UNDERSTANDING SPAIN — A Year in Marbella and The Art of Getting Served

Hola de Nuevo amigos, from Marbella!

Another blog so soon?

Hello Boris, is that a No37 bus?

Hello Boris, is that a No37 bus? No… I didn’t think so!

Similar to the No37 Peckham to Hounslow bus, there are none for a month and then three come along at once.

This will strike a chord of unpleasant memory for any ex-Borough Road ‘students’ reading this.

It’s seven-thirty on Friday evening and it’s almost cool enough to turn off the air conditioning and venture out to graze and sip cool amber liquids from the oasis that is the Moet tavern.

If I can get served, that is.

I’ve been in Marbella for the best part of seven months now and there are a few cracks beginning to appear in the terracotta mosaic of this Iberian paradise.

Lets start with two: July and August.

Chicos, I will not be here in the height of the season next year, so if you wish to rent my luxury penthouse Casco Antiguo apartment, form an orderly line.

It’s not just that temperatures are nudging forty degrees and there is more humidity than in a steam room.

Nor is it that my adopted hometown is rammed with tourists — I was one this time last year.

No, the main reason for my current disenchantment is the lousy service, even in establishments where I am almost regarded as a local — a feat I never achieved in twenty years of living in Sidmouth.

The Spanish have somehow managed to perpetuate the myth that they are good at hospitality.

To a Spaniard, being a camarero is not like being a waiter in the UK, where you are simply doing the owner a huge favour by working when it suits you between ‘studying’ for your Media Studies degree or your bit-part as an extra in Eastenders.

Irish barman— the consummate professional

Irish barman— the consummate professional

This is an actual profession, like being a barman in Ireland. If you don’t inherit the family farm, become a priest or join the army, then the least worst option is to become a waiter or a barman.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, in some establishments the service is very, very good indeed. Take Da Bruno (free steak on my next visit please, senora Bruno) where the service is excellent. It’s pretty good in most of the touristy eateries too. The Orange Tree is impeccable and The Terra Sana likewise. Beckett’s is pretty good,  The Farm isn’t bad (a bit slow with the drinks, it has to be said) and I’ve yet to experience poor service in any establishment in which I’ve eaten around Orange Square.

The problem is with the small, owner operated bars and bistros. They do not appear to care whether they make any money or not. Take the Moet bar: my local; I have bought houses quicker than getting a pint in there. Here’s their Facebook page: Can you see anyone with an actual drink? No… that’s because they’re all waiting to get an order in while the waitress updates her status on Twitbook or files her nails.

And another thing… when you eventually get a drink, there comes a point in the evening when you want to leave. My divorce took less time and it takes to get la quenta.

But the worst service I have had in Spain — with the possible exception of Marbella Yacht Club — yes… the Gold medal for a level of service so bad that we actually walked out… goes to the Restaurant Juan de Maria.

A friend and I went there one Saturday night a few weeks ago. She had booked a table for 9pm with the prospect of enjoying a meal followed by a Flamenco show, due to start at 10pm. We arrived, fashionably late at around 9.15, expecting to be shown to our table, offered a drink and the menu, only to be told that neither the chef nor any of the waiting staff had arrived yet, and that the maître d’ was in the middle of his meal so we would have to wait.

We didn’t.

So here are a couple of tips: Don’t wait meekly to be noticed — an elderly French lady



waited for 45 minutes for a camarero to show any interest in a quiet bar we happened to frequent the other day — go straight to the bar and eyeball the waiter until there is absolutely no doubt that you are a borderline alcoholic/sociopath and you’ve not come here for the ambiance.

And when you order your last drink, ask for the bill at the same time. It won’t arrive for half an hour and you’ll have to remind her three times but at least you’ve started the ball rolling.

You know, there’s a lot to be said for the British system of going to a bar, asking for a drink, receiving it then paying for it, and repeating the process until you are replete.

Frutas Secas — avoid these like the plague... God I love them!

Frutas Secas — avoid these like the plague… God I love them!

But on the ‘up’ side, you often get free crisps or Frutas Secas, but — another word of advice — avoid the latter like the plague.

Frutas Secas, chicos, for those of you who do not know, are often presented with your first drink in the form of a bowl containing a curious mixture of nuts (some still with shells) an assortment of fried salty corn hoops, a tooth busting selection of rock-hard mini gob-stoppers and sugarcoated sweet jelly-baby-like things.

Trouble is, much as I hate them — especially the sugarcoated sweet jelly-baby-like things, I always lick the bowl.

This weekend we travel in the footsteps of Hemingway, the mystical Rainer Maria Rilke, and Orson Welles to the ancient city of Ronda.

Let’s hope the service is better.

Hasta la proxima vez, mi amigos!









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