Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Spain now has over 3m foreigners living legally here. The Brits, at 170k, come in at 5th, beaten by the Moroccans, the Ecuadorians, the Colombians and [surprisingly] the Rumanians. After us Brits come the Chinese, the Italians, the Peruvians, the Argentineans and the Germans. The average age is 34, which must surely be dragged upwards by the British south coast contingent. Not to mention me.

The Spanish authorities have expressed concern that in-car sat nav facilities are dangerous. Well, who’d have thought that something you keep looking at and fiddling with would distract you from driving?

I’ve often wondered what Spanish drivers are thinking when they park their cars illegally and then switch on their hazard lights. After all, in daylight you can’t miss a car that’s obstructing your progress and at night simple side lights would be enough. Yesterday I concluded it’s a religious act. In effect, it’s a Confiteor; I confess I know I’m breaking the law and being a bloody nuisance to the rest of you. But whether there’s any element of mea culpa in this I’m not so sure. I suspect most of these ‘individualistic’ drivers don’t give a damn about the inconvenience caused to others. They just want to salve their conscience. I wonder whether it happens in non-Catholic, non confessional cultures.

Galicia Facts

Galicia’s cost of living is 88% of the EU average and, more usefully, only higher than those of Andalucia and Murcia within Spain. When it comes to cities, Catalunia scoops the pool, with Barcelona and Girona in the first and second slots. Surprisingly, Madrid comes in at only no. 7.

Finally, Galician nationalism: Switch off now if this is of no interest to you . . . Carlos - presumably not the very civil and patient Xoan Carlos - has written to accuse me [inter alia] of drawing false conclusions about Galician nationalism from an over-narrow circle of friends. He insists that a ‘nationalistic feeling’ permeates Galician society. Well, he may be right. But it all hinges on what you mean by ‘nationalist’. After my recent dialogue with Xoan Carlos, I concluded he was using ‘nation’ to mean no more than a community of like-minded souls who saw themselves as different from other ‘shared culture’ groups. On this basis, I had no difficulty accepting Galicia was a nation but suggested even Yorkshire would qualify for this status. As would my own stomping ground of Merseyside. And even Greater Manchester. After all – despite being only 30 miles apart – they certainly see themselves as being very different and can scarcely understand each other’s dialect. So, if Carlos means most Galicians have a love of their culture and see themselves as different from people in other parts of Spain – including even next door Asturias – then I’m sure he’s right. But I’ve seen no evidence at all in 6 years that anyone here is striving for Galicia to be a nation in the normally accepted meaning of this word. I’d even go so far as to say that those who feel strongest about this live – like our New Zealand Basque friend – outside Galicia/Spain. But maybe there’s a pragmatic solution to this problem. In the UK, we use the word ‘country’ in the same way it’s used for the ‘Basque Country’. As in 'the West Country', for example. Perhaps Galicia should start calling itself ‘the Galician Country’ and everyone would be happy and able to concentrate on the economic challenges which Carlos and I agree are of paramount importance. By the way, Carlos, you must know that ‘Spanish’ is used for the language of Spain in English, not ‘Castilian’. To use the latter suggests you’re coming at this issue primarily from a negative and adversarial perspective. Rather like all those who bang on about Galicia being a colonial victim of Castilian imperialism. It leaves me wondering how the people of Normandy [who, after all, successfully invaded England a mere millennium ago] feel about the French imperialist bastards suppressing their nation. Or the poor people of Languedoc, who were forced to accept the imperium of Languedoui. I guess they’ve got over it and moved on.


Carlos said...

Colin, the term Spanish/español is used, both in Spanish and in English to refer to the language of Spain,when contrasted with the languages of other states (Spanish versus English, German, French, Italian...),and it implies no antagonism whatsoever to use the term "Castilian" as opposed to Catalan, Basque or Galician which are, after all, Spanish languages. Could your wit and wisdom perhaps come up with a better alternative...? the option "Spanish" versus "Catalan" for example, would imply that Catalan is not a Spanish language. Think about it. I'm actually half Castilian (not half Spanish).

As regards the notion of "natiolalism", yes, I agree with you that most Galicians are nationalists without being independentists. That is what I meant. But I insist that an important ingredient of that "nationalistic feeling" is an appreciation of the relevance of our own language and of the need to take measures to protect it. You seem to disregard that fact.

As to the other "regions" or "countries" of Europe you have mentioned, their situation is very different from that of Galicia. Scouse is obviously not a language, but a dialect; the "langue d'oc" is nearly extinct. And, most importantly, the fact that the feeling of identity of other regions/countries may have become more diluted than ours does not detract from the fact that we rightfully defend our own. Moving on is precisely what we want to do, but remaining ourselves.

I also feel Spanish, but my idea of Spain is not that of a monolithic, homogeneous "Una, Grande y Libre", but of a rich mosaic.

Colin said...


First of all, the common ground . . .

Our shared idea of Spain is of a rich mosaic, with everyone proud of their origins, culture and language

I agree that the Galician language should be protected and fostered. I will be happy to increase my knowledge and use of it.

