Category Archives: Expat Guide

Does Ronda Need a Dedicated Foreigners Office?

Marginalised and Ignored

Rumours around Ronda suggest the mayor and council may be considering creating a foreigners office along the lines of those already operating in Estepona, Marbella or Mijas, but with an obvious focus on providing specific help for new residents to integrate rather than just offer translation or form filling services.

Several months ago Ronda Today spoke to Rafael Lara, councillor for Economics in Ronda about the number of foreign nationals resident in the Serranía, and he confided that the council is aware of around 8-14,000 foreigners permanently resident here based on statistics of amount of waste generated, sewage that needs to be treated, and power consumption.

Whilst the council does not know the exact whereabouts of the majority of foreign residents, the city finances are under enormous pressure because central government funding only applies to residents declared on the padron (empadronamiento), and with as many as 14,000 people unofficially resident in the district but not declared, that leaves a shortfall of over 2.5 million Euros.

The strategy behind creating a dedicated foreigners office in Ronda would be to offer a valuable service to a significant percentage of the population who are currently marginalised, and at the same time encourage anyone approaching the office to register, a process that is free and not in any way related to taxation.

Ronda Today understands that the mayor and council are keen to provide cultural activities, library services, and Spanish language classes to foreign residents, but are not able to at present because this community is not represented in council or by a foreign residents action committee.

What then do we as foreign residents in Ronda need? Well, aside from guidance on how to complete council paperwork or have documents translated, we also need to feel that we are part of the life of the city, and not just a cash cow to be ignored so long as we contribute to the local economy.

However, we are not likely to get the support of the council as long as so many of us refuse to integrate and register to vote in local elections. A foreign residents office could be just the start of truly bringing the two major communities of Ronda, the local Rondeños and other EU nationals, together into a single community.

To that end Ronda Today is willing to represent the foreigners of Ronda and make our case for more services of interest to a wider audience. Here are some examples of things we’ve heard foreigners ask for, but what would you like the Ronda foreigners office to do?

1. Local government forms such as the empadronamiento, planning consents, local regulations etc to be available in English, and if possible German and Dutch.
2. More affordable, and structured Spanish classes, perhaps offered by the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas with certification at the end of each year.
3. Original language cinema of latest blockbuster films
4. International cultural activities such as popular music and theatre
5. Information on consumer rights, and a way to complain about unfair pricing
6. Introduction service for foreigners wanting to meet Spaniards for intercambios

Please comment, or if you’d prefer, email admin@rondatoday.com, and we’ll make sure your point of view is anonymously presented to the mayor so that your voice is heard. Also, and this is very important, if your friends or neighbours don’t read Ronda Today, please tell them about our request and ask them to send a comment.

Bilingual Education in Ronda

Bilingual School in Ronda

Ronda does not have an international college for children of expatriate families, nor does the city have a geat number of foreign children needing to be educated, and most of those that are resident tend to be fully integrated in the Spanish education system.

But in Ronda we do have two bilingual schools, a primary school (CEIP Juan Carillo), and a high school (IES Dr Rodriguez Delgado), as well there is a second bilingual primary school in Setenil de las Bodegas, though this is within the Cadíz province whereas Ronda schools are of course within Málaga province.

The British Council and the Spanish Ministry of Education are working hand in hand to make bilingual education a reality throughout Spain. Unlike education in the UK or other parts of Europe, bilingual education in Spain requires teachers to conduct part of the curriculum in English, that means the entire lesson is either Spanish, or English.

Bilingual education in Spain is a relatively new development, and in Ronda especially so with both schools having only run their programs for a very short time; one year for the primary school, and three years for the high school. When we think of a bilingual school, it is easy to assume that all classes must be taught in both of the chosen languages fairly equally, but in Spain that is not the case owing to a shortage of qualified bilingual teaching staff.

Bilingual education in Spain isn’t intended to make it easy for foreign students to get a Spanish education, instead the system is intended to allow Spanish students to learn English at an enhanced level throughout their school years, the goal being to produce a generation of Spaniards able to compete in the international stage where English is acknowledged as the lingua franca.

