A few months ago we were looking for a blacksmith to make us a firewood holder.
In many countries ironmongers like shoemakers are virtually obsolete, yet here in Andalucía they are as busy as ever. We were told that the local smith had his shop just off the main square and if he wasn’t there, one could always find him at the bar.
As predicted, we found a heavily bolted door, so we headed for his regular tapas bar. No, el herrero wasn’t there yet, said the waiter, but if we waited un ratito he should be in. (I suppose he runs his business from at table there?) True to the tale this Andalusian cowboy arrived minutes later, ready for his beer and for business. We explained what we needed, making a quick sketch on a cocktail napkin. The final design and price were determined over the first cerveza and the deal was sealed by the time he ordered his third tubo.
Passing the bar just a few days later, the smith us called from his table, informing us that our stand was ready. He could deliver it, he said, or we could pick it up. We could only assume that he didn’t mean from the bar…
Of course not all Andalucian business happens at the bodega. There are also the coffee bars…
When we first moved to Spain, we made an appointment with one of the local banks to set up our accounts. The appointment was at 11 am. Being new in the place, we foolishly showed up before the scheduled time, which one simply never does down here in the deep South.
The employee we should meet, whose desk was by the entrance ad had its very own line-up, was not there. Curiously, nor was the cue. Assuming he had nipped off to spend a penny or something equally urgent, we waited in front of his desk. Finally, another employee took mercy on us foolish newcomers, asking if we needed help. We explained that we had an appointment with Señor so-and-so at 11. Being just 20 minutes past, we were told not to worry. He had just gone for breakfast and would surely be back by noon.
We are not as naive anymore. Considering ourselves seasoned guiris (a somewhat derogatory name for foreigners) now, we no longer make appointments at breakfast time, knowing perfectly well that all employees disappear for their God-given-right-to-eat-breakfast-during-work-hours for at least 60 minutes between 10 and noon-ish. We also have learned to avoid the post office during breakfast hours, when the line-ups are dismal and only one wicket is open, with a very cranky employee anxious to go for breakfast.
So, what to do? Should ones business be too urgent to wait, one can go to the employees’ coffee-bar-of-choice and endeavour to get the answer to ones question of approval of ones loan or reporting a credit theft over a café con leche.
I am not claiming that all business at these southern latitudes happen at the bar. Our accountant for one only has meetings in her office, though she is often gone for coffee when we arrive.
Many will do their business behind office doors, but it is surprising how often someone will bring a contract, a wedding invitation or a medical record to the bar.
In fact, bars are Andalucía’s backbone and many peoples’ second home. Our local bars open from 9-ish in the morning, with the regulars coming in for their first Anis shortly after. The same people seem to close the bar and its business some time after 3 am.
The street sweeping crews have their regular bars where they take a break to discuss rubbish and politics. Politicians meet at bars to plan further rubbish procedures. Meetings with lawyers, architects, inspectors and undertakers are frequently held at a bar. If one wants to get a second medical opinion about a blood test, X-ray or an MRI in Andalucía, one could bring the papers to the bar. Sooner or later a doctor will arrive, willing to discuss the findings over some refreshments.
People bring family, friends and dogs to the bar. Baptisms and first communions with babies and youngsters will be celebrated at the local bodega.
Bars are where one goes for family outings.
News about the passing of a local resident is often announced in print by the bar entrance, or if space is tight on the beer fridge. Bars are also where gets informed about funerals, weddings, divorces, health matters, building projects, political upheavals, family interventions, scandals and local gossip.
Business deals are sealed in Andalusian bars all the time and heaven help those who do not frequent bars, as how else would they get new clients and hear about new projects.
When we initially were looking for a place to rent in Ronda we went through a proper rental agency. A couple of years later, needing a place while constructing our house, we knew better and went straight to the neighbourhood’s key information hub – the local bodega.
We ordered a couple of tintos and started asking around. Within minutes, we had several options. The sister of one of the regulars, always sitting at the same table with the same red nose, had a 7-bedroom house for rent in the historic centre. Maybe a tad too big for two, we said. The third cousin of one of the waiters had a place in the campo.
Taking the matters into her own hands, the bar owner called a landlady around the corner. As there was no answer, she hurried off down the street on high heels to arrange an immediate viewing. That’s instant action, I’d say!
We may not run a business from the local bar just yet, but we know where the deals are made and where one needs to go to get things done in southern Spain. There is no telling what can happen if one is at the right bar at the right time…