Nationalistic feeling – as described by Xoan Carlos and you – is indeed widespread in Galicia, though I have some problem with the promotion of Celticism as the glue for this. Things could not be otherwise, given the sufferings of Galicians over the centuries and the topography of Galicia. As I said above, the Galicians have every right to be proud of their culture and see it as different from other parts of the Iberian/Spanish mosaic. Even if some of us foreigners can’t really see much difference between Galicia and Asturias on the surface.

Gallego is a different language from Basque, Catalan and Castilian but I prefer to see them [with Portuguese] as Iberian languages rather than as ‘Spanish’ languages, justifying the use of ‘Castilian’ in English for what every native speaker calls Spanish. But this is really a side issue and I apologise if I’ve committed towards you the same sin that others have committed in my regard, i. e. attributing false motives.

Yes, language is the strongest underpinning of a culture. But, as I recall Xoan-Carlos and I agreeing, it’s not essential for there to be a culture sufficient to justify the use of ‘nation’ in its culture-based meaning. That’s why I used Scouse - which I said was a dialect - to make the point that one can go on atomising for some time if one uses a culture-based definition. People from Pontevedra have long seriously disliked each other and feel very different, possibly because they are. And up in Lugo they speak a different form of Gallego from down here on the coast. I don’t know where the line is drawn in stopping one cultural sub-group from describing itself as a ‘nation’. But, if we’re not talking about independence and, worse, a bombing campaign, I’m not sure it matters at all. I am quite happy to be a Galician nationalist and a Pontevedran nationalist at the same time. Though I’d prefer to be a Vigo nationalist.

We agree that we should move towards peaceful achievement of a rich mosaic which includes a proud Galicia, whether it’s called a nation, a region or [worst of all] an Autonomous Community. Actually, I’ve only just realised that at least this description includes the word ‘community’ which I said to Xoan Carlos was what he was really talking about. Perhaps they got it right!

Ok, now the differences . . . . Err. Perhaps we disagree on the issue of whether Gallego should be forced on people who prefer to use the other co-official language. I think it’s wrong. You’ll have to let me know what you think. Obviously, one of the attitudes at play here is a reaction to Franco’s suppression of Gallego. But this doesn’t make compulsion either intrinsically right or sensible. Just doctrinaire. And, in my view, excessive and short-sighted. If not downright stupid.

Colin said...

I should, of course, have said "People from Pontevedra and Vigo have long seriously disliked each other . . . ".

Sorry for any confusion.

Richie said...

Colin: No, you were right the first time, people from Pontevedra do dislike each other! Talk about split identity...

Carlos said...

Basically I agree with you in everything you said. 10 out of 10. The problem now is what we may define as "promoting" and what as "imposing" the language.

An example of the potential bones of contention between us: if we were to decide that Galego should be the vehicle of education (i.e. most subjects would be taught in Galician) just in those areas where a majority of people use it (being careful not to impose it on the rest and not to impose Castilian Spanish on them), wouldn't we be in fact creating a bigger linguistic gap, or "two Galicias" if you like?

That is tricky, don't you think?

Colin said...


Yeah, I know but for God's sake don't tell anyone! I have to live here and I don't like to upset anyone . . .

Gabriel said...

Just to muddy things up a bit, or perhaps to shed some light on how relative or (at least) geographically and culturally specific these terms can be, "Castilian" is used in the U.S. and especially in New York (with its large and diverse Spanish speaking population) to refer to the Spanish spoken in Spain (!!!) as differentiated from the Spanish of, say, Peru. However, more academic individuals would refer to it as either "Peninsular Spanish" or "Iberian Spanish" and I have to admit that non-Spanish speakers who use "castillian Spanish" are usually veiling (quite thinly) a perjorative attitude towards Latin American speakers -- which I strongly oppose and contest.

Still, like the terms "Hispainic" and "Latino" which have taken on strong and particular meanings in the U.S. vs. how they're used in Spain and Latin America, culural terms are often used quite differently in different cultures. Duh!

Colin said...

Graciñas, Gabriel. ¡Es solo lo que me faltaba! Thus is language politicised. Or politicized, even . . .

Anonymous said...

Regarding the use of hazard lights whilst parking illegally. I think this is just another ploy to make people think they are only going to be away for a minute or less when in fact they won't be back for ages. Those Galegos who live in English speaking countries are lucky when they go to the "Spanish Embassy" because they don't have to speak Spanish but can communicate in English hee hee!
Eamon de La Coruña

Portorosa said...

I wanted to say what the anonimous said: hazard lights mean you know you have parked unlegally AND that you'll get hurry to come back as soon as possible (often, not very soon). They mean 'Wait a minute!', and I think they are a message for the police, basically.


Colin said...

Yes, I had considered the 'I'll only be a minute' rationale for the hazard lights but had decided that no one with a brain would think even the 'payasos' of the local police would be dumb enough to fall for this. Obviously wrong. Maybe it works.

Carlos said...

Hi, Colin.

"I have some problem with the promotion of Celticism as the glue for this."

Celticism is another many-sided issue (and this is such a Galician way of looking at things...)

