Saturday, November 03, 2007

Unless you live in a cave, you’ll be aware the Spanish courts have handed down huge sentences to several of the people implicated in the appalling Madrid bombings of March 2004. However, some were acquitted and the government has admitted it never caught the brains behind the operation. I can’t pretend to understand the full implications of the trial and the verdicts – I hadn’t even been aware that at the far end of the loony Right there were those who thought the whole thing was a set-up by the Socialists and ETA to oust the Partido Popular from power – but I can say that there’s enough in the outcome to give each side grounds for persisting with the favourite Spanish political game of calling your opponent a scheming liar. Rather sad really. But we do have another general election coming up. So anything goes. Especially here.

A final funereal fact, albeit local – Only 3% of gravestones in Galicia are written in Gallego. This is despite the fact very high percentages of people here are said to routinely use or at least understand the language. So, what’s the explanation? Are the control-freak priests all still fascistic, Castilian colonists at heart? This reminds me – I need to apologise to the good people of Ourense for suggesting their city is the coffin capital of Europe. This is, in fact, Ribadavia - a few kilometres away. For reasons unknown to me, the Ourensians are more associated with umbrellas. But only in a pejorative sense.

Still on Galicia - Of the 23,000 kids who graduated here between 2003 and 2005, some 6,700 [or 29%] are said to be still without employment. As ever when I read this sort of thing, I wonder how many parents have asked their still-at-home offspring “Err. . . Have you ever thought about looking for work in Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga, etc.?” To which the answer probably is - “I can’t. I’m studying for my oposiciones.” Probably very unfair of me.

And finally on Galicia – 1.4 million people, or 52% of the population, are now said to live in the region’s six metropolitan areas. In detail – Vigo, 395k; La Coruña, 351k; Santiago, 143k; Ourense, 140k; and Pontevedra, 114k. I realise these numbers don’t total 1.4m but that’s not my fault. This is presumably because Lugo is missing. And maybe we haven’t been given the numbers for Buenos Aires, usually referred to as Galicia’s 7th city.

For all those Gallegos living in BA or elsewhere in the diaspora, here and here are a couple of things which should overwhelm you with morriña.

A quick follow-up to my comment on airports yesterday – Ryanair has said it’s increasing its flights from Oporto while reducing those from Santiago.

Insane Britain: Click here for a Saturday-morning article on how British society has moved in 40 years from one founded on [doubtless excessive] deference to one rife with disrespect. I particularly like the point that respect still operates in the USA, where they’ve never been very big on deference. Australia too, I imagine. As for Spain, I’ve said before that it remains a more civil place than the UK.

Finally, if you’re not Spanish but live here, here's where you can test how Spanish you are. Before anyone writes in to protest, I should say that it appears to have originally appeared in Spanish, presumably as home-grown satire.


1. If you think this blog is too negative, click here for my list of Spain’s Positives.

2. If you want to send a comment or insult me but don’t want to register with Google, you can send your views directly to me, in any language you like, at this address. I may even reply to you.


moskavitch1 said...

With respect to the judicial verdict on the 11-M, there seems to be a widespread consensus - from what I've gathered in the international press - that there was no such thing as a mastermind. And then, why would anyone need a large brain in order to be able to kill? The comments on Scottland and Ireland yesterday took an interesting bend. It used to be the common wisdom that, in order for a country to have a successful economy, it would require to have at least some resources and, if possible, a largish population. However, Estonia, for instance, which seems set on emulating Finnland one day, has only 1,4 million (or 1,6 million) population. I believe Portugal will one day be a successful economy. Nevertheless, subsidies cannot be the reason why Spain has done better, and anyway, I don't believe in subsidies. They do help to an extent, but they are never and can never be the one and only explanatory factor. One of the reasons - I would point out - as to why Portugal has done worse than Spain since 1985, is that it was (a lot) more backward to start with, and then, on top of that, after the end of the dictatorship, the Portuguse decided to dabble with socialism (always a bad idea). The northern half of Portugal is a bit like Galicia (historically one of Spain's more backward regions), the southern half is a bit like Andalucia or Extremadura (not among Spain's most advanced regions either). There never was an equivalent of Catalonia or the Basque region, or even a Valencia or a Madrid region, to compensate for the backwardness of the rest.

