Sunday, January 14, 2007

Second post of the day.

There were impressively large marches against ETA terrorism in 6 Spanish cities yesterday, including two in the Basque Country itself. I’m not aware that there were any against what our Basque friend Aleksu regards as the terrorists of the PP party. But possibly they’re a regular event in New Zealand, where he lives.

My friend Andrew has told me of yet another Telefonica scam but his story was as nothing compared with the saga related to me today by my piano teacher, Alex. He bought a card for his laptop giving access to the net via the 3G mobile phone they gave him. Except it didn’t work out like that as there’s very poor 3G coverage in Pontevedra. But his real problems began when he tried to cancel the contract. After the inevitable pillar-to-posting, he finally got to talk to the Cancellations Department. Their first tack was to tell him there’d be a penalty payment of 125 euros. When Alex pointed out he was cancelling within the statutory ‘cooling off’ period, they suggested he stay with them and they wouldn’t charge him for 6 months. To the response that this would be pointless as he couldn’t get decent internet access, they assured him they’d ‘soon’ introduce the service Alex thought he’d signed up for. When he persisted, they said he’d have to go to one of their retail outlets to complete the process. There, there was one final stroke of genius from Telefonica – instead of the 3G service, they’d give him 3.5G card without extra charge. At least they would when they had one in stock. They seemed surprised when Alex pointed out that, if he couldn’t get 3G, then it was very unlikely he’d get something better. And that, by the time he got a card to try out, he’d be outside the period for terminating the contract without penalty. I doubt there’s a Telefonica customer in Spain who’d be surprised at this evidence of the contempt with which they treat their customers. I do hope they’re riding for a fall as great as BT’s when they finally lost their monopoly in the UK. They will surely deserve it. Sadly, I fear it’s still some way off and Telefonica shares will continue to reflect the huge profitability of their captive-consumer practices.

Galicia Facts

This is an agricultural region and foxes are not regarded here as harmless, fluffy creatures equivalent to guinea pigs. I mention this because the ‘national’ fox-hunting championships were held yesterday. This involved little, if any, horse-riding and resulted in a better-than-expected total of 37 animals being shot and proudly displayed in the local papers. There were no reports of anti-hunt protestors or the like. And the hunters were allowed to take their rifles home. A different world.

Our local heroine, Ana María Ríos [see my blog of 12.1.07] has begun to appear on the daytime TV gossip programs. And I’ve opened a book on how long it will be before she’s walking out with a bullfighter.


Portorosa said...

Dear Colin, I do detest what has been done here with foxes. All right?
But I don't compare it at all with doing the same as a sport.


Xoan-Carlos said...

Just out of curiosity as a proof reader, why apostrophes in:"'national' fox-hunting" and why do you always spell Catalonia with a U ("Catalunia")?

Colin said...

To Xoan-Carlos

1. Because they are called 'national' but Galicia is not [yet] a nation.

2. It's my preferred rendition of Cataluña. Here's a comment on this from a professor at an English university - "During summer I shall be carrying out a season of research in Catalunya. [The spelling 'Catalonia' is now giving way in English to this]". So it seems I am not alone. Except I use an 'i', instead of a 'y'. Must be the Galician influence.

Xoan-Carlos said...

Sorry, but that's nonsense. According to Websters dictionary (sorry, I don't have Oxford or Collins to hand) a "nation" is "1. a stable community of people with a territory, history, culture, and language; or 2. people united under a single government; country". Galicia clearly meets all of the requirements of the first definition and could arguably still be defined as a "nation" even if it didn't meet all of these criteria, hence it is valid to speak of the "Sioux nation" or the "Jewish nation" (as in the worldwide Jewish rather than the State of Israel), even though neither of these have an exclusive territory.

Why do you say Galicia is "not yet" a nation? Is it Because some political document barely 30 years old (compared with the Galician nation which can be traced back to Roman times) deliberately and vaguely referred to Galicia as only being a "historic nationality" so as appease [some] Galician nationalists while ensuring a still fascist-led Spanish Army/Guardia Civil stayed put in their barracks?

Whether or not Galicia's leaders can get their fingers out and agree on a new statute that refers to Galicia as a "Nation" is irrelevant -- Galicia is a nation and was so long before some monarchs in Castille decided that Spain would be a good name for several united kingdoms. Any way, where exactly is it stated that Scotland, Wales and England (and if you like the Isle of Man and Cornwall) are "nations"?

Also, to write "Catalunya", or even worse, some deliberate mis-spelling of the Catalan word for their country, when writing in English strikes me as being somewhat condescending and patronising in an "ah, aren't they clever, they have their own little language" sort of way. For the same reason you no longer see "Eire" used to refer to Ireland in the UK media. Just imagine if the BBC started calling Ireland "Eiry"?!

Colin said...