However, bilingual education in Ronda is good news for foreign families because both of the bilingual schools welcome English speaking children if places are available, and if they had their way they would increase the number of foreign students to give Spanish students exposure to the English language in the playground as well as the classroom.

Non-Spanish parents need to understand how the bilingual system works, after all placing your child in a Spanish only school with their friends may still be their best option. The bilingual schools are not able to offer 50/50 education, in many classes they’d be lucky to achieve much more than minimal English.

Starting next year 2010/2011, the primary school hopes to offer 25% to 30% of all education in English; several teachers with good English training are helping to coordinate the curriculum, whilst other teachers undertake English night courses at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas.

At the high school, several classes are already running at 30% English with the joke being at 30% it isn’t possible for students and teachers to restrict their English to just the first and last few minutes of the class. In fact Ronda Today has met several of the teachers and can confirm that most are delighted to be teaching in English as well as their native Spanish, and that students are responding well to classes taught entirely in English.

Both schools in Ronda operate within predefined zones that make it difficult for students from outside the school zone to enrol, so it is important to speak with the school director before assuming your child will be eligible.

Humor – “Lift up your backsides!”

Ronda Hospital

‘¡Levante el culo!’ The ward double doors crashed open and three starched nurses swept in. ‘Lift up your backsides!’ they shouted, an English approximation of the Spanish.

A nurse called Paqui pulled off my sheet and said, ‘Buenos días, señor. Good morning sir. ‘Lift up your backside; I want to change your nappy.’ She wore an expression that would make a fighting bull bellow for his mama.

How did I get into this situation?

‘They think you’ve had two strokes,’ said Verne, my wife, two days before. ‘You are in hospital in Ronda being tested.’ Then she noticed that I was running a temperature, called a nurse and the alarm was raised. High temperatures don’t go with strokes. Between them they saved my life.

Four nurses surrounded my bed. One was a lad called Pablito, a gentle person. ‘Oh Bernardo,’ he cried, ‘they wish me to sit on top of you because I speak a little English and you must not move when they put in the needle.’

‘Puncture in the lumbar,’ grinned a large nurse who mimed skewering a chicken.

I’ll give them this – they were quick. I was rolled over, Pablito was on top of me and the ‘knitting’ needle went in all in one movement.  Later the Chief Medico arrived. ‘You have meningitis, Bernardo, and you cannot leave for three weeks. But you will be cured.’ So bang went our trip to Barcelona that we’d been planning. Then the 5th Cavalry, Roger, Verne’s son, arrived to help her. He too, fell in love with Ronda.

Back in the sickbay, this morning in the dawn cold, I had wallowed in my own urine, trapped in tight plastic knickers. I made a last appeal to Paqui brandishing the fresh nappy.  It’s no wonder babies cry. It’s not the wetness – it’s the cold wetness.

‘Can I have a bottle instead to make pee-pee in please Paqui?’

‘No, Bernardo.’ She lifted my legs like a baby, wiped here and there with a soapy cloth and clipped a new nappy on like a medieval chastity belt.

‘But with a bottle I would not require a nappy,’ I pleaded. One clings to little independencies when one’s freedom is all but gone.

‘No,’ Paqui said. ‘I have told you already, Doctor’s Orders.’

Silly me. Spaniards love Order and Rules are the Rails on which it Runs. The bullfight, for example, has dozens of conventions which have remained unchanged for generations.

Across the ward, a stunning looking young Andalusian nurse, chock full of Moorish genes, looked over and smiled. I’ll never let her change my nappy, I swore silently.

Next morning, the battle cry rang out and the Penelope Cruz look-alike approached my bed. ‘Good morning, Señorita,’ I simpered.

‘I have instructions to change your nappy,’ she smiled in a none-of-your-nonsense way and pulled my sheet off. There I lay, in my underpants, nappyless.

‘Where is your nappy?’ she demanded, smiles all gone. The other nurses watched.

‘In the corner,’ and I pointed to where I’d thrown it.

