or Reflections on Spanish Technology, Latinamerican Ñoquis and Oxford’s Cornmarket St.
When Spain was about to join the European Common Market, Jacques Delors said with disdain
that Spain was just a country of bricklayers, not at all interesting for Europe. It is not
an offence raising buildings, it gives jobs to a lot of people and a country has to do what
it can. This opinion about Spain is echoed, if perhaps in a nicer form, by Time magazine
and by many English publications that say that the national bird of Spain is now the crane:
the building cranes that can be seen raised in the skyline of our cities.
Spanish technology is almost inexistent and the country pays fortunes every year to foreign
companies for the use of their technology. Perhaps a rare success story in Spain of a
Spanish man that made good developing the most advanced form of technology can show you our present state.
Some years ago, when Franco was still alive, a young Spanish engineer went to the USA to
study Aeronautical Engineering. When he came back he couldn’t find a job -same as of today,
although it happened more than thirty years ago.
His uncle advised him to think back and remember if he had seen anything in the USA that
could be made in Spain, perhaps slightly modified, something useful, something that could
sell, something not too difficult to manufacture, something that filled a real need of the
people and forget about planes, the uncle would put the money to start.
The engineer invented and patented ‘La Fregona Española’. It is this plastic thingy you
stick on top of a bucket and use it to squeeze the water from a mop. He also made the mops,
and both things were unknown in Spain and it has helped to ease the strain in the backs and
knees of the women of Spain who previously had to do it by hand, using ‘alfojifas’ (no one
knows the clasic word for a floor cloth any more) and hurting their backs and knees.
The man got rich, made a company that builds and sells this plastic recipient through the
world. A real success story of Spanish applied technology and know-how. An easy thing, of
I imagine that if an American happens to read this he would get indignant and say that it
was known in the USA for generations, since the forties or perhaps earlier on. I’ve seen
very similar things appear in the screen in war-time musicals starring Frank Sinatra.
Never mind, you should know that the most popular inventor in Europe is still Comrade
Reguspatoff (Reg. U.S. Patt. Off.) and if you keep in mind that Spain is just a country of
normal, hardworking people, normally dishonest in their business dealings, without any
advanced technology, buying technology from more scientific countries and putting it to use,
if you think of us as the Japanese of Europe, you would go a long way to understand the
small successes of Spain now, in democratic times.
Foreigners are a bit amazed by the success of Spain and some Spanish companies in
Latinamerica. There is this mawkish talk of ‘the Conquistadors are coming back’ and so on.
Some Spanish companies across the pond are doing very well, in Argentine notably now the
telephones work, the petrol companies are doing better and there is a better, more
business-like way of working.
It is a bit amazing because if anybody knows how things were in 1901 for example and for
many years on, today’s Argentine ought to be in relation to Spain as the U.S.A. is to
Britain. Spain was much, much more backwards than the Latinamerican countries until not
long ago, but now the relation has changed totally, it has happened in my lifetime and I
have witnessed it.
A telling detail will help you to understand why and how. Do you know what ñoquis
(gnocchii) are? It is an Italian kind of pasta, made from flour and mashed potatoes,
traditionally made in Argentina the last Friday of the month, the usual pay day.
The Argentine administration ( and the administration of many other Latinamerican countries,
too ) is rotten with people who do not even show up for work, the Ñoquis, people who only go
there the last Friday of the month to get their salaries, for doing exactly nothing at all.
The Ñoquis even have an ideological excuse for it, and I have heard them say it, I have
heard teachers say : «This is the way to bring the system down.»
In comparison with the South Americans even the Spaniards are squirrels of activity !
You have a name for it, the Anglos have a name for it, it can be found in the dictionaries:
it is called Old Spanish Practices. But I have got news for you, they are not usual in
Spain anymore, it is no longer our way of life. Spain is ‘mañana’ country no more, and in
the Spanish companies certainly things get done at once and the boss wants to get them done
now, right now or else. In fact, I think that Britain is much more Mañana Country now, than
Spain, nothing gets done in time and everything gets over budget.
A country of bricklayers Spain, certainly, and it is a good thing to be a country of
bricklayers and you can see now, right now, today, what happens to a country that used to be
the powerhouse of the world and where the crane, the building crane, is certainly not the
Go now to Oxford, this stately city, then go to Cornmarket Street. Look at the shoddy work
they are doing there and now get this, get this amazing fact into your head: they have been
repairing this street for more than a year now. Cornmarket Street is only two blocks long,
two hundred meters long, 200 yards long if you wish. In Spain it would have been done in
two weeks, with half the people and ten times better, it is the shoddiest work I have seen
in my life. I go to Oxford every week and I look at Cornmarket Street in amazement and I
can’t believe what I see: big, fat workers bumming around; perhaps one works a bit, six or
seven look on, unfaced. Two or three drink tea with milk, another gets money from the ATM
machine. All look happy, well fed -half of them are Russkies- sitting in their machines
that do not move, and this is an English private company do not think for one second that
they are State workers. A pleasant picture of radiant joviality, I stare at them for a
couple of hours and they do not work at all.
(Yes, I don’t, either, but I am on my day off and they are suppossed to be working.)
This people call us mañana country, they get us in enormous international problems that
totally surpass our small abilities, their journalists insult us with lies about the Arab
past of Spain, when they do not even know or teach the history of their own country to their
own students, and they are incapable of repairing two blocks of a street.
You may say that I am writing of very low-class things. All right, here are the headlines of
the Guardian yesterday
«James Meek exposes the outrageous scandal of the west coast main line» (railroads)
«It is the most expensive non-military project ever undertaken in Britain.
By the time it is completed in 2008 it will have consumed £ 10 bn.
That’s seven times what it was supposed to cost -and £ 3 bn more than Nasa estimates it will
take to put another man on the moon.
And even then it won’t do what it was supposed to.»
Put your own house in order and don’t force a country of bricklayers and waiters into a mess
for which we are not at all prepared.
PS. I wrote this when Bush, Blair and Aznar got Spain in the war in irak with disastrous
consequences for us. The only Spaniard who benefitted has been Aznar who’s gotten rich although he was incapable of guarding the dynamite.
It is again relevant now, when the Anglo warmongers want to get Europe into another war,
this time against Iran and al-Quaeda threatens us again with murderours intentions. Let it
be known: in Spain we believe, every Spaniard believes that not a bomb goes off without the
CIA been behind it and not a chicken sneezes without a black hand spraying it with a virus.