Those horrid Catalans

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.

33 thoughts on “Those horrid Catalans

  1. “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.”

    Whilst I totally agree with your views, I would like to clarify that the switch to Spanish when a non-native Catalan speaker is trying to speak in Catalan is not done out of courtesy and kindness but rather of deeply ingrained fear as a result of decades (centuries?) of repression and been told off or even a smack in the face by countless Spaniards telling them that it is rude to speak your own language in your own country in the presence of a Spanish speaker!

  2. OK Tom, accepted…But I know that the usual behaviour is the one I have made reference to (there are lots of studies describing this issue)!

  3. I haven’t noticed that people are particularly rude here. In Madrid I’ve been yelled at much more for far less. I’ve never had anyone complain to me about speaking in Spanish, even at school meetings the teachers didn’t mind doing the meeting in Spanish so I could understand.
    Perhaps my accent is was so horrible that they’d rather have me massacre Castillian than Catalan.

    I’ve heard about as many stories from Catalans who complain that Spanish people are rude to them as vice versa, so I think the only conclusion is that yes, unfortunately, there are assholes in the world.

    Everyone in high-tech most everyone speaks English (or at least has the ability to sound out english words using spanish pronunciation rules), so I haven’t had any big problems there. It actually help to learn the Catalan pronunciation rules to I could figure out which damn English word some people were trying to say.

    I would say that Catalans are much more private than I was expecting. For many people here, their lives are already filled up with family, friends from way back, etc, and don’t have a lot of room for crazy foreigners.

  4. I totally agree. The problem is with Catalans switching too easily to Spanish, not the other way round. It can be very frustrating to be speaking in Catalan, not catch a word (maybe through not even hearing it), ask for it to be repeated, and have the speaker instinctively change to Spanish. Catalans, speak more Catalan to foreigners! Especially to the ones who speak it….

  5. I know this is an old post, but the title caught my attention because I still hear the same statements today. Not often, but still too often. It takes my breath away when I hear people sitting in a bar in Barcelona and loudly complaining about the Catalans.

    If I overheard someone talking about these ‘horrible Indians’ while sitting in a bar in Bombay, they would be getting a knuckle sandwich served up double quick.

  6. I really didn’t get the gist of this entry. Certainly, I’ve heard my share of stupid sterotyping.

    On the other hand, sometimes stereotyping is based on experiences. I have to be confronted with the single case to make a distinction.

    My advice to the Catalan reader, it would be good to take such bashing with an ounce of self-criticism. Maybe the outside view opens new perspectives.

    However, self-defence should apply where it is due.

      1. Yeeesss… I know and loathe the know-it-alls and their double standards, no question. So if we’re on that level, I cannot but totally agree with you.

        But I am not so sure if by turning this feeling into a post you are not getting close to stereotyping yourself. And just in case I wanted to point out that every case has to be seen in its context.

        The larger context is that cricicism in Spain (not only in Catalonia) is never well accepted. The usual “y tú más” comes around immediately. And it is in that context of lack of debate culture that I dared to point at the possible reasons behind what I, too, identify as “bashing”.

        The lack of any self-critical attitude is most vexing, and that, rather than the gist of your entry, and rather than sticking to its wording, the attempt to look for a bigger picture, is what I was getting at.

  7. If I’m paying for a good or service — I damn well expect that the good/service provider speak to me in the language that best suits me.

    In their homes and in non-business related social situations (or even business situations where I am not paying), speaking the local language is understandable. However, if you’re in business to make money and I’m trying to give you mine, I expect you to not act like a prick in the process.

  8. Bullshit! Catalans are rude and lack class becaue they don’t give a fuck to include you in any conversation. I have lived in Barcelona for 16 years (from Scandinavia), and have CERO catalan friends, all from the rest of the world and Spain of course. Catalans are shallow and self-absorbed. If you are on a party, dinner, business reunion or wharever, they automatically exclude you. They have NO education. They don’t travel… so they don’t know how to behave.

