free to take a look in Google Street View.  Not touristy, but — in my experiences , anyway — better run than many equivalent offices in the U.S.

After you’ve jumped through all necessary hoops, you’ll get a date to return to this extranjeria to pick up your wallet ready, drivers license-sized Permiso de Residencia card.

My visa is for one year, so I’ll have to deal with the extranjeria again in 2017. Several have assured me that visa renewal should be (relatively) quick and easy.

SETTLING IN SPAIN: DRAWBACKS

Language struggles have been the one big drawback to expat life here, at least thus far.

I anticipated problems with technical vocabulary, but had let myself forget how often I dealt with tasks presuming knowledge of such vocabulary in the U.S. of A. Who wants to wax sentimental about reading a rental contract, or filling out paperwork at the bank, or coaxing the cable company telephone robot to transfer your call to a live human? Those are chores; tedious, dull, endured with the big package of earthly life; glossed over, mercifully forgotten.

But I have to deal with such chores in Spain, too. I’m not a tourist; I live here. Further, I had to deal with many more such chores as a new arrival, without bank account, cell phone service provider, and so on. The folk I chat with aren’t trained language instructors, either, versed in the merits of addressing extranjeros with clear, cadenced speech. They may talk fast, mumble, slur; may be sick, bored, hungover, irritated, rushed, like working stiffs everywhere. “Address second language learners like a Spanish prof” isn’t in the job description for front line sufferers at the post office or cell phone monopoly.

The upshot: I have staggered out of a few Madrid offices in a shell-shocked, hollow-eyed daze, amazed that I fumbled my way through the execution of some chore or another. I have navigated all hurdles successfully to date (fingers crossed, knock on wood), but sometimes have required repeat visits to complete chores that I would have slam-dunked in the states. I don’t understand all the technical lingo on those forms, get lost when natives speak quickly.

I arrived as an intermediate speaker, have suffered less as my Spanish has improved. If you grew up yakking in español, you might not suffer at all.

SETTLING IN SPAIN: EVERYTHING ELSE

I popped a Vodafone prepaid SIM into my cell phone a few hours after arrival at Barajas International, changed it to a conventional monthly plan after nabbing the above-mentioned Permiso de Residencia card. Movistar is another big cell provider here, but I don’t own Movistar stock. I do own shares in Vodafone.

TripAdvisor lets you search for rooms with kitchenettes. Idealista also lists short-term rentals.

My Permiso de Residencia card allowed me to open a Spanish bank account. Before that, I got by with my own good counsel from a 2015 transitophile post .

Ernst & Young offers a  ‘worldwide tax and immigration guide.’  Deloitte has a ‘Spain Highlights 2016’ pdf.

Madrid Metro ticket machines sell 7 day ‘Zone A’ passes for €35,40. Your wallet will thank you if you quickly make an appointment at a Madrid Metro office to nab a personalized, photo-and-name-on-the-back ‘tarjeta transporte publico.’ Said card will accept a thirty day Zone A pass for €54,60. Big cost savings.

I booked CrownWMS to move my earthly possessions from a California storage locker to an equivalent space in Madrid. Said possessions rounded the globe on a container ship; I followed the vessel’s progress online as it plodded south along the Baja coast, cleared the Panama canal, nosed into the Atlantic.

First rate local agent SpainSIT delivered my stuff yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to pore over the boxes and don’t know if everything arrived intact, but I see no water damage, and am inclined to mark the move as a success.

CONCLUSION

I’m happy to be here, think I chose well, but also feel that I write prematurely. I’ve been here only four months. Further, I came as a retiree, with no need to work. Spain’s unemployment rate pushes 20%. I might feel very differently about Madrid if trying to haul in a paycheck here, although I understand that native English speakers are in demand.

“How good is your Spanish?” is my first question to other retirees contemplating a move to Spain. The better your Spanish, the better the move looks, at least so far.

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edited 11/11/2016: added information about Spainwide

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