First of all we would have to define who the Celts were. Were they a homogeneous ethnic group with clear physical/cultural traits making them distinguishable at first sight from other Iberians? Were they a loose confederation of different European peoples united by a common culture and language (imposed on them by an elite of warriors/spread by trade)?

Personally, from the little I've read on the subject, I think that the second option is more likely to be true to fact. And that is were ANCIENT Galicia (AND MANY OTHER AREAS IN SPAIN AND EUROPE) would fit in. It would partially explain why we are, on the main, different from other peoples traditionally regarded as Celts, i.e. not as “Celtic looking” The other part of the explanation for this difference is that people from several other origins have immigrated to Galicia after the Celtic era.

CURRENT Galicia is, therefore, the product of many cultural (ethnic?) influences, the most important being the Roman one, with touches of Celtic, Muslim and Germanic elements, probably in that order of importance.

Yet, genetically, we seem to belong mostly to Y-haplogroup R1b, which would make us, apparently, (together with most other Spaniards) the descendants of the first hunter-gatherers that reached Europe. This haplogroup is also widespread in Western Europe. Is it “Celtic”? I doubt it, though it also seems to be by far the most common one in Celtic-speaking areas of the British Isles (Including Ireland).

Another totally different kettle of fish is what peoples we may feel an affinity for, and whether that more or less "realistic" feeling should be contested. After all, affinities, likes and the rest do not necessarily have to be based on provable facts. They belong to the realm of emotions.

I, for one, do not think that our ethnic origin can be used as an argument to differentiate us from other Iberian peoples. We are pretty much the same, particularly as regards Northern Iberia.

And in case there is any doubt, I do not attach pride or shame to having one ethnic origin or another.

Luis said...

Very interesting comments...
I´m an argentinean of galician and asturian origin, and I find this subject fascinating.
Although I believed that the celticism we see nowadays in the region has gotten ridiculous.
We can't deny that there wer celts in northern spain, but claiming that they were the main ethnic element is, at least, a sign of ignorance or a deliverate attempt to make up an identity for nationalist purposes.
We know from Strabo, Pliny and some other classical sources that the ancient inhabitants of most of northern spain were known as celtiberians. Wether this means they were celts living in iberia or iberians living in a former celtica is not clear. Some words writen by Amieno suggest that the celts imigrated in ancient times to iberia and mixed with the locals, originating the celtiberians.
However, there were many other ethnic groups that could be considered native because of their long presence in iberia that were not celts, as well as many other immigrants like greeks of phoenicians.
Spain as a whole, an Galicia in particular, is the product of many ethnic mixtures, and trying to identify the curent population with a single ethnic element is impossible.
Do we have links with ireland, Wales or other "celtic" nations? Sure we have.
Do we look like they do? I doubt it. Mnay of us may have am irish look, but most of us don´t. I beleve the original element, the eternal galician peasant, is the main element.

There is also a theory that claims that, as a matter of fact, the original celts were insignifant, and that the true celtization of Galicia and Asturias originated with the auxiliary troops brought by the Romans (of gaulish origin), who repopulated the region after gallecians and asturs were decimated.

By the way, are the irish, welsh or scotts really celts?
There are no historical sources that demonstrate they ever called themselves "celts".
Their language have similarities to that of ancient gauls for sure. Does it mean that they are also gauls?
We spoke latin centuries ago. Does it mean we are romans?
Is there any chance that these similarities are due to cultural influences, more than ethnic mixing?

There were recent genetical studies peformed by a british university that show that current irish and britons in general have a strong link with iberian populations, mainly basques.
This was seen as a proof of our celtic brotherhood at first thought. But the conclusion was different: we are brothers, but probably not celts.
We still don´t know who were the celts, how important their influence or wether they called themselves "celts" or not. We don´t know either if they were one "race" or just a cultural entity (like, for example "latinos" nowadays).

My conclusion is clear and simple: we are all brothers or cousins in more or less degree, because we all have common ancestors. trying to identify a modern nation with an ancient "race" is, (at least when studying europeans) a nonsense excercise.

It is also ridiculous and denigrating the fact that many galician folks, who are supposed to play galician music, play instead irish tunes. The rationale is simple: we are celts, the irish are celts, therefore irish music is also our music. Nonsense!
I could also say that as an argentine I´m latin, brasileans are also latins, hence I sing bossa nova while telling everyone I´m peforming argentine folk music.

Celticism has gotten out of control and sobody seems to get it right...


Colin said...

Many thanks, Luis. My own understanding very much accords with yours. I will mention your comment in my blog tomorrow and we will see what sparks fly.

Luis said...

Thanks Colin!
By the way, I'm sorry for my bad english and all my typos...

Miguel said...

Going back to the language names discussion, I would like to point out that the fact that Castilian is called Spanish in English does not imply that it is correct to do it. Your point would be correct if there was no name in English for Castilian but Spanish, but this is not the case.
To give an example out of languages but still related to the topic, all people born in Latinamerica are called "hispanic" or "latino" in US. However, there are many saxon or germanic communities there. Does the fact that such names are used make the naming appropriate? I believe not.

e language has a name in english