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".


Joel said...

Ian you nailed and I couldn't agree more.
The sad thing is that most of the catalan people, specially our great politicians, the absence of "cojones" camouflage it calling it "seny", and we buy it.
Another reason for no "cojones" is that we love the role of victims. It's very easy, it's Madrid. But what is Madrid going to do when after all they do (or sometimes what don't do) to us there's no reaction back at all?
Politicians only care about themselves and their businesses and promises to us in order to keep the power, but does anyone see them to do anything beyond the "y tu mes" in "el parlament"? Is there a party that cares about the real problems? I like to vote but I don't feel represented.

So here we are the catalans only getting really angry with the real problems: Ronaldinho is not playing good and we may not win the league, so let's take a day off at work to go to yell at them when practicing, but make it clear so nobody thinks you're complaining about RENFE, we don't want Madrid dislike us.

Aixi ens va.

trevor said...

Dammit man, where do you buy your food? El Corte Inglés? In the supermarkets I go to half of the stuff is just in Catalan, and if there isn't a picture on the packet sometimes neither the employees nor the customers know what's in it.

ian llorens said...

Trevor, you must be doing your shopping at
Anyway, Catalan is very easy. The most important thing is to know that "aigua" is water and "lleixiu" is bleach. For your own safety, I mean.

Tom said...

And also... in your 'mapstats' plugin, Cerdanyola del Vallès shows up as 'Sardanyola', the Franco-era name. Tut!

Anonymous said...

Estas muy aburrido tío. dedícate a trabajar porque hay que ganar dinero. No podrás vivir siempre del cuento

Garci said...

Com anecdotari et dire, Ian, ara que he vist el teu missatge a l'article del Pais sobre Gunter Grass i la federacio iberica, el que em va pasar amb el meu company de pis, lisboeta i algarvenc de sentiment. Donc, despres de coneixer una mica un servidor, em va comentar que a Portugal creixien amb la cultura de l'odi cap l'espanyol (ho sento molt, pero els catalans estan inclosos), i que despres de xerrar amb mi, es va adonar que el que jo li havia dit fa temps sobre Saramago, ja no ho veia tant tonto, que en realitat compartiem moltes mes coses de les que pensava per obra i gracia del nacionalisme portugues. Ahi va l'historia. No nega el que tu dius a El Pais en absolut (excepte lo dels castellans, que son mes be espanyols), pero dona una explicacio de quina pot ser la causa.

ian llorens said...

Hoy es día de Acción de Gracias y no se trabaja aquí. Entre comentario y comentario, estoy cocinando el pavo.

ian llorens said...

I have been several times to Portugal and every time I go, someone will tell me that they are still afraid of Spain invading Portugal. The reality is that many multinationals have already created Iberia as a region, but they still need to send Portuguese sales people to Portugal if they want to sell succesfully.
I agree that there are similarities between Spanish and Portuguese, but if Portugal had become part of Spain in the XV century and remained as part of it till now, Portuguese language and culture would only be shown now at reservations. The Spanish monarchy, especially the Borbons, have always been centralist and their tools to achieve it: Castilian as a language, common laws and centralized taxation. Basques and people from Navarra have been, so far, the smartest.

ian llorens said...

By the way, personally I would have no problem with a true Iberian Federation, multi-lingual and multi-cultural with its capital in Logroño.

Garci said...

I was thinking more on a capital In Maqueda or Horcajo de Santiago..:). By the way, Portuguese in reservations? give me a break! as far as I know, Galician is spoken by more people than Basque!! but the Portuguese have done something I admire: establishing 'mirandes' as the only official astur-lliones in Iberia. I believe it should be officialized de facto in Castile & Leon and Asturias. Have a happy Thanksgiving Day!

ian llorens said...

Let's establish the capital in Miranda do Douro, then.

Happy Thanksgiving day for you too.

Ted Johnson said...

As an American, with a Ecuadorian mother and Anglo father, I have been intrigued in Catalonia for years. I wish for Catalonia true and total independence. Madrid needs to let go of Catalonia (and Basque too) and treat them as good neighbors, not subjugated people. I like Spain, don't get me wrong, but I believe in self-determination, and Catalonia can really push/help itself by insisting all products sold in Catalonia have Catalonian on the packaging. It is plain and simple and should be done.

Garci said...

Ted, how exactly do you define subyugated people? Would you define California, Alberta or Quebec as subjugated states or provinces just because the nation's big decissions are taking in Washington or Ottawa? The true subjugated people are in other areas (Lousiana, Nova Scotia, Nunavut,..). Now look at Spain again and tell me where are the subjugated, please.

Alex said...


By lumping Nova Scotia and Albeta together with Quebec, you discredit your own argument. Quebec is different in a way that Nova Scotia and Alberta are not. Quebec can claim nation status -- for a variety of linguistic, historical and cultural reasons -- while I'm not sure that such a claim would apply to Ontario or Manitoba.