Yes, I did't for one second believe you were writing 'just out of curiosity'. But thanks for your thoughts.

By your logic, the county of Cornwall was a nation within England. What a shame no one realised this before the last Cornish speaker died and a nationhood that no one knew existed died off. And there was an island off the coast of the USA [Called Tangiers, as I recall] where for a long time they spoke an old Eglish unrecognisable to the rest of the country. I guess this made them a 'nation' as well.

It's all very simple - in the real world, Galicia is not a nation because no one other than a small minority of people within Galicia thinks it is. What you have is a claim to nationhood. When you and these others have changed all [or at least most] of our minds, then I will accept that Galicia is a nation. Meanwhile, your linguistic gyrations convince only yourselves.
Good luck.

As a matter of rhetorical interest, where do you stand on the 'Galicia is Celtic' issue?

As for your views on 'Catalunia', you are welcome to these. I'm sure it doesn't matter whether to me or the Catalans whether you agree with my usage or not. Fortunately for me, English is a language which is determined by how it is spoken, not by the sort of academy where you might be happy working. Things change.

Xoan-Carlos said...

I now have Collins to hand and it defines a "nation" a community of persons not constituting a state but bound by common descent, language, history etc.: The French Canadian nation", so I can't see how under this definition Galicia is not a nation.

I merely highlighted Cornwall and the Isle of Man (regardless of whether they have inhabitants who still speak the native language) as examples of areas within the UK that some would describe as nations, I don't necessarily think that they are -- but don't you agree that Wales and Scotland, are in fact nations? And if so, why are they and not Galicia -- is it just down to recognition from sporting ruling bodies? Does Fifa decide what is a nation and what is not? If Galicia's nationhood depends wholy on internation recognition, I should note that the IX meeting of the European Nationalities Congress, an organism affiliated to the League of Nations recognised Galicia as a nation in September 1933. If you look up the country profiles for Spain on the websites for the US deparment of state and the Economist all list the main ethnic groups within Spain as being Castilian, Galician, Catalan and Basque. The word ethnic comes from the greek "ethnikos" meaning "race" or "nation" in its modern sense. And even if only less than 20% of Galicians are conscious of the fact that Galicia is a nation, the BNG still gets a larger proportion of the local vote than PC does in Wales (and has some degree of power) and many if not the majority of PSdG members are happy with Galicia being defined as a nation in the new statute.

By contrast, just ask some Galicians, or even better, people elsewhere in Spain, and only a small minority will be be aware that England, Scotland, and Wales are separate nations forming the UK --in fact most will probably think that Scotland and Wales are provinces of England. You'll get the same response wherever you go in the "real world", even English speaking countries (do you really think the average American knows where Wales is?). Some languages don't even have a word for "British" -- In Indonesian for example, a British man is an "oran ingiris" -- so much for international recognition then. You don't even have to leave the UK to come across this confusion -- I can assure you that the majority of people in the UK don't know the difference between Britain, the UK and the British Isles.

As for a Celtic Galicia, I think it is a romantic notion, and although I think the idea of a "Celtic nation" or "Celtic culture" is just that: an idea, and an impossible one to define, there are undoubtedly many things (language, history, food, culture) that link the lands on the Atlantic fringes -- whether these links are down to the Celts, Scythians, Milesians or Martians or a combination of these, I don't think we'll ever fully know.

Xoan Carlos

Colin said...


Of course, it doesn’t matter a jot that individuals – or even entire populaces – are unaware of the existence of one or all nations. There must be people living in parts of the world who are entirely ignorant of everything but their own environment but this doesn’t mean that the nations of the world have ceased to exist. What I mean by the real world is the governments of other nations. Or the comity of nations, if you like.

Does a nation have to have its own unique language? Clearly, it doesn’t {e. g. the USA and Australia]. Does a nation have to have a long history? Clearly it doesn’t [Same examples]. Does it have to have its own literature? No, it doesn’t. [Take your pick]. Does it have to have a populace which regards itself as nation? Yes, it does. Do the government of other nations have to accept this popular perception? Yes, they do. Does Galicia have either of these two prerequisites? No, it certainly doesn’t and it possibly never will. Hardly definitive, I know, but of thirteen Galician friends I asked last night whether they thought Galicia was a nation only one [8%] thought it was. In these circumstances, some might say it is the height of arrogance for some Galicians to tell the far more numerous others that they are wrong and that they are really, in effect, too stupid to know that they are living in a nation because some theoretical formula is met.

Of course, no one denies you the right to think that Galicia is a nation or to try to persuade us that it is. But I believe you are pissing against more than one strong wind.

As for the spelling of Catalunia, I have no idea how they spell the word there so I can hardly have view on them and their language. But I do know how it is spelt and pronounced in Spanish, which is the origin of my preference. So, by your logic, I am being condescending and patronising to the Spanish. Well, it’s a view, I suppose. I prefer to think of it as a bit of eccentric politeness.