  9. Hate to say this but I just got back from Barcelona and had to cut my trip short by two weeks bc I was tired of the rude locals I kept encountering. I know not all people can be lumped up in the same boat but it is what I experienced. And you can’t lump up everyone’s experience with yours. I stopped speaking Spanish bc I was treated badly every time I asked a question in Spanish but as soon as I began speaking English, their tune would change almost immediately. Case in point, I got on the bus and in spanish, asked the driver if he could tell me how I could connect to get to the camp nou. He rudely answered me in Catalan and I said, ok sorry. As soon as he realized I was an American, he answered me in Spanish. Odd, and rude and not the only experience I had. It’s not about rudeness or not caring about the region and their culture that I didn’t speak in Catalan, it’s for the simple fact that I know Spanish and I am comfortable speaking it and I figure that a region where the locals speak both languages would have no problem answering me in Spanish as well. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to Barcelona was their unique culture within Spain. Sorry, but that’s the truth. I found them rather racist and rude. Sorry to the awesome locals I did interact with but as of right now, my impression has been tainted. It will take me a while to work up the appetite to visit again.

    1. Sorry for you Rick and yor bad experience
      i ave my idea for wath is like that
      if you want speack with a north catalonyan (french part)
      im her

      1. I’m sorry but I don’t understand exactly what you’re saying. If you could clarify what you are saying it would be much appreciated.

  10. I have to agree with Marc , after 13 years I decided to return to the UK because of the general rude behavior of the locals – yes I speak Spanish fluently – yes I bought my own place ! Not 1 but 2 small businesses and yet the more I stayed the more I loathed the place ! You can go into a local supermarket for years and not get so much as a ” Bon Dia ” And don’t even get me started if you are in a group of Catalans at a dinner party or maybe a social event – they simply ignore you !!
    You know the UK has so many problems but its so nice to be home !!

  11. Im visiting Barcelona currently…I am indian but have lived most of my life in New York and London….u get some bad experiences with locals everywhere but the Catalans take closed mindedness to a whole different level. They just seem to be not interested in anything else besides their “Catalunya” which I find very sad in this global age we live in. They are also boring and shallow people…I didnt like Barcelona as a city much either…there is no buzz…way too much ripping off and street crime and dirty areas…and the rudeness tops it off…. I dont know why Barcelona is so popular with tourists…but i spent a month in Brussels and found that much more interesting…even Budapest was great…I guess a place is what the people make it to be…And Catalan people are a small scared minority trying to keep their identity perhaps… but they should celebrate their identity with others rather than close it off to the world and be so scared of losing their culture…no one has a strong culture anymore we live in a tiny world and everything is interconnected ….its much more interesting that way isnt it?…I would get bored of always being in one little small culture always….that’s brainwashing and ignorance not really culture.

    Only thing I liked about Barcelona…the food…but u need to know where to go…and never ever order food where prices arent clearly displayed…yes they cheat u even in restaurants…heck even at a Boulangerie they cheated me buying a slice of chocolate…I dont care..if my lost money can make them happier so be it…….

  12. It’s always nice to hear all these xenophobic comments about allegedly xenophobic experiences with those horrid Catalans.

  13. Hi Tom,

    As the passing of time is proving (your post in 2006 my comment to it in 2014), the catalan “issue” isn’t about either that devolution in 2006 or the apparently easy switch of language that you wrote about.

    I would not like to underestimate your skill to understand the real problem in Catalonia as regards many or most Catalans. The core issue, the core problem is called Nationalism, from with derives a series of different tensions between those catalans and most of the rest of Spaniards; but these tensions hardly arise between those catalans and foreigners like you, who therefore may find it difficult to appreciate what is going on here, what is at stake. Foreigners don’t represent to nationalists either Spain or the Spanish language they so much abhor.

    Polically, devolution claimed or achieved in 2006 was not a claim so as to meet or satisfy a reasonble need, as nationalists argue. Many devolutions towards Catalonia have been passed since 1978, but any of them alone is a problem itself.
    The problem is that each one of them are secretly thought and conceived by nationalist Catalans as a necessary step in the path of getting the most powers as possible, in order for it to be as easy as possible for them to declare the ilegal secession. To sum up they lie because they say they have a pressing need to meet, but they are thinking on getting independence in the long term. So they have been liars since 1978 when the Constitution was passed. And as a proof of that: the fact this very year 2014 they have finally admited their 40 years hidden intentions. Therefore 40 years of lies.

    Linguistically (which is also politically), the problem is not if someone switches or does not switch. The real problem is that catalan Authorities, both regional and local ones, with the accquiesce of a lot of people there, are acting to make disappear Spanish from Catalonia, by, for instance, banning Spanish language from state schools, high schools, universities, administrations…, which is ilegal and also a violation of the legal rights of a vast number of catalan children and catalan families who speak Spanish, who act up about the half of the population in Catalonia. And these polcies are also a problem for the rest of Spaniards whose children cannot move to Catalonia and study there without losing a pair of years until they learn the new language. But it is also a problem for foreigners who have children and would prefer their children to study in Spanish or both rather than only Catalan which is the current model: the immersion system.

