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LIFE IN SPAIN

Why strikes in Spain may mean your Christmas presents don’t arrive in time

If you're looking to shop online in Spain these days or the store you're buying from doesn't have the product you want in stock, it could be that you don't get these gifts in time for Christmas, as a transport strike next week threatens to slow down deliveries considerably.

DHL truck in Spain
Transport workers in Spain are threatening to go on strike for three days before Christmas, making it impossible for countless deliveries to be carried out. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

UPDATE: Lorry driver strike which threatened online Christmas shopping in Spain called off

Spain has recently seen a wave of industrial action. There have been violent clashes between police and metalworkers in the southern city of Cádiz, as 25,000 walked out, and everyone from farmers to cleaners have been calling strikes across the country. 

The latest round of proposed strike action, however, could be felt more severely by consumers and Christmas deliveries might be affected.

On Thursday December 16th, the Spanish Confederation of Merchandise Transport(CETM) gave its support to the proposed strike, called for by transport workers and lorry drivers for December 20th, 21st, and 22nd.

CETM representatives said that despite some small progress in negotiations between the National Committee of Road Transport (CNTC) who called the strike, and Spain’s Ministry of Transport, a resolution was nowhere in sight.

Truck drivers demonstrated in the streets of Madrid on Wednesday to highlight the problems suffered by the road haulage sector.

The main concern is the sharp rise in costs (especially fuel), which drivers and small haulage firms often have to pay – into the thousands of euros – themselves.

Other demands include a ban on loading and unloading vehicles, the issue of tolls, and more safe rest areas on Spain’s motorways.

Hauliers say the sector is mostly small companies and self-employed workers with little bargaining power, but the drivers themselves are not the only small or self-employed businesses that will be affected in the supply chain. 

Spain’s self-employed union, La Unión de Profesionales y Trabajadores Autónomos (UPTA), has calculated just how much Spain’s small businesses have to lose.

Its president, Eduardo Abad, estimates that the strike could cause losses of up to €3.6 billion to small businesses throughout Spain.

He believes some 600,000 retail businesses in Spain are dependent on sales during the Christmas period, and that most, if not all, would see 20 percent of their turnover for the entire year put at risk.

In Spain’s Canary Islands, a two-and-half hour flight from Madrid, customs workers in the archipelago’s ports have joined the strike and around 1,000 container crates are expected to be held up due to worker inaction. 

In preparation for the strike action, many manufacturers, distributors and small retailers have anticipated the possible disruption and increased the backlog stock of products in their warehouses in advance.

This can’t be done for all products, however, such as fresh products like seafood – a customary Christmas meal for millions of Spanish families across the country – so there could still be supply and delivery issues with products with shorter expiry dates, despite businesses preparing in advance.

Similarly, and crucially for another Christmas period during the Covid-19 pandemic, the strike action could also affect online retail.

Millions do their shopping online at this time of year, whether to avoid the queues, or other people in general, buy last minute bargains, or to make use of services like next day delivery. 

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But all of these advantages could be undone if hauliers won’t move their products and presents around, and an agreement seems unlikely with time running out.

With only a week left until Christmas, the proposed strike days will potentially affect people who place their orders before December 20th, 21st and 22nd – depending on the product, their location and of course luck.

Haulier groups are advocating a “negotiating spirit” in order to try and find a resolution, but are waiting for the government to make a concrete proposal for a meeting in writing, with detailed content that address their demands.

Article by Conor Faulkner

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UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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