ROUND THE TABLE(19/04/2007)
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On the unwitting arrogance of an international expert
CATALONIA TODAY – SECTION: LONG-TERM RESIDENT - ARTICLE FIFTY-TWO
When I first came to Barcelona I was rude, shockingly rude, day in and night out. I know this because I was told as much by English people who judged my speaking to Catalan friends in Catalan, in front of the self-same English people, very poor etiquette indeed. The reason? Yes, you've already guessed. These English people hadn't learnt Catalan and wanted all of us to switch to Spanish, which they had.
I refused, saying that I expressed myself (much) better in Catalan than in Spanish, and that anyway both I and my Catalan friends would have found it deadeningly artificial to change to a language we normally never spoke together (so much so that, even when we tried, we soon lapsed back into Catalan).
This kind of day-to-day linguistic persistence, indeed, is one of the reasons why Catalan has survived three hundred years of attempts to suffocate it into an all but inaudible gasp.
A fact which has not, apparently, made a single blip on the cultural radar of Fred Halliday, a 'specialist in international relations' – and part-time Barcelona resident - interviewed in this paper last week. Mr Halliday was most upset about the roundtable discussions he'd attended (in Catalonia) at which Catalan was used with no allowance made for the fact that he didn't understand it. According to him, this was 'plain rude'.
This reminded me of 20 years ago, when, as I said, I saw many an English bwana deigning to break bread with the natives without having bothered to inform himself of their linguistic customs, and then blaming them for being incomprehensible. What astonishingly insufferable haughtiness. And even more so, coming from a specialist in international relations. Where was he working before he came here to tell us how to behave? Iraq?