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 (http://www.seat.cat/) 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".