I am going to write about Movistar now. I am going to try to be as
objective as possible, but it is not going to be easy!
In June of 2009 I signed a contract with Movistar for 12 months, for
a 3G modem for my laptop. I am not going to bother talking about the
problems with the modem now, because in the light of what has hap-
pened since, it all seems so trivial!
After the contract had expired, in June 2010, they continued to send
a direct debit to my account each month, €30 more or less. I didn’t really
notice this until October of 2010. When I saw that they were still taking
my money I realised that I had to cancel the contract, even though it
had already expired.
I went to a big Movistar shop in Puerta Alcalá, Madrid, to cancel.
How naive I was. They explained to me that it was impossible for them
to cancel my contract, even though this was the shop where I had pur-
chased the contract in the first place. Oh no, they only sell things, after
that you are on your own! Then I heard the dreaded words, “you have
to call 1004”.
I returned home and dialled, wondering what vortex I was about
to fall into. My conversation was in bad Spanish, as I explained that I
needed to speak to someone in English: they asked me for my phone
number, ID number, Date of birth, Invoice number and then put me
on hold. Fortunately I was adequately entertained by the incomparable
Lady Gaga for 5 minutes as I waited.
Again someone came onto the line and again asked me for the exact
information that I had already given. Again I asked for an English speak-
ing person, again I was treated to Lady G.
A third time and I was beginning to get a little agitated, who wouldn’t!
“Listen” I said, as firmly as I could, “I need to speak to someone in
English.” Waiting, waiting with Alejandro, Alejandro!
Finally someone answered in heavily accented English, but English! I
explained my problem, gave them all of my relevant information again,
and listened to a bit more of Lady G, I could never have enough of her
in truth. The person returned and informed me that the person who can
cancel my contract in English, only works on Sundays, so please call back
then. Before I could protest the phone was dead, no English speaking
person, no sound, not even the Lady. I was deflated.
I am an English teacher in Madrid. After this frustrating experience I
had a class with two students, a married couple. I explained the situation
to them and the husband was quite agitated. He insisted on calling for me
in Spanish, assuring me that he would sort it out. I gave him all of the
relevant data and began speaking to his wife while he dialled.
As I was conversing with the wife I became aware of a gradual in-
crease in the volume of his voice and a definite change of tone! Then I
heard Lady Gaga, and I knew it was the beginning of the end. Finally he
slammed the phone onto the table and said, “impossible.”
I tried again the following day but it was futile. I told some other
students and was told unilaterally that this was the way it was and there
was nothing I could do. Apparently I had to pay €30 a month for the
rest of my life.
But I am not Spanish. I am not going to roll over and take it from
Movistar, or anyone else. So I decided to go to their headquarters to
resolve this issue.
Movistar and their parent company, Telefonica, have their headquar-
ters outside Madrid in an area called District C. It sounds like something
from 1984, and for good reason.
The first problem which I encountered was simply to locate this com-
pound. It is very easy to see; in fact I drive past it almost every day.
However, when trying to access it, it quickly becomes apparent that it
has been cunningly located away from all major road exits, and with no
signs at all. It’s almost as if they do not want anyone to find it!
Eventually I located the buildings and proceeded to attempt to find a
parking space. There are 12000 people working in this facility, and all of
them apparently drive to the office. There is no official parking structure,
but there is a very large muddy field, so that’s good! I drove around and
around for about 20 minutes, eventually finding a giant puddle to park in.
Entering the building, I approached the receptionist, who was busy
multi-tasking (she was eating an apple and reading a book simultane-
ously). I coughed politely, she glanced up, took another bite of her apple,
turned the page and looked at me enquiringly. I told her, in impeccable
Spanish, that I wanted to cancel my contract. “What” she said, well
“que” actually, and I repeated my simple request. She looked at me with
a blank expression and told me that nobody had ever asked her that be-
fore. It was then that I wished my Spanish was better as I wanted to tell
her that I found it unbelievable that nobody had ever asked her that as
I suppose hundreds, if not thousands, of people must have situations on
a daily basis, not dissimilar to mine. She sensed my negativity and, obvi-
ously wanting to encourage to move away from her as quickly as possible,
suggested that I continue my quest in Building D!
Here we go, I thought, the dreaded runaround. First building D, then
building N, then Z, then, probably back to square one. But I trudged
over to building D and was confronted by a very unfriendly receptionist
eating potatoes (this is the English translation of the Spanish word pata-
tas, actually in England we would call these crisps, and in the USA, chips.
Chips in England are what the Americans call French Fries, or Freedom
fries at times when the Americans are pissed off because the French don’t
want to support mindless military actions aimed at liberating oppressed
people and oil).
“Hello”, I said, in an excessively friendly voice, reserved for people
who do not want to be friendly, “I would like to cancel my contract.”
