What I have found with workmen here that I haven’t found so much in other countries I’ve lived in is their need to explain their life difficulties to you as they’re doing the work
This week we had the joy of a visit from someone whose job description in English would be that of plumber, given that his work entails fixing household water installations, although the following observations could apply to anyone who comes into your home to fix stuff. The word traditionally used for our visitor in these parts is lampista, which always confused me because it made me think of lamps and electrical fittings. Anyway, such visits share similarities the world over: the plumber/electrician/builder comes in, inspects the problem, shakes his head with various intakes of breath suggesting the extreme severity of the problem - each intake of breath raising the quote, or pressupost, by several tens of euros - and questioning the competence of the previous workman before telling you he has to go and buy a part from a specialised shop which a) “is not going to be cheap”, and that’s if he can even find it and/or b) “won’t be available because the unit/flat/fittings are so old that the whole installation will probably need to be replaced in its entirety.” They then go off and, in my mind anyway, have a beer and a bite to eat in a local bar and read the newspaper before returning two hours later with something that “probably won’t work” for the aforementioned reasons. He then tries to fit it, all the while under the sink/behind the washing machine showing off his ample backside as his jeans ride down from his waist, before giving you a completely unintelligible technical explanation for why he’s going to have to come back tomorrow with different tools and parts and charge you the corresponding astronomical amount to replace the whole fitting. I think you’ll find it hard to argue that that’s pretty much what always happens wherever you are in the world.
This column is about cultural differences, however, so read on. What I have found with workmen here that I haven’t found so much in other countries I’ve lived in is their need to explain their life difficulties to you as they’re doing the work, as if you’re supposed to sympathise with them while they’re doing the job they’re being paid to do. This week’s visit started with “What a birthday I’m having!?” Well, if that’s an opening gambit you are capable of ignoring, then you’re a cleverer conversation dodger than I am. After hearing about how his birthday wasn’t going so well with all the difficult jobs he was doing - including ours of course - when we asked him what time he’d be finished by as we’d hoped to go out for lunch, we were informed that he had so much work he couldn’t stop for lunch today (which was his birthday by the way, had he mentioned that?), so he’d be working through lunchtime . In other words, if we wanted the job doing, we’d have to stick around too. I then managed to hide in the office as he subjected my wife to various other complaints about his lot, before the job was finally done around mid-afternoon and my enduring wife could wish him a happy birthday and give him some advice on his work-life balance. It’s good to share, apparently.