‘¡Que barbaridad!’ How disgusting! She said and gave me a look that had probably helped her ancestors conquer the Iberian Peninsula. After two more days of my civil disobedience, the senior nurse handed me a plastic bottle. ‘OK, you win but if you spill it you’d better learn to swim.’

I practised my Spanish and learned bits of history from the nurses and medics, who could, in turn, use their English. A good friend, Antonio, was an English teacher and corrected me on his visits.

‘Did you sleep well, Bernardo?’ he asked one early morning.

‘No, Antonio,’ I retorted. ‘This bed was designed by Torquemada.’

‘Torquemada?’ he showed his surprise at the mention of their most notorious Inquisitor. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘his prisoners would have lit the bonfires under their mothers themselves if they’d been made to sleep on this abomination.’ I had fallen into an exhausted coma just before the swallows wakened me swooping in to their tweeting young in nests spit-plastered under the eaves. ‘I’ll see if the bed can be fixed,’ he said. It couldn’t. So Torquemada won.

One lazy afternoon I asked about the Spanish Foreign Legion whose H/Q is in Ronda.

‘My husband is a colonel in the Legion,’ said Nurse Teresa. ‘Do you know their battle cry?’ she asked. “Long Live Death!”

They all looked proud of this daft but elemental Spanishism.

‘Do you know the Legion Hymn that they sing and march to on Good Fridays?’ I asked? ‘I love its Spanish inevitability…’

She started to sing. “I am the fiancé of Death…..…” A nurse took each arm and we shuffle-marched-staggered around the ward singing our heads off. Two other nurses joined in, laughing, imitating the drums. ‘Durrrum! Tshhh! Durrrum! Tshhh!’

The old man in the ward’s other bed, Carlos, woke up.

‘Stop this Fascist shite!’ he shouted or something like that. The Legion had been formed to support Franco, the far Right dictator. The old boy was a Republican and hated Franco.

‘We had better stop,’ said Teresa, ‘or Carlos will have a heart attack.’ It took me hours to convince him that I was not a Fascist but just loved that marching song.

Then Nurse Carmen walked in with a Zimmer frame and said, ‘Here is your andador,’ your ‘walker.’ After over two weeks in Torquemada’s bed, I had to learn to walk all over again.  It was a quiet afternoon; I was in a silly mood. ‘Does he have a name?’

‘Who?’

‘El andador,’ I said.

‘No,’ she said, thinking I’d gone around the twist.

‘So let’s give him one. Alfonso? Your last King in the republic in 1931, was Alfonso the Thirteenth, yes?’

‘We’ll have to christen him then,’ said Nurse Mari-Paz.

‘No ways,’ said Nurse Carmen, ‘that old stuff is all finished. We’ll have a Coronation!’

‘We’ll invite Carlos’, said Teresa. And so the crowning of Alfonso the Fourteenth took place with a pink plastic bucket as his crown, pink out of respect for Carlos’ political beliefs. He, in the spirit of reconciliation, pronounced Alfonso King of Ronda.

Spaniards love joking. When friend Bosco asked why we were learning Spanish, I replied, so that we can understand what you are all laughing at. In this spirit, I’ll miss them all and their battle cry. If you have to get sick go to a Spanish hospital. They’ll make you better.

Reasons to use a Dedicated Currency Specialist

Living in Spain means having to use the Euro as our currency of daily life, compounded when large purchases are made from houses or cars, to renovations, installing heating or cooling systems, medical treatment, paying for satellite TV installation, and a lot of other expenses that may be specific to your lifestyle. Traditionally we use high street banks, without realising they don’t always offer the best rate of exchange.

Furthermore, in this difficult times like we’ve experienced in 2009 and going forward into most of 2010, losing money on currency exchange is easy to do. Did you know that most high street banks, building societies, and Spanish cajas offer the tourist rate of exchange when you send pounds from the UK to Spain, or in reverse, send Euros to the UK.

The commercial rate of exchange, which is what the banks pay is never the rate you pay, and there can be a significant difference between the two. A specialist foreign exchange company is more likely to offer the commercial rate than the tourist rate. This could mean a two to three point difference on the rate you’re offered.