“You can’t do that here” she said.
“Why not?” I replied, smiling.
“This is not a public building” she replied, with no trace of a smile.
“But I am a customer of Movistar”, I continued undaunted by her
mildly intimidating manner.
“This is not a public building” she repeated in parrot-like fashion.
“There are 12,000 people working here, I’m sure one of them must
know how to cancel a contract” I continued, feeling a small surge of
“I cannot help you” she said. “Do you have a problem with Movistar?”
She seemed to be grasping the concept, albeit slightly.
“Yes”, I replied, maybe condescendingly.
“You need to go to Calle Capitán Haya 41.”
“Where is that?” I asked, already sensing that the likelihood of re-
ceiving a useful answer was minimal at best.
“I don’t know” she replied predictably.
A man standing nearby and listening to this fascinating conversation
began to tell me something in very fast Spanish. I heard the following:
tiagobernabeu”. From this, my comprehensive geographical knowledge of
Madrid led me to believe that I could find the street with relative ease,
so off I went with a smile in my heart.
Upon arriving at the address in question, I was a little confused to
find not a Movistar office, but a government building, the office of the
Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce.
I entered with trepidation. The receptionist, eating a candy bar, Mars
I think it was, looked up at me and smiled, the first smile I had seen all
day. The brief conversation went like this:
“Ummm, this isn’t Movistar is it?”
“No, do you have a problem with Movistar?” She said laughing a
Upon receiving my confirmation, she indicated that I should leave the
building and walk around the corner where I would see a little office with
the word Movistar on the door.
I was intrigued. Off I went and, surprisingly, I located the aforemen-
tioned door with ease. Entering the small office I restated my need to
cancel my contract to the only inhabitant of the room, a rather grey man.
He gave me a piece of paper with some writing on it and told me to write
my problem down, which I duly did.
Taking the paper he performed an action which validated all of the
time I had spent on this project so far (about 5 hours), he applied an
official rubber stamp!! Now I am getting somewhere I thought, foolishly.
The next conversation went like this:
“ So what happens now, will my contract be cancelled?”
“I don’t know, I will pass this paper to my boss.”
“But when will my contract be cancelled?”
“I have no idea.”
“So why did I come here?”
“I have no idea why you came here.”
So, all in all, not particularly encouraging. I left, feeling deflated, but
quickly remembered what a positive person I am and began to plan my
The following Saturday I went with my lady to the beautiful Movistar
building in the center of Madrid. This building is very interesting archi-
tecturally and acts as a kind of museum: I assumed that, as it it is also a
Movistar office, there would be a strong customer service presence. How
naive I am!
Eventually we did locate a man sitting at a desk with a telephone and
a computer. He did not want to admit that he was related to customer
service in any way, but Maria insisted that he listen. He informed us that
he was going to lunch so had no time to assist us. At this point Maria
became quite firm and demanded that he call 1004. He did, but it soon
became apparent that his efforts were equally impotent to our previous
efforts and he hung up the phone in frustration. He left. We left.
Maria then called 1004 and spent the next 2 hours on the
phone,determined to get to the bottom of this, once and for all! After
explaining the situation to approximately 17 different people, she seemed
quite confident that my account was cancelled and that I would be receiv-
ing a refund of 80€ in the near future. I stifled my laughter.
The days passed, the weeks passed, we spent Christmas, New Years,
Reyes Magos; Columbus Day and no money arrived in my account.
In mid February; I received my invoice from Movistar, clearly show-
ing a credit balance. We called to arrange payment, they promised to
send it. It didn’t arrive.
Finally (and we are now fast approaching the climax of this seemingly
never-ending saga, o patient reader) I called one more time. When the
answering machine picked up I just kept repeating the mantra, “English,
English, English, English”, finally an English voice came onto the line, a
real English person; I was incredulous. In fact you could have knocked
me down with a feather.
This woman helped me courteously, efficiently, quickly. She confirmed
that my contract was cancelled, that I was due a refund and she told me
that she was going to transfer me to the financial department, where I
could give them by bank information to receive my €80. I asked her if
they spoke English and she assured me that they did. They didn’t.
I tried again and spoke to a man from East Germany, he was also
helpful and he took all of my information himself and promised that the
money would arrive in my account within 30 days. It did!
So finally, after a cumulative 7 or 8 hours on the phone, over a period
of approximately 3 months, my goal was achieved. But why does it have
to take so long and why do Spanish people accept this type of customer
disservice? Because Spain is different.
Addendum… One of my Spanish students told me that he has a cousin
who works for Movistar in District C. She received an e-mail from her
boss telling her, and the rest of the employees that if any of their friends
or relatives have any problems with Movistar, to please try to resolve
them internally as 1004 is not very efficient! So, fantastic if you know
someone on the inside, if not, too bad for you!!
Spain is Spain Book
This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)