thebadPoll: problems with language

This is a bit of an old chestnut. There are a lot of stories around about people having trouble with Catalan speakers (generally in Barcelona), refusing to serve people in Spanish or being rude or unfriendly because of the victim’s lack of ability with Catalan.

Now, this isn’t a poll about whether you agree with the Generalitat’s language policies or not… maybe I’ll do that next. The question is simple: Have you ever had problems with Catalan speakers refusing to serve you in Spanish?

As usual, you can answer to the right >>

…but if you want to expand on your answer, just leave a comment.

18 thoughts on “thebadPoll: problems with language

  1. I am a British citizen of Catalan origin and my first language is Catalan. I now live in Barcelona and I ALWAYS speak in Catalan to everybody, if they say they don’t understand me then I speak slowly or with less fancy words. I know of many foreigners who’d love to learn and practice Catalan and can’t do it because Catalan speakers 99.9 % of times switch to Spanish when they hear a funny accent or see a foreign look. Also, I don’t like it when Catalans complain that immigrants do not integrate and learn our language (same complaints in Holland, for example) but then most Catalans do not offer foreigners a chance to learn it since they swiftly switch to Spanish whether the other person understands Spanish or not! Bizarre…The best gift you can give to an inmigrant is your language and culture as a sign that they are accepted and welcome in Catalonia. Otherwise is discrimination, not being polite as Spanish nationalists say! This is what I think 😉

  2. I would think that a bigger problem lies in the number of people working in customer facing jobs that do not know or refuse to serve customers in Catalan….

  3. In my experience, Catalans all switch to Spanish or English without any complaint. As Toni says, they maybe do so a little too quickly. I have never seen a Catalan person refusing to switch if the other person genuinely can not understand Catalan and has a decent attitude.

  4. That´s my experience too, Jim. And it’s also key the other bit you mention: having a decent attitude! Also, as an Anglo-Catalan speaker, I also make a distinction between tourists and people who freely choose to come here and settle in Catalonia, the latter implying a moral obligation to integrate (and by integrating I do not mean forgetting one’s roots, far from that!).

  5. Had the misfortune to work with a Catalan guy who refused to speak any Spanish to me and others. His English was about as good as my Catalan at the time and thus made things very difficult. Simply put, he was a complete dick who put me off learning Catalan for quite a while. Thankfully the majority of people arent like him. Apart from that, a young fella in a shop told me that he wouldn’t switch to Spanish because if you understand Spanish then you understand Catalan. At least thats what I think he said: I wasn’t sure as I didnt understand his Catalan. He must’ve felt very proud of himself.

    Toni, if a Catalan person has just switched to Spanish to speak to me, I’ve found that a simple request to switch back to Catalan always works (has done 100% of the time thus far), so my learning Catalan has never been affected by what you say. In fact it’s probably a good thing as it shows them that I’m trying to speak in Catalan and that I’m not just merely mis-pronouncing my Spanish!

  6. I’m interested to see that so far, only one person who voted ‘yes’ has bothered to recount the experience.

    My gut feeling is that these rare incidents concern meeting with people I’d refer to as ‘cocks’ – people who’d be just as useless and unhelpful if they were from Seville, Brighton, Austin or Mogadishu.

  7. Just a short question: how many English people in England change language if a foreigner speaks to them(to the language of the foreigner)?

  8. Cocks? just about sums up the blog owner, doesn’t it? Basically most Catalans are wankers. Anyone care to disagree?

  9. @Jeff H. – I think it’s pretty clear that I was saying that the Catalans who intentionally make things difficult for people (like the chap Neddy had problems with) are a tiny minority of generally unhelpful people the like of which you might find anywhere. That is to say: their being Catalan has nothing to do with it.

    It’s pretty obvious that I don’t think that “Basically most Catalans are wankers” – and I don’t believe that you truly inferred that from what I said.

    The question, then, is: do you have trouble reading and comprehending what you’ve read, or are you simply trolling? I think I know the answer, Steve.

