Posted by: martinworster | July 8, 2004

21. CATALAN ASSUMPTIONS

More generalisations, flag burning, stereoptype propagation, taking it tranquilo, please turn the sound down.

 Did you know that, like us, Catalans patron saint is George? Sant Jordi they call him and you can see the white flag with red cross on being waved around the city from time to time (and not just on the chests and faces of England supporters here). There are always matches and protests here – it feels like they have a lot to gripe at. There are also a lot of bank holidays here, which seems to be a good opportunity to wave flags, bang drums, chant, let of bangers and generally protest. The last one I saw they were un-ceremoniously burning French flags and the European Union flag. I thought this was a bit much. Ugly nationalism and for what? The more extreme elements want a totally independent Catalonia. Frequently Catalans are very touchy about their identity, language, culture etc. Sometimes annoyingly. I admit they have been persecuted and very much so in recent living memory with Franco only subsiding just under thirty years ago. But they do seem to have a lot of chips on their shoulders.

It’s so easy to make assumptions though based on superficial observations. So I will. When you live abroad you become so much more aware of your national identity. I am English, I live in Catalonia (a part of Spain). Living here does allow me various insights into the national character. For instance the other day I was at the gym using a weight machine when a young Catalan girl just waited for me to finish, almost staring at me. I thought she could just use another machine instead of staring and waiting for me to finish. I thought it was a little weird and imposing. Then I thought maybe this annoying behaviour could be a Catalan trait – an unawareness of space, invasive behaviour etc. Someone could have done the same thing in England but I wouldn’t have taken these actions to be reflective of nationality. My point is it is too easy to experience small events on the personal level and to interpret these as being indicitive on a national level. Although they are all still really annoying, impatient, frustrated drivers.

I have really calmed down recently. When I first came here I would go out at least twice a week on heavy, liver killing nights. Sometimes on a Monday or Tuesday until the wee hours. There was the buzz of newness. It felt like a holiday. It was my honeymoon period. Now things have changed. In fact I’ve really cut down drinking to maybe once a week and even then I don’t mean getting hammered like I used to. Which I guess is good. It gets boring after a while. Something flicked in me, or maybe, I dread to think, I am getting older. Which I am. The tinnitus didn’t help either. There’s only so much shouting down in your ear over the din of bar room chatter and bad Spanish music a man can take. Please senor, I would be most grateful if you could turn the volume down a tad.

Spanish coming on slowly but surely. I can read it pretty well now. Trouble is speaking. I can fumble basic conversation. I have been studying recently too. It’s just for work I don’t need to speak it. The Spanish or Catalan friends I do have I speak English too. Which begs the question why am I even trying to learn it in the first place! I will keep going though as it’s the main reason I’m here, but it certainly ain’t a walk in the park. Most people I speak to say it clicks after two years…will keep you posted.

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