One of the questions in the practice tests for the Spanish citizenship exam was: Uno de los principales puertos de España en transporte de viajeros es… a) Gran Canaria. b) Alicante. c) Algeciras. I opted for b) but the correct answer is c). The preparation was a good exercise in learning more about Spain. The typical dance of Galicia is the muñeira and the colours of the flag of Cantabria are red and white. Every day I imagine that hundreds of passengers on Spanish commuter trains engage in conversation around these topics.
So, yesterday I sat on a bench in Alicante marina – which is not a principal Spanish passenger port – looking at my revision notes one last time before walking up the Rambla to do the 45-minute CCSE exam. There were about thirty-five candidates of whom the majority were South American, so they won’t have any trouble when it comes to the other exam, the Spanish language test! I’m doing that in September.
The candidates had gathered outside waiting for the doors to open at 5.30, which of course they didn’t. The instructions said to get there no later than 5.30 as registration would take a while before the exam began at exactly 6 o’clock. But this was a Spanish citizenship exam, so we had to learn Spanish lateness as part of the test. A staff member opened the doors at 5.45 and we all filed in. She led us down the stairs to a lift, which she explained had a maximum capacity of four people, and she disappeared into the lift with the first three candidates.
Some of us took the initiative to open the stairwell door and walk up. The stairwell was windowless and completely dark. As I stumbled up the stairs one candidate in front of me tripped and the person behind bumped into me. There was a brief muddle as we stooped in the darkness to pick up our dropped passports and papers.
I said to an Argentine lady and her husband who I had been talking to outside, “¿Les parecen que esto forma la parte practica de la prueba?” Do you think this is the practical part of the test? The woman roared hysterically – far more than the joke deserved – and repeated it to her husband. When we finally arrived at the test centre reception, everyone was there. Had they ignored the instructions and squeezed thirty passengers into the four-person lift? We stairwell adventurers were now last in the queue. The Argentine lady laughed again and repeated my joke to everyone in the queue. Nobody laughed. A north African man glared at me.
I was led to my exam desk which was Number 1 and took that as a good omen. The invigilator started the exam a quarter of an hour late and I finished the 45-minute test in ten minutes. There were no questions about the muñeira or indeed any folkloric arrangements whatsoever, nor the colours of the flag of Cantabria, nor my favourite donkey question: Who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1956? (Go on, look it up for the donkey reference.)
The results of the exam are published in twenty days, with a simple pass or fail, so I will never know if I got the 100% I was aiming for, or discover whether there were indeed extra marks for finding the test centre in a dark stairwell.
Outside on the Rambla, as we candidates went our separate ways having navigated How to be Spanish: Lesson 3, I heard the Argentinian lady call “¡Suerte!” to me and then she began repeating to her husband my joke about the stairwell being the practical part of the test. I hastened away, now wishing I’d never said it, as she eagerly headed towards the train station and a train full of returning Alicante commuters for her to entertain with her dark stairwell adventure and the hysterically funny joke.
I don’t go to Alicante very often, and never go into the city centre at all. In the Rambla there is a very small cool plaza with a kiosk bar that looks like it has been there for a hundred years, and four great trees which must have been there for several hundred years. I sat there with a glass of good vintage Ribera and reflected on the journey so far, happy with the decision to relinquish my British passport and start the process of becoming Spanish, but yesterday’s regional newspaper, Información de Alicante, had a disconcerting headline about the worries for the collapse of local industry due to Brexit and the continuing USA-China trade war.
If Brexit is seen as cause for the collapse of local businesses and unemployment, after Spain has struggled so hard for the past decade to recover from the banking crisis, we British will not be popular. Even if some of us become Spanish.
Update to follow later:
There are a number of issues around delays in the Spanish citizenship application process and I have some updates on this from Eurocitizens’ Michael Harris in Madrid. I will add the details later, once I have followed some further leads.