  10. I have lived in Barcelona for around 6months now, and I genuinely believe Catalans to be amongst the most intolerant, rude and snooty people in Europe… well quite a sizeable minority anyway. The great thing about Barcelona though is that there are wonderful people from all over the world who I’ve made friends with, and they are the reason that I’m still here. I have not made friends with one Catalan however. Most of the others I’ve spoken to about this seem to agree.. and it’s a kind of on-going joke about the rudest possible Catalan that we’ve come across.

  11. It’s strange how my experience is so much different to yours. I have always found Catalans to be very friendly.
    I think the explanation might be because I went there with an open mind, hoping to make friends with Catalans and others that I met.
    I think this may be what you did:

    Before you went to Barcelona, you had already decided that the Catalans ‘would’ be rude.
    When you got there, you started looking for any peice of evidence to ‘prove’ yourself right.
    You found plenty of these ‘proofs’ as it is very easy to misinterpret the actions/behaviour of people from a different culture.
    You started to notice more and more that Catalans didn’t like you, and by now it was probably genuine dislike as they didn’t like your attitude.
    You started gravitating towards a group of other individuals like you. What else could you do?

    Weather I am right or not, the problem you now have is that you are living in place where you dislike the locals. That can’t be nice!

  12. I totally agree there, Jim… It’s all in the attitude, plus living in a country where you dislike the locals (and I guess their culture and language too) must be a pain in the back!

    It reminds me of what some prominent Francoist once said: “CATALONIA IT’S A WONDERFUL COUNTRY, SHAME IT IS FULL OF CATALANS!”

  13. I’ve lived in Barcelona for 10 years and I have to say that before you know a language and culture it is very easy to fall into the “I don’t understand it, so I don’t like it” trap.
    My wife, one of my daughters, and my in-laws are Catalan so I should be biased.
    But to be fair, the Catalans are different, their history has made them rightly so.
    I suggest that before passing judgement on a certain people, they should grab a reliable history book, live in their country a little longer and try and learn something first.
    There’s nothing more annoying to me than stereotypes, and people who propagate them. You can find negativity in anything if you are bitter enough to continually go searching for it.

  14. Same here, richs-lxh, it was the same back in the UK when I heard foreigners moan about Britain, its people or customs … I always felt like telling them, with all due respect, that if they didn’t like it they were always free to go!

    I too hate stereotypes and prejudices, especially against people like the Catalans, as they do not have a powerful state behind to protect/defend them (or any state for that matter, if anything a totally hostile one!)

  15. @Pigeon123 – I’m sorry to hear that you feel that way about the Catalans. It does sound like you’ve had a bad experience and as that’s so unusual, you must have had pretty bad luck. Apart from that, I’m not sure what to say, except that I hope your luck changes.

    As someone who believes in multiculturalism, I’d never say that complaining about the place where you live means you should ‘go home’. It just makes you human!

  16. Tom, I appreciate your goodwill, but I continue to believe that if Pigeon123 truly feels that Catalans are so rude and intolerant, I’d like to know on what grounds he bases his experience…is it on language grounds or something else?

    Again, I also think that if he dislikes the locals so much, there must be something wrong with him, either he makes no effort to integrate or is constantly surrounded by other foreigners (or Spaniards), or both. And this cannot really help to make him feel more at ease in Catalonia…

    As I always say, so much depends on your circle of friends, who you meet, and what you do, that shape, negatively or positively, your experiences in a new country. We are humans, after all! My experience shows that foreigners in Catalonia that mingle primarily with Spaniards are more likely to get the anti-Catalan bug than otherwise…

    Anybody else has had similar experiences?

  17. Tom,
    You say that you hope Pigeons luck changes and I do too, but to a certain extent, I believe he has made his own luck.

    ” As someone who believes in multiculturalism, I’d never say that complaining about the place where you live means you should ‘go home’. It just makes you human! ”

    I agree with this if you just have the odd gripe but if I went to live in a country where I had fundamental problems with the culture, one option I would consider would be to leave.
    So of course I don’t think Pigeon should be forced to leave, but for his own happiness, it is worth him considering.

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