Saturday, 23 September 2017

About Catalan and languages

I read in The Times this morning a report of intimidation against those of us who oppose independence and an illegal referendum. It is not a surprise because, for a long time, I have felt it necessary to lower my voice in a bar for example, when talking about not wishing for independence. Maybe it is my imagination but I feel somehow disloyal to the cause if I speak out against it. But I must make it clear that I have never experienced any form of intimidation here, apart from pressure to speak Catalan. Quite the opposite. But I am aware that many Catalans, especially where I live, have very strong feelings about Madrid. They hate the ruling PP. If I had a vote, it would be for the PP, much in the same way as I would vote Tory in the UK. But I would be careful who I told.

But sometimes I am lectured about not speaking Catalan, sometimes by my expat friends! It is quite distinct from Spanish although there are many common words. When I say that my third language is French, people say, "Oh, it's very like Catalan, you should have no difficulty". Ahem, it is nothing like French. For sure, it has common words but that's hardly surprising since it shares the same Romance roots.

I enjoy a little joke at their expense. I say that I speak, "Catalan Nord", in other words French. This is a little dig at Catalunya referring to the area across the border up to Perpignan as "Catalunya Nord" as if it is still part of the "nation" of Catalunya. Nooo, it's France. Perpignan features in the weather forecast on TV3, not because it expects many people to be spending the day there; it is to make a political point. It is true that there is much evidence of the Catalan culture across the border with the yellow and red of the Catalan flag in evidence. The rugby team, USAP, has the yellow and red stripes of Catalunya as its colours.

I remember once apologising for not speaking Catalan (I never do that now). The response was, "Take your time"! Yes, I will be taking a very long time. Sometimes I order a coffee in Catalan and I often use si us plau in preference to Por favor. But more that once, the order has been repeated up at the bar in Spanish!! Sometimes I order it in Spanish, café con leche but add the Catalan, si us plau! There are many people here from other parts of Spain and Latin America. I often hear the Colombian accent which I recognise.

I know many Catalan words and can understand it fairly well of course, but I would not know how to put a sentence together in order to speak it. Better to concentrate on one language and speak it well rather than juggle with two languages.

Or sometimes I am asked for how long I have been living here. When I reply innocently, "13 years", the response is, "Then why don't you speak Catalan by now? This is Catalunya." which is not very polite. It is also Spain. I have no need to speak the language, I am fluent in Spanish and everyone speaks Spanish here. It is one of the two official languages. I don't need two languages for one country, I prefer to work on my French.

Some of my expat friends speak Catalan only which is not much use if one travels to Madrid or Malaga. Or Latin America. I was in Colombia last year and it was a joy to speak Spanish for a month without a thought for Catalan. It is no coincidence that my Catalan-speaking expat friends are generally pro-independence because, to learn Catalan is a way of supporting the cause. I learn a language to communicate, not to show support for a cause which I don't agree with. I wrote in my previous post how I see independence would leave us. It is frightening.

Things would be different if I was working in an office or a shop, then I would be expected to speak Catalan, that is reasonable. But I am retired. Also, Catalans are irritated by people who come from other parts of Spain but do not learn Catalan. That also is reasonable. Most of my friends are much happier about "giris" like me not learning the language. (That is GIRIS not GIRLS! On my screen, it looks like "girls" which I find very funny).

One final point, I hear this so often and it is a fallacy. That one needs to speak Catalan in order to be accepted into society here, as if not speaking it leaves one a kind of social outsider. I can assure you that this is simply not true. Even from my first year here, I became rapidly part of the community in Celrà. I think my art helped because I was soon showing my paintings in the Centre Cultura and I became known through my art. In any case, the community in Celrà is a mixture of Catalan, Spanish - many from Andalucia, Romanian and Gambian. So I hear a mixture of Catalan and the distinctive southern Spanish accent.

I hear a lot of Romanian, usually big beefy guys outside my local bar who work in Carniques Juia - a meat processing factory nearby. "Processing" is a euphemism, "chopping" more like. It sounds horrendous work. Apart from the physical aspect, the area is maintained at a cold temperature as one would expect.

The Gambians here are a very cheerful crowd, the adults - with their colourful clothes - usually speak in their own tongue but the kids speak in Catalan, or maybe also Spanish.

So, going back to the first paragraph, I predicit things will start to get very dirty, unfortunately. There are many thousands of people like me who love this part of Spain but want it to remain part of Spain, it is different. But if it does leave, then it should do it within the law and that is not possible without much debate in Madrid and a change to the Constitution, something that Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist party is supporting. But that would take a long time. More than a week!

There are also many people who support the idea of a referendum but would actually vote "no" to independence. The problem is that, if a referendum does go ahead in some form or other, they won't bother to vote because they will view it as illegal.

The arrogance of the independistas is clearly evident everywhere I go. The posters don't say effectively, "Here is your opportunity to vote", they tell me how I will vote. The most common example is a flag or poster which simply says "Sí".

In the next post I will show you some of the posters which are distributed around the neighbourhood. And I will draw a cartoon. I have decided.

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