Sometime in the 16th century during the reign of Carlos I, Spanish officials created the term balduque — otherwise known as “red tape”.  This word was coined in response to the mountains of reports, administrative documents, dossiers, and the like that were generated throughout Spain and its imperial realm.

Originally, balduque (*) referred to a wide red string tied around reams of paper deemed important enough to reach el rey.  All the other piles of paper were tied with rope and never got a chance to visit the king.  Though “red tape” is still used in much of the English-speaking world, the term balduque has faded in Spain, replaced by the more pedestrian papeleo burocrático.   Here is what it looks like:


Only the half of it.

You may recall a point in your life when you stood in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Maybe you applied for Obamacare and had to fill out a few forms.  Way, way back you may even have completed a financial aid application for college, submitted it on time, and later waited some minutes at the bursar’s office.  Ha!

We have learned that to live in Spain is first to figure out how to get a number and next where to stand in line, only to be informed that you have to go to a different office in another part of town (No one knows exactly where this oficina is, by the way.) which will be closed between 2 and 5 p.m.  Through experience we know that you have to get to this other office by 9 a.m. in order to get an appointment for 11:30 a.m. later that day.  At the appointed time you must hand over all the forms {^} you have previously submitted (multiple times) to get a visa[%], to receive packages from the States, to register children to play on the local fútbol team, to open a bank account, or to receive your Residency Card.

At the Oficina de Extranjeros, no one speaks English — nor, for that matter, any language other than Spanish.  Why should they?  It is simply the office that processes the many papers needed by foreigners who want to reside in Spain.  At the Agencia de Tributaria, M. felt guilty for not knowing enough Spanish, but still managed to make an appointment, return at the proper time, go to the correct desk, hand over the proper forms and then receive this from the nice Spanish-speaking lady.


The nice Spanish-speaking lady gave M. this special form.

 M. still does not know what to do with it.

Regardless, the system works, because later on our maletas arrived from the United States thanks to Y., back in Pasadena, and thanks to the patient civil servants at the Oficina de Aduana in Madrid.


These were almost sent back to the States because no one could tell us the proper office to submit our forms.

At the end of September, we learned that our long-term residency visas had been finalized and our residency cards had been processed.  We took a taxi to the Oficina de Extranjeros to pick them up.  The residency card includes the important Número de Identidad de Extranjeros, or NIE (pronounced “nyee”):  As in, “I went to the Oficina de Extranjeros to pick up our NIEs and found out I need to come back next Thursday with the kids.”



 The NIE is like a magic get-out-of-jail card.  You use it to open a bank account, to order groceries, to sign kids up for field trips, to rent a car, to receive the Empadronamiento (don’t ask), to get library cards, to pay rent, to sign up for lunch and pay for activities at school, and it works great as a toothpaste, floor cleaner and cream rinse.

Like the many Spaniards who have learned to live with papeleo burocrático, we stand in line with our well-burnished paciencia y tranquilidad.  To see what this attitude looks and feels like in real life, please check out this YouTube video:

(*) We are obliged to inform you that the term “balduque” does not actually mean red tape.  That term, of course, is the simple nomenclature cinta roja.  Instead, “balduque” derived from a city in the Spanish Netherlands from whence the red tape was manufactured.  That city was called ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which for some reason the Spanish called “balduque.”  (At this point, the post you are reading has descended to a level of minutia that is essentially devoid of interest.  Please take a number to submit your complaint.(*))

{^} List of necessary forms/documents[+]:  copy of passport, criminal background check with finger prints, U.S. bank statement, medical record, birth certificate (children), letter of current employment, visa application, vaccination record (children), residency form EX-01, lease, domestic partnership certificate, driver license, declaration of medical benefits, Modelo 790.  ((*) Your complaint must be submitted in Spanish by a Certified Spanish Translator (#).)

[+] The following documents must be taken to the office of the Secretary of State of the State of California to receive the International Stamp of the Apostille (by agreement of the “Convention de La Haye du 5 octobre 1961) before they will be accepted by the government of Spain:  birth certificate, domestic partnership certificate, criminal background check.  ( (#) Please resubmit your complaint with embossed notary seal indicating legal authentication of translator’s certified status. (&))

[%} When applying for our visas, the clerk at the office of the Secretary of State in downtown Los Angeles at first refused to accept the birth certificates that were signed by the doctors who delivered A. and J.  M. needed to return with copies of birth certificates signed by the County Clerks of the respective counties — Alameda and Los Angeles.  ((&) Have you submitted the above mentioned form in duplicate copies in Spanish as well as in English?)

Passports with visas to Spain!

Passports with visas to Spain!


2 thoughts on “Balduque

    • Get out your anti-eraser eraser and unerase your erased desire. Spain is fantastic and it is totally worth the effort it takes to be here. Just today we marveled at the new registration system that makes it more difficult to play soccer at the neighborhood fútbol field. On the other hand, we bought three loaves of fresh baked bread for 75 cents and walked everywhere we needed to be!


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