One of the most interesting things about Spain is that whilst it is incredibly modern in some respects (hello, superfast trains!), it is quaintly old fashioned in other ways. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of porteros…
A portero or portera is a type of doorman or doorwoman, who sits at the entrance to a building, typically an apartment block. They are not a concierge, because they don’t do things like making reservations for the guests or helping them with their luggage. And they’re not a security guard, either, because whilst they watch the doorway to the apartment block, they don’t prevent people from gaining entry.
So, you’re probably thinking, what exactly does a portero do? Very good question, to which I don’t know the answer, although my observations suggest the best response is “Not a lot.”
Case in point. The apartment block where I live has a portero. From what I can gather, his daily tasks are:
- Taking out and bringing in the rubbish bins;
- Putting the mail in the correct letterboxes;
- Sweeping and mopping the floor if it’s dirty;
- Watering the two pot plants in the foyer;
- Letting visitors and any repairpeople into the building;
- Acting as an informal and unofficial supplier of privileged local intelligence (in other words, gossiping).
How long do these tasks take him? About 30 minutes is my guess, except for the last one, which can go on ALL DAY if you’re not careful. And yet the portero sits at his little desk for (wait for it) 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, doing pretty much nothing, except reading his book and playing on his iPad.
Talk about a good wicket (hello, Australian idiom! And hello, photo of Steve Waugh!).
I’m not sure if the portero is paid a salary. I don’t think he is. But I know he is supplied with an apartment in the building. Said apartment has three bedrooms, and is exterior (so it’s nice and light), and would probably cost about 1,400 Euros a month to rent, so I guess this is a pretty good deal.
But I can’t help feeling that the days of porteros may very well be numbered. It simply doesn’t make economic sense to have a guy sitting in the building all day, doing virtually nothing.
And I’m still not certain if I feel incredibly jealous (Hey! I want to sit all day doing my own thing and being paid for it, complete with free apartment!) or incredibly sorry for him (Bloody hell, I would be bored out of my wits sitting in the apartment building all day, pretending to be busy, and I seriously don’t know how he lasts an hour, let alone a day!).
But I’m glad I got to see this quaint spectacle, even if its days are well and truly numbered.