The idiot foreigner’s been on holiday, playing at grandmas down in Oz. Oh, the simplicity of a well-ordered society. But now it’s back to reality and another dose of life as an immigrant.
At the local health centre, the receptionist tells us to come back another day. Her colleague’s off sick and she can’t cope with any more people. The truth is they’re all working to rule, because the public services are in crisis. Making life as difficult as possible for the public they serve is becoming a national pastime.
The next day we brave her fearsome glare and manage to get some answers. As a foreigner I can’t register with a doctor until I have a Spanish medical card. Ah, but I can actually phone the social security office and book an appointment! That beats queuing in the street. What’s more they send you a reminder by text. Wonder of wonders, we’ve entered the age of technology.
Buoyed up with optimism, I set off for my appointment, taking with me the documents that the health centre told me I’d need. I’ve even thought to get photocopies – oh yes, I’ve wised up to that one – originals AND copies of all documents are ALWAYS required – and they won’t do the photocopying for you. You have to visit a seedy little shop in a back alley and pay 60 centimos.
When I get to the social security office, the long queue throws me slightly. Don’t we all have appointments? Oh, of course, you still have to get a ticket with a number. Silly me. Anyway, the queue’s moving quickly, as are the numbers being called on the screen. Only five or ten minutes late, mine appears and I make my way to desk 9.
A weary looking woman asks what I’ve come for, and I explain that I want a medical card.
‘Have you brought your S1?’
‘My S1? But I gave it to the police.’ At least, I think I did. I’ve been to so many offices (not to mention Australia and back) that I can barely remember. But yes, I’m sure it was the police – I had to queue for a second time at 7 a.m. to give it to them.
‘Oh no,’ says the woman. ‘We’re the ones that need it, not the police.’
‘But they wouldn’t give me my certificate of residence without it! And they told me that the certificate was all that I needed to get my medical card.’
She shakes her head. ‘We can’t give you a medical card without the S1. The police shouldn’t have kept it.’
I can see she’s not going to back down so I try another tack. ‘The health centre didn’t say anything about the S1 either. They just told me to bring my UK health card.’ (Which I don’t have, because as far as I remember paper cards went out years ago with the advent of computers. What a brilliant idea – a computer data base – have they thought of that here?)
She’s not impressed. ‘Well, if that’s what the health centre told you, they’re misinformed.’
‘Look,’ I say, launching into surprisingly fluent Spanish, ‘there seems to be a breakdown of communication here between the various offices. Each one tells you something different.’
No answer. She turns to my other documents. My certificate of registration with the local council took several visits to obtain but she’s not happy with it.
‘It’s dated November,’ she says. ‘That’s quite a long time ago.’
‘What?’ I can hardly believe what I’m hearing. Of course there’s no point saying I’ve been away in Australia.
‘We consider these certificates to have a life of 3 months,’ she explains.
‘3 months? You mean I’ve got to go back every 3 months and get another one?’
She must sense that I’m angry because she begins to back down. ‘Don’t worry, it’ll probably be all right. But we must have the S1. You can’t have a health card without it.’ She embarks on a monotonous spiel about reciprocal agreements between countries in the European Union.
I can see I’m getting nowhere. ‘So I’ll have to go back to the police station,’ I say. ‘Or ask for another one from the UK.’
She gives me a nod. ‘It might be quicker to get one from the UK.’
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I think it might.’ Going to the police station would either involve another early morning queue, or throttling a policeman. Which might get me arrested. Or deported.
I wonder what papers you need for that?