The steal industry

Flicking through the pages of the Spanish press some days, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the entire country was filled to the brim with armies of corrupt buffoons cheating, swindling, and diddling their way through life, living high on the hog, stuffing their chubby faces with gout-inducing foodstuffs and their mattresses with wads of 500-euro notes. And then you put the newspaper down and look about and all you can see for miles around are loads of hardworking people cheerfully going about their daily graft, often for meagre reward. The contrast is chastening.

Every time you see a photo of some sorry sap in a suit who’s just been caught cheating his grandmother out of her life savings, or the moral equivalent, you can bank on two things: the person concerned will have the kind of gimlet-eyed thousand-yard stare that only profound greed can bestow on someone, and they’ll also look like they haven’t had a belly laugh since they were about eight years old. There’s always an air of Greek tragedy about them as they trudge off dolefully towards the slammer.

Meanwhile, in cities, villages and barrios up and down the land, Paco and Manolo, Patricia and María and thousands more like them will be serving people their morning coffee or gulping some down before putting in an eight-hour shift, dreaming of holidays and pay days and football and Zara and never contemplating for a second the idea of taking an extra share of the tips or calling in sick with a hangover. My experience of Spanish people is that they are, almost unfailingly, really hard-working and very slow to complain.

Where, then, do all of these thoroughly corrupt specimens come from? It’s as if there’s a special school just north of Burgos or somewhere where they train them up and churn them out like doughnuts. Somehow, they’re all taught to dress the same, act the same, they certainly all go to the same barber and, almost by stealth, each of them develops a slumped gait which suggests the weight of a long-neglected conscience is wrapped invisibly around their rapidly ageing shoulders.

Here’s the thing - I can’t even remember the name of the one I saw on the front pages of the papers this morning; we do, however, tend to remember the names of the hard-working Pacos, Manolos, Patricias and Marías who cross our paths on a daily basis

What was it the Beatles used to sing? Money Can’t Buy You Respect. I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like that, anyway.