Alex said...

The same is true of Catalonia: it's different in a way that Murcia or Castilla-La Mancha aren't. Sorry, but that's the plain truth.

Rab said...

what about closing TV stations because they are in the wrong language? Or what about the Spanish parties (both PSOE and PP) banning the use of so-called official languages in Parliament?


This is unprecedented in Europe, the politically-motivated censorship of a TV station.

Can you imagine the uproar if the Catalan government closed down the transmitters for Spanish-speaking TV networks? This is pure censorship by a regional government (rule by the Conservatives) with the acquiescence of the Labour party.

The two main Spanish parties are acting in concert to ensure that Catalan/Valencian language disappears from the Valencia region forever, even more that its residual presence nowadays.

To me, that is a subjugated nation.

George said...

Back to the issue of labelling, you are quite right about the Catalan manufacturers "cojones", but one or two vendors DO have them. One in particular, Moritz, a brewer, decided two or three years ago to distinguish its product by labelling ONLY in Catalan. Upon Moritz's growing success, its major competitor, Catalan brewer Damm, has thereupon begun labelling in Catalan too.
So much for arguments that the market just isn't interested!

ian llorens said...

The example you give about Moritz and Damm tends to prove my point about collusion. If one company labels in Catalan and grabs a big market share, the others need to follow.
For this reason, in many industries the market leaders have a secret agreement that none of them will be the first one to label in Catalan. We need a whistleblower law!

Garci said...


First, where do you see I lumped Nova Scotia with Alberta and Quebec? I rather argument Nova Scotia in a different place than the other two. Regarding linguistic and cultural definitions of nations, I would suggest you to start including the Duchy of Athens and Neopatria in the Catalan nation, while I put the Philippines in the Castilian nation...but it looks rather senseless to me!

Happy New Year.

Garci said...

Rab, I agree that TV stations should not be banned as far as they provide good and objective material. Unfortunately, there is no TV station in Spain able to fulfil such "strict" requirements, except possibly some of the very local ones. And I agree that the use of official (and NOT official languages with certain presence in the country) should NOT be banned. Another question is where to define that "presence".

Unfortunately, or not, Spain fulfills several European records for unprecedented issues. One of them is the exclusive subsidies to public televisions speaking in a language spoken by 50 % (or less) of the population. Or the subsidies to incentivate hatred to areas of the same State. The total official ambush against languages spoken by 50% of their inhabitants, etc... Indeed, Rab, Spain subjugates, and the Catalan Government, as a component of the State is one of its main actors.


carlessants said...

It seriously difficult to find products labeled in Catalan, despite of the white marks of Caprabo (now sold to an spanish group and now they are not labeling in Catalan anymore), Sorli Discau or like that.
Take a look at my video, sincerely it's very sad. You can find Catalan companies labeling in more than 20 languages but not in Catalan.

You can take a look at some new products with Catalan conscience:

(you can find funny videos of this products in my channel

It's sad to ear from you that we don't have "cojones" (balls).
I know a lot of Catalan companies don't label in Catalan.
What I ask for to all the Catalans is to buy preferentially Catalan labeled product.

I don't believe that Catalans don't have balls. What I believe is that if Catalans get really angry, spain will be burnt.

Do you believe that Catalans could watch calm how the evil spanish government destroy the Sagrada Família from Gaudí (human patrimony by the UNESCO)? They've imposed the pass of a fast speed train (ave) only 75 centimeters from the basis.


American fought the english for their Freedom.
It's sad that many common and peaceful Catalan people from the streets are starting to say that the only way to survive to the attacks of the spanish state to the Catalan culture, rights and to stop the economic plundering is to fight with weapons.

Historically when Catalans felt unable to resist its will to reveal against spanish attacks, they exile , but now millions of people are becoming angry.

I truly believe if Catalans get more angry, the consequences will be terrible.
It's better for the world to act now and force spain to respect democracy and allow the Freedom referendum for the creation of their own states in Catalonia and in the Basque Country.
When I say Catalonia I refer to all the country it was Catalonia before the 1714 french and spanish invasion. So Principality of Catalonia, Valencian Country, Ses Illes (Islands) and the Catalonia North (in france). Around 14 millions of persons.


Tom said...

George - my can of Voll Damm (which I regard as one of the most beautiful aspects of life in Catalonia, after wife of course), has no Catalan on it at all. Perhaps just Estrella has changed its packaging?

ian llorens said...

A couple of things.
I am totally against violence and I hate those who propose violence as the way out. There are many other more intelligent options.

Another thing, Catalonia is only Catalonia. Valencia and the Balearic Islands have never been Catalonia. They were part of the Aragonian Kingdom, but they were not Catalonia. Let them choose what they want to be. Do not do what you criticize from others.

On the other side, those territories you mention, have a common language, Catalan/Valencian, and we should work together to promote it, instead of playing politics.