Fingerprints: A Case Study in Spanish Life

Whenever I talk to people about my ex-pat  life (otherwise known as European bumming), they will constantly ask me to explain the significant differences between Spain and America. I usually talk about the partying hours (2 a.m. until breakfast), the complete lack of efficiency, or the shitty employment rate.
But yesterday I had a little adventure that perfectly illustrates how Spain is, and it didn’t involve discos or politics.

I went to get fingerprints.

First of all, I had to find out where to get fingerprinted. Which was annoyingly complicated, because no Spanish person ever has apparently needed to get printed. So they didn’t know where I would go. I guessed that the central police station and foreigners’ office would be a good place to start, and asked my roomie to confirm that I wouldn’t be wasting my afternoon. She had no idea.

Inner Knowledge of the System (Trans. from Spanish)
J: Where can I get finger marks?
L: Huh? Oh, fingerprints (huellas dactiles). I really have no idea.
J: What about the police station?
L: Maybe?
J: Is it open in the afternoon today?
L: I think so. Until 6 pm at least.
(It was 4)
J: Do you think they will put the prints on an English form that I’ve printed out?
L: No idea.

With all this useful information, I hiked down to the police station and decided to try my luck.

First, I bothered the woman at Information, and promptly mangled the pronunciation of huellas dactiles. But I still got an emphatic “Yes, we do fingerprint here.”
However, that was the end of her knowledge on the subject. She had no idea if they would put the prints on an English form, and therefore sent me over to annoy the large group of cops. Yeah, the Spanish cops were playing receptionist. And it took 5 of them to do the job.
The cops looked at my English form and nodded. Yay? Nope, because he then ran off to find someone more important, which took about 15 minutes. More Important Guy came out and told me, “Yes we can do it.” I waited another 15 minutes for Fingerprint Guy.

Creepy, Creepy, Creepy
Fingerprint Guy led me through a locked security door, and down a flight of stairs. We arrived in a creepy (in the hyper-industrial, prison sense) hallway, went through two more locked doors and entered what looked like an unused operating room. I felt like I’d walked into a horror film and was about to see blood splattered across the walls.
Nope, just fingerprinting.
I ended up chatting with Fingerprint Guy for a while. Apparently he’s really interested in foreigners and travelling, even though he’s never left the city he was born in.
I also had to translate the form for him.  Luckily the Spanish version is identical and he knew perfectly well how to take the prints. Though he did have problems with “left” and “right.”

And then…Done!
I walked out of Creepy Basement and said bye to all the cops. Because all 5 of them stopped me on my way out and asked if I’d got everything I needed.

Oh yeah, they didn’t charge me a cent. Apparently fingerprinting is a free service in Spain.

Or ask to see I.D. come to think of it…

Spain is different.
It’s really inefficient because no one in the government or public sector knows ANYTHING beyond their exact job description.
The rules change all the time, and no one keeps up with them. Nothing is set in stone.
People will do anything to help you out, if they decide they like you.
Foreign accents or grammar mistakes are no big deal, and won’t get you treated like a moron (by most people).
Some things are ridiculously complicated, and others are ridiculously easy.


6 thoughts on “Fingerprints: A Case Study in Spanish Life

    • I was in Galicia and went to the central Comisería. I honestly have no idea who they answered to, if it was community or national-based.
      I firmly believe that anyone who knows how to take decent fingerprints will suffice–and that is a skill that doesn’t require much in the way of certification.

  1. Hi this is great! so you went to just a random comisaria? I am in Madrid right now and tying to figure out where to go. Also, where did you get the English form? Did they give it to you at the police station?


    • The English form was available online. I downloaded it and printed it out on cardstock. A Spanish police station would definitely NOT have it, lol. Good luck!

  2. What part of Galicia are you in? I am worried that I won’t easily be able to do this in Barcelona as I would in other parts of Spain. I am considering travelling out of Catalonia (for fun, anyway) to have this done.

    • Lindsey, I lived in Santiago, which is an city of 100,000 people. No one at their police station in 2013 spoke English well. I’m certain you can get it in done a major city like Barcelona and in fact going outside your place of residence to another autonomous community could make it harder

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