If you walk the commercial street of a city like Barcelona you´ll find many attractive images in advertising, promotional materials and events that encourage you to buy goods and services, many of them developed by international and local campaigns. Fresh food, fancy clothes, luxury experiences do not usually comply to WYSWYG policies. Let´s explore a bit further.
Under the slogan of Spain is Different Manuel Fraga, a dictator Franco´s advisor promoted a country where because of "being different" tourist were forced to accept all kinds of outstandards, scams, and abuse in products and services, offered to them while visiting.
From this point many businesses have been inventing their own rules about prices, customer service, and product standards for years, when it comes to complying with quality and service, based on the belief, that people would buy anywy and they may not see them again.
Shopping for goods at departments stores can give you surprises like sales people affirming that products you know and use, simply do not exist in the market or things they just do not know, have apparenty never been built. These type of answers usually followed by "es lo que hay" (sort of "that is all you´ll get" ) leave you breathless and discourage to buy again or even try to buy.
Trying to find someone to give you information on options, colours, sizes, materials, functions or specifications will be useless unless you are lucky and find that the salesperson from abroad (usually Latinamerica, USA or Canary Islands), then you´ll have a smile and some assistance. Double priced products are found in most big stores, meaning that you may find the exact same item with two different prices at the same store or finding the same item at different prices in different shops located in different areas of the city. Be cautious with this.
I do have to admit, shop designers and marketeers do their job right, storefronts, ads, displays, shop-windows, catalogues and most websites are very seductive and get us into the shops, but once you are inside, another story is being told.
Overrated, overpriced and often crappy is the feeling of many visitors about their shopping and gastronomic experiences.
If you plan to go for dinner, restaurants hold the same policy, do not expect to be well treated, you can easily wait at a bar for 15 minutes to be noticed by the waiter and once he/she arrives will just ask you what you want without bringing a menu or having a visible pricelist, the result : surpise bill with overspriced items. Very often charging extra for items you did not ask for or overcharging on drinks and coffee. If he menu has pictures on it , do not believe what you see because you´ll receive a whole different dish, no "serving suggestion" note is visible either. be ready to pay more for the same dish at night or if you choose a table outside. very good and expensive restaurants can be found across Barcelona but for me after almost 10 years around here it has been hard to find value for money.
I guess the Spanish fashion industry is a vivid example of what I am trying to expres here. Inditex found its way to global business, selling very low quality clothes, copied from real designers to be sold in pretencious shops that look like real fashion stores, located in big malls or fancy avenues.
Clothes from Zara, Mango, Oysho, Stradivarious or any of the brands from Inditex will luckily survive three time in the washing machine, even the Beijing Consumer Association has legally confronted Zara about bad quality in their products. Prices are good, but what about value for money? Has anyone ever heard about that here?
Why are Spaniards always trying to "Vender la Moto"? ( a very common expression when people suspect something is not as much as it is being described as). These things permanently intrigue me and make wonder about how much of is cultural, just a national attitude, or a trace of collective identity.
I hope times change and a new generation of Spaniards will not repeat these traditions when making business, working with customers or developing a slogan that sells this country. It may be time for a change of mind, style and behaviour.
In a future post I´ll write about HQ Spanish products and companies, I promise. For the time being, check out a couple of references on the current topic: