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LIFE IN SPAIN

‘The perfect excuse to keep it simple’: Getting married in Spain during the pandemic

Covid has complicated wedding plans for thousands of brides and grooms who are looking to tie the knot in Spain. But is it worth waiting for restrictions to end or is a low-key ceremony with masks and little dancing still worth it? The Local speaks to two sets of couples about their experiences.

getting married in spain pandemic
Agata and Joce tied the knot at a small civil ceremony in January 2021.

It’s fair to say that when it comes to real-life scenarios where the risk of contracting Covid-19 is high, wedding ceremonies are right up there.

There’s all the kissing and hugging, the often large groups of people travelling from different locations, the indoor seating, the up-close dancing and shouting as the night wears on.

All this means that weddings have been heavily regulated since the start of the pandemic, with every region setting its own wedding rules about how long the celebrations can last for, how many guests can attend and how many people per table.

And even though more than 16 months have passed since Covid-19 came to dominate our lives, a rise in infections across the country could mean that as the summer rolls along – the peak wedding season –  restrictions can change with little notice and force couples to rethink existing wedding plans.

So is it still worth going ahead with a wedding during the pandemic or is it better to wait?

Small civil ceremony

“The pandemic didn’t affect our marriage plans enormously,” Tenerife dentist Joce Loza told The Local Spain about his civil ceremony with Agata Grochocka, who works as a receptionist at the same dental clinic.

“In fact, in some ways it helped us and it was perhaps the perfect excuse we needed to keep it simple and hassle-free, as we never wanted a big ceremony.” 

“For example, thanks to the pandemic we didn’t have to go to the Polish Embassy in Madrid to get one of the documents required by the civil registry given that I’m a Polish national residing in Spain,” Agata said. 

“They just sent it to us by email. I don’t know if everyone will have the same experience in terms of getting documents ready, I also had my aunt in Poland helping, but overall it was fairly easy.”

When Joce and Agata got engaged in late 2020, the civil registry in Santa Cruz de Tenerife was closed to the general public due to the pandemic so their only option to find out about the Covid rules for civil weddings was to phone.

“We tried several times over the course of a month and eventually we managed to get through,” Joce explained. 

“They told us that if we didn’t have all the paperwork in order everything would be delayed.

“So to avoid any more mishaps due to Covid, we got as many documents ready in advance as possible to fast-track the process and even called Agata’s sister to rush down to the civil registry to be a witness for us for the acta matrimonial (initial marriage certificate) to kill two birds with one stone with the process.

“We were then able to get a space for the marriage ceremony around a month and a half later in early 2021.”

At the time, the limit of people who could attend a civil marriage ceremony was five, including the bride and groom. But this suited Joce and Agata fine, who said they would have only invited close friends and family members from mainland Spain and Poland in normal times.

“On the day, they didn’t tell us if we could kiss, so we first listened to the city councillor’s brief speech, said our ‘yes I dos’, hugged and kissed outside before having our wedding ‘banquet’ at home with a few close friends,” Joce recalls.

“There’ll be people who’ll say we were crazy to get married during the pandemic like that, but I’d do the same thing all over again,” Agata concludes.

Bigger wedding celebration

It’s a different story for Venezuelan Karina Cova and her Spanish partner, who have been planning their wedding for a while, but due to the pandemic have put it off until autumn 2021.

“Delays, delays, delays. If getting married as a foreigner here in Spain can already be a tedious process from what I’ve heard, delays in bureaucratic procedures  due to Covid have made everything so much more complicated,” Barcelona-based Karina told The Local Spain.

“Whether it’s because of reduced office capacities or restrictions affecting opening times – everybody’s had everything pushed back. Most appointments we could get were at least four months in the future. Paperwork (birth certificates, etc) we needed got mailed here weeks after the estimated arrival dates”.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Karina explained how they chose to get married in October 2021 instead of during the summer as this would give them more time to make up for any eventualities and they hoped many of the issues relating to Covid-19 would no longer be in place.

When asked if Covid-19 had affected the actual planning details of the wedding, Karina told The Local that “Covid was on our minds when we chose the wedding venue. 

“We wanted something outdoors for the ceremony because I want to walk down the aisle looking at everybody’s faces and not masks!”.

Karina and her fiancé chose a cocktail wedding instead of a sit-down menu, which gives people the option of choosing their table and sitting with people in their bubble or staying outside on the terrace if they’d rather.

She said they already wanted a medium-sized wedding and that Covid did not really affect the numbers. “I think we actually ended up inviting more people than we had discussed at first,” she said.

“But the size of the wedding was also more about cost than Covid,” she added. 

Her main concerns about the wedding however were not about social bubbles or bottles of hand gel, but about if her family and friends from all over the world would be able to come.

“I was concerned that Spain’s borders would stay closed for tourism, but it seems now that’s probably not going to be the case. 

“We also wanted older family members to attend and fortunately it is already reality that they’ll be vaccinated.

“Overall, we wouldn’t go through with the celebration if my family hadn’t been able to travel or if I felt the situation was still out of control,” she concluded.

“Most of us should be vaccinated by then (fingers crossed) and life has to continue, I think there’s no use waiting for ‘absolute normality’. 

“Adapting and adjusting to whatever comes as we go along is the new normal.”

READ ALSO:

EXPLAINED: What are the new rules for travel to Spain for all international travellers?

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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