Friday, November 23, 2007

Resign in Spanish and in Catalan used to be “dimitir”

When I was a student at the Institute of North American Studies in Barcelona, our teacher, an interesting guy called Donald from Cocoa Beach Florida, spent a couple of lessons talking about things which sound similar in English and Spanish, but have different meanings. The most vivid example I remember is the word molest. As many of you well know, “molestar” means to disturb in Spanish. Some Spanish speaking people, however, have the tendency to say, “may I molest you?”, instead of “may I disturb you?”, what in some instances can bring them some trouble, since the connotation of molest in English is mainly related to making indecent sexual advances. The other word I remember is the word resign. The correct translation for resign is dimitir in Spanish (and also in Catalan. I know that in Catalan you can also say resignar, but let’s forget about it for the purpose of this post). Donald explained with multiple examples that when someone resigned, he or she was giving up an office or position and that we should not confuse the word resign with resign oneself to something.
After 30 years I have realized that Donald was wrong, that the word “dimitir”(resign) has been eliminated from the Spanish and Catalan dictionaries and that the only words left are “resignarse/resignar-se (resign oneself to something, to submit (oneself) passively; accept as inevitable).
Yesterday was Thanksgiving day and I was able to spend a couple of hours reading all the Spanish and Catalan internet press and I felt like crying. The situation in Catalonia is deteriorating so dramatically, but no one is taking any responsibility. I already mentioned in my previous posts the situation of the infrastructures and that the incumbent ministress Magdalena Alvarez (the spell checker wants me to change the word ministress by mistress, I am impressed by Microsoft!) is holding on to her post. Emulating John Stark’s famous sentence “Live free or die”, she said “antes partía que doblá” an Andalusian phrase that could be translated as “rather dead, than kneeling” And here we are, the infrastructures suck and she is a happy woman. Today she opened a new tunnel that connects France and Spain. It is ahead of time, as it was fully financed by the private sector. Unfortunately it connects nothing with nothing, because neither the Spanish side of the High Speed train, nor the French one, will be ready in many many years, but there she was, on the border, smiling and cutting ribbons, while tens of thousands of Catalans suffer every day from the ailing infrastructures. The Catalan disaster will position her very very well in the next elections when she is said to be a candidate for Malaga. Problems created in Catalonia are great credentials in the rest of Spain to become a public official.
But is she guilty of all this? No, not fully. The only group of people responsible for the debacle is the Catalan politicians, especially those in the “tripartite” (Montilla, Carod and company) who did not have any master plan for infrastructures in Catalonia. How can you measure progress if you have no plan. I heard Carod saying exactly that, “we have to admit that we had no long term plan in infrastructures” Quins collons! (translated as beep). And they are all still there, getting richer and richer and sending the kids to private schools.
That leads me to the last point I want to discuss today: the last report of the Jaume Bofill Foundation shows that Catalonia is trailing the rest of the countries in the European Union and even the majority of Spanish regions in terms of education. The only two countries which are worse than Catalonia are the two super powers Portugal and Malta. The biggest fiasco is in the secondary education where the percentage of drop-outs is extremely high. In a normal country the secretary of education would have resigned. Education is a fully transferred competence, so we cannot blame Madrid for this. However the guy responsible, Ernest Maragall, brother of the one who is even more responsible Pasqual Maragall, has said he has no intention to resign, that they were aware of it and they will take urgent measures. Urgent measures!!!. Once again, those living in Catalonia will have to resign themselves while our politicians pocket as much money as they can in a nation that collapses.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Labeling in Catalan: right or vanity?

Prior to me going to Barcelona, I had decided that I would only buy products labeled in Catalan during my vacation. I do not mean products labeled only in Catalan, I think labels in Catalonia should be in Spanish-Catalan-English or Spanish-Catalan-Galician-Basque. In my first visit to the supermarket, I saw plenty of bilingual labels. However, the two languages were not Catalan and Spanish, as you may assume, the labels were in Spanish and Portuguese.
I thought that as consumer, I had the right to choose. I thought that labels would be in Catalan because millions of Catalan speaking consumers demanded it, and companies would want to make customers happy by addressing their specific needs, not because of the threat of fines. But I was wrong. Very soon I realized that if I wanted to stick to my plan, I would die of inanition after a couple of days. There was almost nothing labeled in Catalan and I started to wonder why.
After giving some thought to the situation, these are my conclusions:

  • Catalan consumers in general, Catalan and Castilian speaking, do not value labeling in Catalan. I have seen many comments in several e-newspaper forums, where people said, “I would not spend a single cent to have labels or DFUs (Directions For Use) in Catalan”, “Companies will leave Catalonia if we ask for these things”, etc. We will go no where with this kind of mentality. We have to demand what we believe is right. Both Catalan and Spanish speaking should demand bilingual labels for all products sold in Catalonia and, at the beginning, they should be willing to accept a small mark up to get the machinery started. I also remind you that most of the jobs created by the requirement to have customer facing interfaces in Catalan cannot be outsourced: call centers and translation services cannot be moved outside the Catalan speaking territories. Conclusion: if we Catalans do not value it and demand it, companies will not voluntarily go through the extra effort.

  • The anti-Catalan sentiment in Spain is unbelievable. Very few people understand that the only way to keep Catalonia in Spain in the long term is to embrace its diversity, support it and promote it. It is interesting to see that the anti-Basque sentiment is far milder, despite the fact that Catalonia has almost always used pacific methods to defend its rights. This anti-Catalan sentiment prevents companies from labeling products in Spanish and Catalan for its distribution throughout Spain. Many people in Spain would not buy bilingual labeled products if they noticed that Catalan is one of the languages, no problem if the other language is Portuguese or English, but Catalan, no way, and many companies do not want to run the risk of boycott for distributing products with Catalan as one of the language on the labels. Isn’t it sad?

  • The third issue is collusion. I am convinced that there is a certain level of collusion among companies operating in Catalonia to avoid labeling in Catalan. I cannot prove it (I hope a whistleblower will bring this to light one day), but I am convinced that a number of companies have agreed not to label in Catalan to avoid that if one company does it, it will get a much bigger market share and the rest will have to follow. Browse in internet and you will find by yourself. SEAT advertises in Estonian in Estonia (click here to see). There is only 1.1 million people who speak Estonian, and most of them speak Russian too, but SEAT spends advertising dollars to tailor the offer for the Estonian. Seat is a Catalonia based company, but its only website in Catalan ( is only addressed to Andorra. It is disheartening.

  • Finally, I think that there is a total lack of pride among the Catalan business people. In my previous blog, in a post called "Catalonia, a country without cojones", I explained that Freixenet sells cava in USA, without any reference to Catalonia, Barcelona or even Sant Sadurni d'Anoia. A couple of weeks ago, I ran of out "cava" and in my home, there is no celebration without Catalan "sparkling wine", so I rushed to the liquor store and the only one one I could find is the famous 1+1=3 (I had never heard it in my life). At least this one had a translation of the brand to Catalan “u més u fan tres”, but no reference to Barcelona or Catalonia. I repeat again, a country without "cojones".