The portero

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

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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:

  1. Taking out and bringing in the rubbish bins;
  2. Putting the mail in the correct letterboxes;
  3. Sweeping and mopping the floor if it’s dirty;
  4. Watering the two pot plants in the foyer;
  5. Letting visitors and any repairpeople into the building;
  6. Acting as an informal and unofficial supplier of privileged local intelligence (in other words, gossiping).

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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!).

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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!).

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But I’m glad I got to see this quaint spectacle, even if its days are well and truly numbered.

The landlord

When I made the decision to go to Spain, I also decided that I wanted to organise my accommodation in advance, because, being the chronic worrier that I am, I was petrified of ending up on the street, homeless and unhappy (yes, I know that there are such things as hotels and hostels, but my illogical mind prefers to focus on the worst possible scenario).

So I resolved to rent an apartment online.

When I arrived yesterday, I gave the landlord a call, to arrange a time to meet. He said he was incredibly busy, and was currently 40 minutes away at his workplace, but would do his best to get there at 5:30p.m.

OK, fine. No problem. He was probably working hard to pay the mortgage on the apartment.

At 5:30p.m., I found myself waiting outside the apartment, like a proverbial shag on a rock, when a taxi pulled up, and out jumped a middle-aged man, wearing mirror sunglasses, torn jeans, and with his shirt unbuttoned too far. Yes, this was the landlord.

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After showing me the apartment (every sentence punctuated by loud sniffing, which I hope was from a cold or allergies, rather than habitual cocaine use) and the neighbouring shops, he gave me the keys, and said I could collect the contract from his office tomorrow (i.e. today).

As he had told me he worked 40 minutes away, I imagined this would be quite a trip. But no. He meant 40 minutes’ walk. And it turned out his office was actually his apartment located on one of the best streets in Madrid. And what an apartment it was! It had a huge terrace, antique furniture, and a pet python, Francesca, sitting there in a cage.

It was about then that I started to realise that despite his outward appearance and unusual mannerisms, the landlord was not “doing it tough”, so to speak. And this was confirmed when I asked him whether he only owned one apartment. “No, not one,” he answered. “A few, then?” I continued. “Sixteen,” he replied. “Oh. That must, umm, keep you busy,” I said lamely.

I don’t know why, but this discovery really made me feel unhappy. Call me naive, but I don’t want to be sitting here, furthering my landlord’s extensive property empire and opulent lifestyle, paying him rent in cash so he doesn’t have to declare his income, with 15 other tenants doing the same.

But perhaps my views are a little too innocent.