Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Some of those who landed in my blog recently may think that I would want to have Catalan as the only language spoken in Catalonia, and I would like it to become second language of choice in USA and China. Nothing further from reality, my approach to language is a very pragmatic one, based on trilingualism for all residents in Catalonia. I am not for segregated schools based on language or any other reason, a single trilingual education system for everyone. You can read a 2 year old summary on my position on language if you click here.
I am a businessman and know that localization is a real pain in the lower back. The ideal situation for businesses is “one size fits all”, global market, single language: English. This reduces costs, accelerates the product roll-out and maximizes the profits. However, there are three reasons why at the end, many companies localize their products: competition, regulation and in some cases, a genuine desire for customer satisfaction.
Languages without a state have it very difficult to reinforce their customer requirements through regulation. For example, Kosovo, that was recognized by Germany and USA as a sovereign nation, three days after their independence proclamation, can now regulate that all products and services rendered in its territory need to be in Albanese, that if products are not labeled in Albanese, they cannot be sold locally, and companies need either to comply or go.
With Catalan, there are several reasons that make the adoption rate of companies much lower than that of other languages with only a fraction of its speakers:
· The fact that all Catalan speakers are bilingual
· The fact that Catalonia is not a sovereign state
· The lack of central government support (unlike other bilingual countries like Malta or Ireland)
· The lack of self-respect of a big portion of the Catalan speakers (around 50%), who would rather go for the cheapest option, instead of paying more for a product where their language is taken into consideration
· The cartels among companies to avoid that if one uses Catalan, the other ones will need to follow to maintain the market share , since the 50% who do care about language, would massively switch to the company which uses their language.
The conclusion is that if you want products or services in your language, you need an own state and ever better, to have a substantial portion of monolingual people. It sounds crazy, but this is the pure reality.
The alternative to that is, on one side, use the market mechanisms to favor those products and companies which use our language, and second have some institutional support to lobby and educate the companies in our territory plus provide legal protection to whistleblowers who expose cartels.
That’s what happened when the Balearic government sent a letter to Air Berlin politely encouraging them to use Catalan in their interaction with its Catalan speaking customers.
Air Berlin could have reacted in many different ways. As for example:
· Saying that they were a low cost carrier and they could not afford it
· Saying that they already have 38 Catalan speaking employees in their offices and that customers could always refer to them
· That they are willing to install pre-recorded announcements in the flights if the Balearian government is prepared to foot the bill
· That the Catalan speaking customers are so smart that they always have a good command of one or several of the languages offered on board
All those would have been acceptable answers, respectful, logical.
However Air Berlin’s CEO, Joachim Hunold decided to make a political statement in the editorial of his inflight magazine, a statement full or inaccuracies, lies and errors, mocking at the Catalan culture, ridiculing its pronunciation (does platja sound so much worst than Achtung?) and inferring that the Balearic islands are where they are today thanks to the European Community and that the Catalans would have never been able to make it happen.
Rajoy, the leader of the conservative Popular Party, could have not done it better, with the only glitch of the implicit pan-Catalan assumptions that Hunold made in his article.
As a Catalan customer of Air Berlin, I did not take the editorial well and I decided that when next time I want to hop from Germany to Barcelona (as I do a couple of times a year), I will use other airlines.
However, what got me furious, was the little cartoon that illustrated the editorial. I got really upset of being called Catalan Prussian Pig, that even though there is not yet consensus whether the Bavarian expression means either Catalan scumbag or Catalan fascist (a euphemistic way of saying the German N word), it is clearly not the way I like to be addressed by a service provider (and Catalonia had, at that point, nothing to do with the whole thing!).
Mr. Hunold showed lack of tact, disrespect, defiance, conceit and vanity, but this did not stop the non Catalan speaking part of Spain, and especially the far right, to applaud and cheer Hunold’s wanton attack.
Today, I just want to say to Mr. Hunold that despite the fact that I love my language with all my heart, no matter how it sounds, and I would have cried of joy if in just one of your flights, one stewardess would have addressed me in Catalan for 5 seconds (in my February flight from Shanghai to Munich with Lufthansa there was a Catalan speaking steward and they announced it), Mr Hunold, I am not a Catalan Prussian Pig. Herr Hunold, ich bin kein Saupreissische Katalaner.
Since last Thursdays, the shares of Air Berlin are down by 30%, what has shaved more than 125M Euro in market capitalization. Today the president of the Air Berlin’s Iberian branch has vaguely committed to implementing Catalan somewhere in the future.