    And listen to me, those very peple who apparently gently switch into Sapanish to address you: (1) When they can, when in a shop or a comerce, they are very likely to order the employee to be attended to only in Catalan or complain to the boss if the employee can’t. (2) And secondly, when those very people speak to you, even though they may be smiling at you, they are very likely to be secretly thinking of that you are another obstacle or handicap for the Catalan language to prevail in Catalonia.

    It is very sad to say, but a lot of catalans are now twisted, warped and devious because of Nationalism. They have things in mind that they care to hidden.

    A lot of foreigners and a lot of spanish speaking catalans, born in Catalonia, will never critizice all that attidudes to get better acceptted in Catalonia, by those who pride themselves because they are catalans and speak catalan too. They are “pure”. Or they will look at any other direction to pretend these extreme ugly realities don’t exist. Well, that is their choice. Lack of dignity and very little personality in my opinion.


  14. Dear reader
    I am a university student of open mind, I am going to Poland been to Greece, Denmark and Portugal, however I have worked an hour from Barcelona in the Girona region working as a teacher in a week long(for the kids) English camp, Kids from the local area would misbehave, the locals were very rude, infact I had loads of kids from Barcelona which i visited 3 times, mostly they were alright one very good school in particular, kids from Valencia Madrid and the south were much warmer and nicer, I also asked Catalan students ages 17 why they wanted Catalan independence the response was usually they didn’t know. However kids will be kids, it wasnt until I took 30 kids from Tarragona on a trip to a castle in a local town, where the locals shouted at the kids for running, I quickly responded by reassuring the 3 locals there was no problem or need to chase my students or shout at them, later on the same day my students bought ice creams in a shop, when i approached to buy one the shopkeeper said he would charge me tourist price??? not local one, he also reminded me it was 50 cent to use the bathroom.I made friends with Catalans but in my experience lack of manners is very common its in their culture to be rude, and for a country that depends so much on tourism they are very anti tourist, they have no English signs on their transport so on buying my train ticket i didn’t validate it and got a 100 euro fine, being clever i told him id only 20 euro and to ring the police, after awhile i called his bluff paid 20 and got a receipt, also once on a night out i saw a German man of 20 odd beated by civil guard outside a mc Donalds, in a gestapo style beating, they left him their, LLoret this party town was like the wild west, I visited Valencia it was so clean people were so nice, on buying beer bar tenders brought down free tapas, they were generous, other than the people Valencia city is beautiful anybody with interest in architecture between the 15th and 17th century would love it, Barcelona was over populated and unsafe I had many friends over who either got mugged or had to fight for their wallet, the police force would tell us they don’t understand English when we needed help, but if someone was drunk or getting sick they magically became very much fluent, but my take on it all is that the facist order of the 1970’s exists very much in the old breed, and aspects of the country. I have many catalan friends I went over to like them, but I will back many of the comments above in the overall aspect the Catalans are very rude, they are also very greedy, It is a region full of wonderful people and places, but I wont return due to the majority and the atmosphere, call it what you want but the feeling isnt imaginary it is shared amongst too many people, Catalonia will never achieve independence due to their self interests, they dont have the national pride you see in a people within a specific culture, if you like football go over and visit noucamp or Barcelona zoo, but if you want to pay 25 euro for a bus tour and 15 euro into each half built site as you go along such as the cathedral that has no historic value as comparison to castles or cathedrals in Valencia then be my guest, but shop around before you visit. It was an experience… to refer tot he original statement they were not horrible, if its part of their culture to be what we consider rude i very much respected that and wish them all the best, but i wont be in a rush to fly over again anytime soon

    1. I totally agree with you, Catalans are incredibly rude, from lack of basic manners such as letting people get off the metro before trying to get in to my pet hate, never moving to one side to let people pass. This rudeness is reflected in the customer service. Waiters treat you with almost contempt.

      It would be easy to think that this is how the Spanish are but travel around Spain and you will see this is not the case. It is something particular to Catalonia. Even in Madrid the people are far friendlier , cheerful and polite. You enter a restaurant and you are made to feel welcome.

