Saturday, 7 November 2009

iPhones for sale (foreigners need not apply)

Four days ago, I went to a Movistar shop (an actual owned-by-Telefónica shop, not a franchise or associated dealership) in a Spanish city to upgrade my wonky old prepaid Motorola to a contract for a spanking new 32-gig iPhone 3GS. Yes, they’d arrived at last, after a mere three-month wait (as discussed here). I was armed with everything required: multiple ID, bank details, SIM card, the works. All was well until the very end of the 25-minute form-filling, photocopying and key-tapping procedure, when the shop assistant looked up from her screen, shrugged, and said, “‘Transaction unauthorised’, it says here.”

“Er, sorry? I’m offering to give you €239 in cash right now and commit, in the middle of a recession, by means of a legally binding contract, to at least a further €700 over the next 18 months in flat-rate fees and charges, and you’re not interested? Why, pray, why?” I beseeched the shop assistant (perhaps not in those exact words).

“I’m not allowed to know,” was her reply, so sheepish that all the local dogs started growling. Apparently I would have to wait for a call from the “Traffic Department”, who would explain the problem and how it might be solved.

So I waited. And waited. Since the promised call from the Traffic Department was not forthcoming, I called them (via nine calls to a call centre in Honduras, as you do). It turns out they wanted a €150 deposit, returnable in six months, provided I was up to date with my monthly fees and charges.

“Is this because of the ‘X’ at the beginning of my ID-card number, by any chance? Because I’m not a Spanish citizen and therefore not to be trusted to pay my bills?”

“No, no. It’s just that it’s not quite as easy to buy an iPhone as it used to be.”

“Ah, so everyone who wants to buy one has to spend half an hour filling in all the forms only to be told that they’ll have to wait for a call from you that never comes so they have to phone Honduras nine times to find out that you expect a deposit? That’s your system for selling iPhones, is it? Across the board?”

“Er…(a pause so pregnant its waters were breaking)… yes.”

He was lying. I could hear his eyes flicking away to the left and his foot twitching to stub out an imaginary cigarette end as he said it.

I really, really want an iPhone, so I just sighed and asked how I should go about paying the deposit. He gave me an account number to pay the €150 into. Oh, but I couldn’t do it via bank transfer over the Internet; it had to be done in person at a specific physical bank. Oh, and the specific physical bank had to stamp the receipt legibly – very important that. Oh, and I then had to fax (fax!) the receipt to a number that he gave me. Then, and only then, would I be able to buy my iPhone.

The following morning I went to the specific physical bank, €150 in cash akimbo, to make the required deposit. The cashier laughed in my face. “Did Movistar give you this account number?” he asked me.

“Er, yes… and?”

“It was a temporary account. It’s been closed for months. It doesn’t exist. Sorry.”

So I took the most radical, most dramatic action that was open to me: I called Honduras nine times again. Eventually (a word that will forever be associated with the Telefónica group the world over), they gave me an account number that they assured me does indeed exist, and this morning I went to specific physical bank No. 2 to try again. The cashier laughed in my face. “Cash deposits can only be made into this account between the 10th and 20th of every month. Oh, and only before 10:30 a.m.”

Eventually (there goes that word again), I managed to send them the money in accordance with their terms by driving 15 miles to my own branch and doing a transfer from there. Having now spent an entire afternoon and an entire morning trying to buy an iPhone, I will apparently be able to complete the transaction next Tuesday - that's eight days after uttering the fateful words "I'd like to buy an iPhone, please" - because the “system” will take 48-72 hours to approve the operation. That’s provided, of course, that the fax number he gave me was correct, that it arrived, that it was legible and that it had its very-important-that stamp duly in place.

The upshot is that Movistar discriminate against immigrants, which is illegal. There; I’ve said it. Let them sue me if they dare.

My advice? Go to Vodafone or Orange and buy a sodding BlackBerry. Or if you really, really, really want an iPhone, take out Spanish citizenship. It’s easier.


Incredible. After only eight days, eighteen calls to Honduras, three bank trips and five visits to the shop (estimated total leaning-abjectly-on-counter time: five and three quarter hours), I now own an iPhone! I had to pay €150 in Feelthy Foreigner Tax for it, but it works. Well, nearly. My SIM card is apparently old and knackered and needs replacing in order for me to get "optimum functionality" (jargoneers: if you really, really must, try at least to use the right crap adjective, which is "optimal", OK?), and the duplicate machine wasn't working. "We'll call you," they said, so I took the most radical, most dramatic course action open to me: I muttered "OK", grabbed my iPhone as if it was my genitals in a defensive wall facing Dani Alves, and ran out of the shop.


BLTP said...

sounds like you had fun not sure it's discrimination vodaphone made me stump up a £150 when I took up a contract the first time (that being said I could do it in the shop and walked out with my phone).
One thing to watch out for they tend to forget you've paid a deposit and you have to chase them and vodaphone took 3 attempts before they'd send me a cheque rather than like the first time £150 token for phone accessories!!!

Archie_V said...

The person alongside me at the counter was in and out of the shop, iPhone under his arm, faster than it took me to get through to my nemesis in Honduras.

He was Spanish.

Caliban said...

If I ever decide to leave Spain, it will be because I can no longer put up with having to deal with Telefonica. Until I moved to this country, I thought that Brazil was the product of Terry Gilliam's imagination. Now I understand that it was actually a documentary about doing business with Telefonica.

Nick Sydenham said...

I live in the UK. I bought a 32Gb iPhone on the web last week. It took me 10 minutes, arrived two days later and installed first time within 30 minutes.

Sorry Archie. I suspect that hasn't made you feel any better.

Archie_V said...

Today is the day I'm scheduled to take delivery. I'll report back, obviously.

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