Risk free or duty-free?

Readers of Pippa’s blog will know that last weekend we were stopped at customs by the Guardia Civil who looked inside our vehicle.

I don’t just mean they looked through the window, which they’ve done once before. We actually had to pull over and open the vehicle up so they could see what was in the back.

I was shaking like a leaf for absolutely no reason at all given that we had no cigarettes (we don’t smoke and wouldn’t even consider taking any out for friends), we rarely drink spirits, and beer and wine are cheaper in Spain anyway. So there was no way we were exceeding our allowances because there wasn’t a single duty-free purchase in the vehicle.

But the whole idea of being stopped by the police just leaves me cold. The first thing I wonder is – do I look like a criminal? Whatever a criminal looks like. Or have I done something wrong that I’m not even aware of? Ignorance is no excuse. Basically, I don’t break the law so I leave the police alone and expect them to leave me alone. Logically, I know they are doing a job and they have to stop people for random checks. And the guy was polite and actually quite pleasant – not something for which the Guardia Civil are normally noted.

As it is the first time in the 18 months or so that we have been travelling backwards and forwards that we have been searched, I can hardly say I am suffering from a persecution complex. But I did wonder when we were over the border and on the road again, whether or not they have a clever strategy. Let you go backwards and forwards for ages, lulling you into a false sense of security that you won’t get stopped so you merrily smuggle stuff – usually cigarettes – across the border. And then one day, bang, they’ve got you. Loaded up with your illicit purchases.

Anyway, that’s totally hypothetical. What is not hypothetical though is the amount of smuggling that does go on. By people who do not need to do it. By people who are in full-time jobs – both Spaniards and British. They just want that extra buck or two.

We’ve met pensioners in Spain who go on the cheap day trips to Gib, or drive down themselves, and promptly fill their shopping trollies or their boot with cigarettes. I suppose it tops up their pension. But if people live in Spain with all the advantages that brings with it – virtually everything is cheaper in Spain apart from cigarettes, spirits and telefonica – what is the need to buy goods smuggled from Gibraltar? If cigarettes and spirits are dearer in Spain than they are in Gib, they are a damn site cheaper than they are in the UK. But no, greedy grasping human nature always wants the cheapest possible deal – even if it involves breaking the law.

Some years ago, friends from the UK came to stay with us in Spain and included a trip to Gibraltar as part of their holiday. They all gaily came back from their brief stay on the Rock loaded up to the eyeballs with cigarettes – including their two daughters who were both under 17 (there is no duty-free allowance for children). None of the family smoked.

The two girls planned to sell the cigarettes to their friends at school. Their parents – both civil servants – were obviously going to flog them in the office. Did any of them need that extra money from their smuggling activities? No. Especially as they had a week’s free accommodation in peak holiday season courtesy of us. To me, it is sad the lengths people will go to just for a few extra quid.

Greed is so depressing.

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
This entry was posted in friendships, gibraltar, life, shopping, spain. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Risk free or duty-free?

  1. Tasha & Eva says:

    For some reason, I always get a little paranoid if the police just happen to be driving behind me. It’s worse if it’s at night. I’ve only had 1 speeding ticket. Yet, when I’m driving, I panic if the police are behind me.It doesn’t help that my car is not exactly what you would call subtle. But at least it’s not attention grabbing yellow or red.V


  2. What do you mean by ‘subsidised trips’? Do you mean subsidised by tobacco smuggling? or by who?Anyway keep in mind that there are also plenty of people I”m aware of who come into Gib to do some shopping and then declare it all at the border. So its wrong to suggest everyone smuggles… I know you didn’t say that, but there are plenty of people out there who belive you can’t take shopping at all (other than 200 fags, etc)


  3. Kate says:

    Thank you for your comments, gibraltar blogger. I have edited the text to remove subsidised to avoid any confusion. I was actually referring to the day trips organised by ex-pat clubs and organisations. These typically charge a rate for the return trip that is roughly equivalent to the cost of a single journey on public transport. However, although it was not my intention, you could equally argue that if someone drives down to Gib and buys a few cartons of cigarettes and then sells them (ie bought to resell therefore smuggling) they can indeed subsidise the cost of the journey from the profit, which will easily pay for the fuel. As you have admitted, I did not suggest everyone smuggles at all, nor do I think they do. Please do not misinterpret what I have written. I am talking about people I know who have actually told me what they had done and who they intended to sell the cigarettes to. I could have added a lot more, including stories about people who have been fined for their initial offence and then gone to jail because they continued to smuggle and were caught again. The basic point I was trying to make was that people who have sufficient money to live on are smuggling either occasionally or regularly to make an extra buck. It is not a risk I would take.


  4. Anonymous says:

    hmmm! Interesting debate going on here.I will re read your post again, but just wanted to comment on “do I look like a criminal?” phrase.I think possibly the black mask over your eyes, the stripey top and the bag of swag at your feet, kinda gives you away! ;0)Only joking! This was a very interesting post and I have more to add when I have stopped being “jokey”.Your friend A of S.;0)))))))))


  5. Kate,Thanks for the reply. I really didn’t have a clue what you were on about before with the ‘subsidised’ bit. I know what you mean now.Personally I think we could slap a huge price rise on cigarettes in Gib and still have them such that people bought them (for personal use), but the price difference was such that people wouldn’t bother if the intent was for onward supply.And as a life long non-smoker I would have no objection to the tax revenue generated going directly to treating smokers…


  6. Stu says:

    Last year at work, after finishing a large project and getting it on the shelves, each member of our team was given a gift of £200 in vouchers for the local shopping mall, courtesy of the publishers for whom we did the work.About half an hour after they were handed out, a group email had gone round the company sent by someone who had discovered a special promotion at Argos, meaning that if you bought £50 in Argos vouchers, you got an extra fiver’s worth.So basically, as advised by the email, all you had to do was use the mall vouchers to buy Argos vouchers – in 4 seperate goes of £50 worth – and you could make £20 for free.Now bearing in mind the team was about 70 strong, the local Argos store was going to be suddenly facing 4 visits each from 70 people, all using mall vouchers to by £50’s worth of their vouchers and expecting a free £20 each.After reading this mail I sat back and just pondered the greed and lack of self respect displayed by my collegues – mostly well paid professionals with flash phones and nice cars – when one of my superiors caught my eye and asked what was wrong.I stated that I couldn’t believe anyone who worked here would be willing to go to all that trouble to exploit a minor loophole in order to turn a £200 windfall into £220.My superior replied with “Well if £20 is not worth the effort, you’re obviously getting paid too much.”This coming from a man earning in the region of £50K a year, talking to a 25 year old who can’t afford to leave his mum’s attic.


I appreciate any comments you leave, so long as they are relatively polite. And thanks for reading.

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