Here’s an example. Right now (December 2009) the Euro is strong, and is hovering around 1.09€-1.11€ to the pound. Now let’s assume the bank rate you’re offered is 1.08€ to the pound. A foreign exchange company might offer you 1.11€ to the pound, I’m sure you’ll agree this is a significant difference, but in practical terms it means that transferring £100,000 to Spain will see a foreign exchange company give you an extra 3,000€.

Considering how often many of us transfer funds from the UK to Spain on a monthly or regular interval, even with smaller amounts we see a significant saving, and with the rate of exchange being so weak every little bit we keep in our pockets is better than just giving it away to banks when we don’t need to.

Foreign Exchange Fees can be Waived

One of the most compelling reasons to use a foreign exchange company though are because they often waive transfer fees that you might pay £25 to £40 per transaction to a bank. Transferring £500 for monthly living expenses and paying a £25 transaction fee amounts to losing 5%, notwithstanding being offered the tourist rate of exchange.

Spanish banks are not immune from taking a small percentage as well, we’ve heard reports of Spanish banks charging fees that can be as much as 1% simply to receive the funds. Admittedly the fee a Spanish bank charges might be a fixed amount that on larger transfers can be ignored, but on smaller monthly payments adds up. Some UK foreign exchange companies operating in Spain have agreements with Spanish banks to waive receiving fees.

So, if a specialist foreign exchange company offers a rate 3 points more favourable than a high street bank, and waives transfer fees, and is able to deposit your money into a Spanish bank without additional fees, then on smaller amounts you could be looking at savings of 4-8%, and that adds up month by month.

Larger transfers initiated through a bank also require registration for each transaction, to comply with UK and EU anti-money laundering legislation. Whilst there is no fee for this it does add to the hassle of currency exchange and means you need to supply personal details everytime. In contrast a foreign exchange company operating in Spain will assign an account manager who is able to process your transactions with information kept on file.

Improve your Currency Exchange Transactions

The rate of exchange fluctuates so much it can be disheartening to watch it from day to day, seemingly never improving, or only briefly when it does. Of course the problem is that when we need to transfer funds, Murphy’s law invariably comes into play and we are rarely able to capitalise on better rates. See our feature on currency exchange in Spain.

For me this is probably the strongest reason yet for keeping an account with a foreign exchange company. Your high street bank will never let you plan in advance, they don’t offer spot transactions, forward transactions, limit orders, and they certainly don’t offer rate watch services.

Spot Transactions
Buy Now, Pay Now: Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of moving currency from the UK to Spain, or vice versa, is the knowledge that banks offer a day rate, but you and I know the rate fluctuates during the day, and sometimes quite favourably, but the only people who seem to benefit are forex speculators. How often do we see financial news bulletins on Sky mention the pound rallied in the middle of the day, only to settle at days end? Spot transactions with a foreign exchange company eliminate this regret by allowing you to call your account manager and settle a transaction right now while the rate is favourable.

Forward Transactions
Buy Now, Pay Later: Consider securing a favourable rate as much as 12 months in advance by making a small deposit to a currency exchange company. You protect yourself against too much movement in the market because the trader agrees to fix the rate you negotiate. Currency exchange companies love this type of transaction, they’re able to plan further ahead themselves, which makes them more profitable, and we benefit from a known fixed rate of exchange if a major transaction is anticipated.

Limit Orders
Why not place an order for a particular rate of exchange that isn’t conducted until the exchange rate reaches the level you’ve specified. You are protected from negative movement because your transaction isn’t processed until the rate is reached. Here’s how it works, your currency exchange account manager enters the rate you want into their computer system, and your transaction is kept on hold until your rate is reached, then the transaction is processed automatically.

Most currency exchange companies are happy to deal with large and small transactions, there is no reason not to contact them even if the amount seems ridiculously small. Here in the Serranía we know of several retired couples who bought their Spanish homes with cash, and are quite capable of living on just 250€ per month which includes groceries, power, phone, and occasional tapas. Even so, currency exchange companies are the better option over a high street bank. Remembering that most banks charge a transfer fee, smaller amounts are even more reason to talk to a currency specialist.