      The Catalans are their own worst enemy, They spend so much time telling you what a Catalan is (they seem to love the phrase…”Being a Catalan” ) that they have lost all sense of what they are really like. If you ever say anything negative about them, they will turn on you. Criticism is not something they take well. All this is now being compounded by this damn Independence movement. Pure manipulation and lies and yet, as an outsider, if you try to challenge anything you will be dismissed as “not being able to understand”

      I must add I do have some very good Catalan friends but I am sorry, as a society as a whole, the Catalans are the worst I have come across.

      Why do I live here? I like the place… the city, the beaches, the food, the drink… If only it had the people of Madrid it would be perfect. Alas thsi is not the case so it is a case of priorities.. for me the good outweigh the bad but it does not mean it does not drive me mad at times.

  15. Those “horrid catalans” you speak of are the best people I’ve ever met. They host me for a year, they treat me with respect dignity, they were very open with me and the were the BEST THING I HAD IN MY EXCHANGE PROGRAM!!!!! So please don’t bash them like you do, they only fight for what they think is right and what they want. If you hate them so badly why not to let them be FREE!!


    And if you don’t understand english, please GO TO SCHOOL!!! BECAUSE YOU HAVE A PROBLEM!! ll*ll

  16. Isaiah,

    It looks like they passed on the manners that we are so fondly discussing. Fighting for what you believe and basic manners are not mutually exclusive.

    I am please you had a good experience, like I said I do have some very good friends but as a whole, as a society, they are extremely rude. You say about letting them go? Most of us live here so I have no problem letting them go, the question is where to?
    Visca Catalunya i visca Espanya, millor junts….

    1. as a whole, as a society, they are extremely rude

      The thing is that this is a totally subjective opinion, not backed up by many people’s experience. So when you say “the thing is…” and make it look like you’re expressing a fact, you’re not. Actually, it’s your statement itself which strikes me as being extremely rude and potentially racist.

      1. The thing is, I never said “the thing is”

        Anyway I stand by my statement, as a whole they are extremely rude and this is backed up by personal experience and by experience of many, many friends from many different nationalities. Indeed, it is backed up by many on this board. If I am rude for saying they are rude, then guilty as charged.

        As for being potentially racist, best you look up the definition.

        1. Fair enough. I’m not sure why I thought you had said that.

          But I stand by my point: you and all your friends thinking a thing – a subjective opinion – doesn’t make it a fact.

          What’s racist-sounding is you tarring an entire society as “extremely rude”. I don’t see how you justify that. You’ve given zero evidence. Is as bad as if I said that all Scots were tight or all Mexicans lazy. It’s a dumb, racist generalization.

  17. Of course it is a subjective opinion and I do not claim it as a fact. It is my opinion based on mine and other people’s experiences and comments I get from visitors. As a whole does not mean each and every one, but overall I still maintain that they are rude. When you come across such widespread rudeness in the metro, in customer service, in the street then of course you extrapolate. Do we just have bad luck? Is the universe in my contra…? OR.. is there something bigger….? People tend to behave based on the norms of society… and that brings me full circle.

    And there is nothing more lazy and dumb than calling someone a racist.

    1. And there is nothing more lazy and dumb than calling someone a racist.

      Other than being one, I guess. Still, live long and prosper.I hope you’ve found somewhere better to live.

      1. I have explained my reasons why I think that Catalans are rude and I am far from a racist. You conveniently ignore what the majority of people have put on your very own blog, that in their personal experience the Catalans are very rude.

        You on the other hand have not come up with any evidence to suggest the contrary….

        As for calling me a racist, I suppose that being British you think that is a big insult, but I take it in the same way that Gordon Brown called that old woman a bigot, that independentistas call those that disagree “fatxas”… with a very big pinch of salt…

        As for finding a better place to live, if you had read the comments, you would have seen my reasons for living here…. That the pros outweigh the cons… but the biggest con is the rudeness of the catalans themselves…. Every single day I witness it.. I came here with an open mind but over the years this is my conclusion.. I wish it were not true, it would make my life easier…

      2. Sorry it’s been a while but I have been travelling… Belgium, France, Germany, UK, Southern and Central Spain… and yes, the catalans still hold the record of being the rudest.

        As I have said before, there are many factors as to why I live here and it is always a balance… but trust me, I am not alone in my opinion. I work in a multinational company and the theme often comes up, normally when someone goes away and then is rudely reminded upon their return.

  18. Racism is a strong accusation of someone and JoTafe does state this is their subjective opinion. There’s no real benefit from descending into name calling when your opinion differs.

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