OPINION
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The national party

What tourists love about Spain may well be the cause of its economic crisis

Manuel Villafaina, owner of the chiringuito (beach bar/restaurant) Los Manueles, has the far-off gaze of a veteran sheriff in Dodge City, circa 1880. He is nursing a beer on the terrace of the restaurant where he has worked for 44 years, and reminds me of Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men . He gives the impression of having seen everything, of the world holding no surprises for him.

I ask him about the impact of the crisis. He says "tourism is not in crisis," and then reels off a series of facts that anyone with a less impassive outlook would see as a warning of imminent catastrophe. At least for the Spanish. People who used to come here for 15 days, now come for 10; the family that came to eat at Los Manueles 12 afternoons, now comes for eight; more people than ever eat in their hotels; people order more sardines and less anchovies; you see fewer Spanish people and more English... "People grumble, of course," he says. "But there's just no money."

Villafaina is the local president of the Beachfront Businessmen's Association. When he says "people" he refers to his fellows. "The typical thing now is for four customers to sit down and order a paella for three. They share it out carefully, and not a grain of rice is left on the platter."

Villafaina, an avid newspaper reader, takes an interest in talking with his German customers. He asks them why they come to Spain, and they always say the same. "Because we love the way you are: the party feeling, the joy." That is, they come in search of something they can't easily find in their own country, where, they tell him, saving always prevails over spending. And where responsibility for society as a whole has the same overriding precedence that in Spain is accorded more exclusively to solidarity with one's family and one's circle of friends.

There would be fewer unemployed if Spanish people had a better attitude to their jobs

Villafaina then speaks, with a trace of indignation, of the number of acquaintances he has of late, who are collecting unemployment insurance while continuing to work in the same jobs they had before. "They call up old customers, and offer to bill them without VAT. This is something the Germans don't do." Nothing new under the sun, but perhaps here we have part of the explanation why Germany is doing well economically and Spain is not.

Quite a few of those who complain that politicians and bankers are thieves, seem not to notice that they are thieves too, for they are robbing the state - never considering that, if those who are being paid under the counter were not also receiving unemployment insurance, there would be more money to pay hospital employees. If there is a good side to the prevalence of such fiddles, says Villafaina, it is that so far there has been no outbreak of social violence. "Otherwise how can you explain it, with almost six million unemployed?"

There would be fewer unemployed if Spanish people, or a larger proportion of them, had a better attitude to the job they do. This is the opinion of the director of a local hotel, a foreigner, who verbally rent his raiment in speaking of the attitude of many of his employees. "They are dishonest," he says. "Not in the sense of stealing money, but because they have this idea in their head that the boss is always exploiting them. So their answer is to refuse to give the best of themselves. Instead of understanding one's work as something to be done with pride and ambition, they see it as a drag that you have to get through, to get off your back, so that you can go and have some beers with your friends, which they consider to be the real meaning of life."

Here is the joyous party vibe that the Germans like. The price is a handicapped culture of work. In Villafaina's words, "the problem is that everyone tries to cheat." The state cheats, ergo I cheat the state; the employer cheats me, so I cheat him.

What Spain needs is a new sheriff to shake up this vicious circle. If not, the four customers who order a paella for three, will soon be ordering a paella for two. And not only eating the rice, but carrying off the plate too.

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