November 8, 2008


Surprisingly, Jesús didn’t comment in the Spanish class this week about Lewis Hamilton’s recent win. In fact, he seemed a bit preoccupied.

At first, to get us to practise the conditional tense, he asked us what we would do with the "‘Gordo’ " as he put it. As this was the same day as the crucial (for Gordon Brown) Glenrothes by-election, I exchanged glances with the other Brits who fell about helplessly laughing. For a second, Jesús’s face registered, firstly, surprise then total bafflement at our unforgivable pig ignorance of such an essential part of Spanish life.

As we did our best to stifle the laughs, he gamely tried to educate us in Spanish culture as he went on to describe in detail precisely which ‘Gordo’ he had in mind. Namely, an event so important that many Spanish regard the day it takes place, December 22nd, as the real start of the Christmas festive season. El Gordo - ‘the fat one’ - the Spanish National Lottery jackpot.

The draw, he patiently explained, is shown on television in the morning while newspapers publish special editions solely with the list of winning numbers and photos of the winners spraying champagne on one another and around the ‘lucky’ place they purchased the ticket.

Finally, by way of bringing the class to an end, he said that if we wanted to get rich fast, we needed to start buying straightaway our participaciones, either from lottery vendors in street kiosks and shopping centres or from organisations ranging from bars to charities which buy numbers and redistribute them in smaller sums to clients and friends.

He’d already bought a large number, he added with a pained look on his face, since he was desperate to recoup some of the money he’d now unavoidably, categorically lost to a developer on his recent apartment purchase.

He looked so crestfallen we almost forgave him his earlier tirades against Lewis Hamilton. For we’d only just read in the local press reports that Spanish developers are so indebted they can’t drop prices any further without making a loss. "You can forget about prices falling 30%to 40% – I’ll give it to the bank before that," said Guillermo Chicote, president of the Association of Constructors and Developers of Spain, at a recent conference.

However, despite Chicote’s fighting talk, that’s probably what will happen. Dozens of developers, including Martinsa-Fadesa, one of Spain’s biggest, have already been forced into administration, causing mayhem for many British investors who have no property to show for their early-stage payments. And only goes to highlight the risk of buying off-plan in the current market: better to snap up something newly built, but already finished. Indeed, unless the government steps in and bails out the sector, large-scale repossessions of even new developments by the banks look likely too.

Well, let’s hope Jesús is equally lucky with El Gordo next month as Gordon was this.

Who needs Obama when there's El Gordo? Yes, we can!

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