Finally, as you are a proof reader, I feel compelled to indulge in a bit of pointless pedantry and to tell you that the word for ‘man’ in Indonesian is ‘orang’, not ‘oran’. As in ‘orang utang’ for ‘jungle man’. At least it was when I lived there 25 years ago and spoke the language fluently.

Xoan-Carlos said...

Here I go again, pissing in the wind. It is clear from many of the posts on your blog that you have a prejudiced view of any possible notion of either Galicia, the Basque Country or Catalonia having a identity that distinguishes them from the dated view of "Spanishness", as well as a patronising view of the languages spoken there. Why is it that Spanish-speaking visitors to Spain often feel compelled to take a negative view of the other languages spoken in the Spanish state, and worse still side with Spanish nationalists? Is it because having gone to the trouble of having learnt Spanish, you feel insulted that some of these so-called Spaniards would rather speak something different?

In response to your post, an alternative definition of the term nation, again resorting to a dictionary (this time Collins):"An aggregation of people or peoples of one or more cultures, races etc., organised into a single state", so of course, under this definition, Australia, the US and even Spain are nations.

A Spanish definition of "nacion", resorting to my Vox Spanish dictionary, says it's "Sociedad natural de hombres a los que la unidad de territorio, de origen e historia, de cultura, de costumbres o de idioma, inclina a la comunidad de vida y crea la conciencia de un destino comun".
The Galician Xerais dictionary gives a similar definition with the explicatory note adding that "The equation of the term nation with that of a politically organised independent state is inexact; the two coincide in very few cases, with it being more common to find various nations making up a state (as in the former USSR), a nation that is split between more than one state (such as the Basque Country, Catalonia, Armenia or Lapland), or that are integrated within a state (Britanny, Galicia, etc. ) Some states exisited before the formation of a nation (e.g. Portugal), while others existed for centuries without a territorial homeland (Israel).
Would your 13 Galician friends disagree with these three definitions in three different European languages? And also did you ask them whether they viewed Wales as a nation? and if so how is it different to Galicia. More importantly, could you explain to me to what extent the "comity of nations" views Wales as a nation?

Although you rightly note that the majority of Galicians do not consider Galicia to be a nation, this is largely because the majority of people in Galicia equate "nationhood" with "sovereign state", hence the observatory note in the Galician dictionary.

The debate on Galician nationhood is relatively inmature (especially compared with its establishment in the UK/Scotland/Wales/England -- where you can cheer on any of the "home nations" in the football, or watch gameshows with teams representing each of the nations, without any of this being viewed as an act of "politically motivated nationalism" as would be the case in Spain). This has not been helped by 40 years of Spanish nationalist/fascist rule that would regard such a debate as an act of heresy, and 25 more years of avoiding subjects that would "open old wounds".

However, going back to the Collins definition of nation (a community of persons not constituting a state but bound by common descent, language, history) ask Galicians whether they are bound by common descent, whether they have a common language and whether they have a common history and the vast majority will say "yes" and therefore already view Galicia as a nation without realising it. This is not an arrogant opinion, it's just a fact: at this stage the vast majority of Galicians do not know the true definition of a nation, just in the same way as the vast majority of British people don't know the difference between the British Isles, Britain and the United Kingdom.

Colin said...


I am rushing off to Madrid so am short of time. My suggestion is that we continue this debate via email. Mine is, if you agree.

Yes, I have a view on whether the Spanish regions are really nations but why do you call this prejudiced? Simply because it differs from yours?

As to having a patronising view of the languages, I would strongly refute this. I have learned 7 languages in my life, several of them not very useful. I regard all 3 of the co-official languages as real languages but this does not mean, for example, that I think it is right to give them a particular status at Brussels.This has far more to do with proagmatism than anything else.

The words nation, people, race, country [and probably several others] have overlapping meanings and different nuances in different languages. You may have seen a while a go that I was taken to task by an American for calling the Spanish a race. But, like you, I was able to find a suitable dictionary definition that equated this with people [and quite possibly nation. I don't recall] and he acepted this. At first blush, I don't have any difficutly in agreeing with you that, using the widest possible definition of nation and equating it with people, then it is possible to say that Galicia [like the nation of the Sioux people] is a nation. Even if the Galicians are not aware of the fact. But then I suspect that I could squeeze Yorkshire into this box and don't see the exercise as relevant for the real world. If this is not merely an academic, semantic exercise, please tell me what would be gained by convincing the doubting galicians that they are part of a Galician nation. And prioritising the learning of Galician [however valid a language it is] over Spanish.

As I say, this is a rushed response and I am happy to continue the debate by email rather than run the risk of [further] boring my readers.