Whenever the topic of Catalan devolution is argued about, at least one person will draw attention to the ‘fact’ that Catalans are rude and horrible people. The argument, though it has absolutely no bearing on the topic of devolution, is fallacious, and is employed as a tactic to make the debate about the conduct of Catalans rather than the fact of their desire for further devolution from Spain.
The classic form of this argument is: “Why should I have to speak in Catalan when I know they speak Spanish?“. This is generally asked by foreign visitors to Barcelona who have allegedly undergone awful treatment at the hands of vicious Catalan waiters, shop-keepers and officials all intent on making their lives a misery.
My first response to the question is that it’s just good manners to make an effort to connect with people when you come to their country. If I have dinner at a house where they say grace before eating, I don’t just sit on the sofa with the TV on waiting for them to finish. I’ll go along with it, bow my head and say Amen with the rest of them. Similarly, in Catalonia, I’ll make an effort to say just a few words in Catalan: of course people here speak Spanish, but a lot of them speak English too and would we really expect them to deal with us only in the language most convenient to ourselves? This smacks of a huge double-standard. Is it really the Catalans who are obstructing communication? Or is it the people who refuse to make any effort whatsoever to use the local language?
My second argument is much simpler: this never happens anyway. Catalans do not refuse to speak in Spanish to people. This is a lie which is bandied about by people who’ve had some sort of bad experience here. How can I make this claim, I hear you ask? Simple: I’ve lived here for four years. In this time, I’ve visited numerous (hundreds) of bars, restaurants, night clubs, shops, bakeries, offices of the state and businesses. From Cadaques to the Ebre, from Vic and Lleida to Sort and Tarragona, I’ve travelled all around this country and not once have I experienced this alleged rudeness. I’ve probably had contact with thousands of Catalans and not a single one has ever treated me in this way.
Indeed, my experiences suggest that the true situation is the opposite of what the original question suggests: I have found that if I’m talking with a Catalan and trying to get by in Catalan, they will invariably switch to Spanish or English to make things easier for me. This can be very frustrating when you’re trying to learn Catalan, but it’s done out of courtesy and kindness rather than any malicious intent.
Why is it then that my experiences with Catalans and language seem so totally contradictory to those of the complainers? I can only assume that the extent of this rudeness and bad behaviour is grossly exagerrated by people who have a fixed anti-Catalan agenda.