Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Friday, 14 September 2012


I have spent more than half my life in Seville. I arrived in the mid-80s and have seen the city emerge from its 1950’s time warp, which had a slightly medieval flavour about it, to arrive in the 21st century – with a slightly less medieval flavour about it.

In medieval England we had a professional guilds system. These guilds protected their members, set professional standards, decided when apprentices became masters of their trade, dictated prices and ensured that each member operated in what was basically a city-wide competition-free monopoly.

The Industrial Revolution saw these guilds wither on the vine. Nowadays, those that survive tend to be clubs or societies whose members have little or nothing to do with the professed economic activity of their particular guild. Perhaps the best example of how a guild morphed into something else would be the Freemasons. How many Freemasons of today could dress a stone or build a cathedral?

But I digress. Today in England is there any cobbler’s guild that has the power to dictate where a shoeshop is to be situated? Can the guild say that you can’t have two shoeshops in the same street? Can the guild say that you can only have one shoeshop per x thousand inhabitants? Can the guild say that its members, and its members alone, are allowed to sell shoes, shoelaces and shoe polish?

What nonsense is this? Well, this nonsense still applies to Spanish pharmacies. Their guilds, or colegios do all of the above with not a word from local, regional or national government. Despite EU free competition regulations (they sometimes do actually serve a useful purpose, but not in this case) competition has not yet raised its ugly head in this particular lucrative backwater.

In the Coen Brother’s The Ladykillers, Marva Munson complains about her haemorrhoids ‘Piles… the Human Condition…[the] world’s got two kinda folks, them’s that got the piles and them that’s goin’ to get ‘em[1]. If you need to buy a tube of Preparation H, or Hemoal as it’s called here in Spain, you have no choice but to go to a pharmacy. The colegios therefore  literally can get medieval on your ass, though not as drastically as Pulp Fiction’s Marsellus Wallace. All medicines, be they prescription, or non-prescription, can only be sold in pharmacies. You can cruise the hypermarket shelves all day in search of aspirin, paracetamol etc. to no avail.  They are only available (at grossly inflated prices compared to GB) in pharmacies.

It is unbelievable, but until the early nineties only pharmacies were allowed to sell baby formula and nappies (nappies?). Now both can be bought in supermarkets. Pharmacies, however, still exercise a medieval monopoly on babies’ asses with regard to their creams and moisturisers.  

And there are no chains of pharmacies either, ony individually-run ones. These little goldmines are handed down from generation to generation. The offspring of a Spanish pharmacist is born with a plastic medicine spoon in his or her mouth – much more valuable here than mere silver! It is almost impossible to break into the business, unless you have a million euros or so to buy an established one. There is no career ladder. It’s quite simple: either you own a pharmacy, you work in the family pharmacy until you inherit it or you work as an employee pharmacist with little hope of bettering your position. Ever.

The obvious question is: when will the pharmaceuticals market be liberated in Spain. Unfortunately the answer is: Who knows? But don't hold your breath - use it to inflate your piles cushion for your medieval ass.

[1] Fortunately, I’m still in the second group, even though old age is creeping up on me in its velveteen slippers.

No comments:

Post a Comment