Anonymous said...
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Ana María MR said...

Hi Colin,
I wrote some time ago regarding what you named "the imposition of the Galician".

Yesterday, I read some news that I would like to share, especially since you have discussed something related to the normalization of Galician in your post today.

This is about a Galician pediatritian working for the Sergas (Servicio Galego de Saude, the Galician NHS) who asked an echography, but the petition was rejected by the specialist in charge of the scan because her comments were written in Galician.

This is absolutely ridiculous and I would like to point the following, just in case someone from abroad ignore these facts:

1. Both professionals are working in Galicia and being paid by the Galician Administration.

2. The form is in Spanish, and it clearly shows that an abdominal echography is needed (that's the box that has been ticked).

3. Even if the specialist doing the echography feels the information in the comments is vital, all the technical words are the SAME in Spanish and Galician.
So, it is written "Dor abdominal en flanco esquerdo [...] Nega trautmatismo recente [...] Crise hipotensiva" which translated into Spanish would be "Dolor abdominal en flanco izquierdo [...] Niega trautmatismo reciente [...] Crisis hipotensiva[...]". I guess the most difficult bit is understanding the handwriting (as usual), but I have never seen a doctor complaining of the handwritting of their colleagues, have you?

So, given the similarities, between the two languages, is the Spanish speaking "professional" acting in good faith and he's unable to understand it? Or is more like that he doesn't WANT to be bothered to read in Galician?

You know, a few years ago, I went to the Doctor in the UK, with a blood test that I had done in Spain, and the doctor read it without any problem: The important stuff are the technical details, and the jargon is very similar in all the languages.

4. But I think the worst of everything, is the fact that a poor suffering child has had to wait longer for his scan, just because some "professional" did not feel inspired and wanted to take revenge on a Galician speaking colleague.

5. Of course, it is imposible to think that something similar could have happenned with the languages exchanging roles, isn't it?

6. This is something that does not deserve a small place in most of the newspapers, but I am sure that if the guy who rejected the petition were to be sanctioned in any way (very unlikely), all the media would go crazy with titles like "Sanctioned for not understanding Galician" or something similar.

Graeme said...

Colin, the government has not admitted that the brains behind the Madrid bombings have got away - all that happened was that 3 people were found not guilty on charges of having been "ideological" authors. It doesn't mean that there is some mastermind out there who hasn't been caught yet. There is no particular reason to think such a person exists, the most likely intellectual authors of the bombings are those who blew themselves up in Leganés. The whole issue has been magnified by those who wanted so much for it to have been ETA, and who are left with little else to cling to after the verdict.

Colin said...


Thanks for this clarification. Actually, I had been hoping to poach a summary analysis from your blog but you've been too busy walking in northern hills, it seems. :-)


Colin said...

Ana Maria

Many thanks for taking the trouble to post this comment.

Naturally, I agree with you that it's wrong that a child had to wait because of such behaviour.

And I agree that anyone who can read Spanish could also read the Gallego, in this case at least.

So we are left wondering why it happened . . .

1. The doctor is an arrogant bastard, possibly not representative of the profession as a whole, or

2. The hospital has a policy which he/she felt constrained to enforce, or

3. The doctor came from somewhere else in Spain and felt he/she was not competent enough in Gallego, or

4. It's the case of someone driven to be difficult/doctrinaire as a reaction against what he/she feels is the improper imposition of a language which he/she feels he/she should not be compelled to speak or use.

What I mean by the last possibility is that this intrinsically wrong behaviour might be a reaction to wider political developments. And that it might not have happened if people were simply left alone to develop a facility in both languages. In other words, compulsion breeds this sort of bloody-minded response. Even if the compulsion is based on the highest motives. That's what I mean when I say it's divisive.

But who really knows?

Graeme said...

"Thanks for this clarification. Actually, I had been hoping to poach a summary analysis from your blog but you've been too busy walking in northern hills, it seems. :-)"

Ah, but I have more than one blog!

Poachers welcome, as long as they close the gate when they leave.

Ana María MR said...

I guess you will not change your mind, no matter what I say.

Regarding #2, a public hospital cannot have internal policies in contradiction with the Galician/Spanish laws. (Neither a private hospital, but in that case it is difficult to enforce them).

Regarding #4, maybe I don't understand it correctly, but it seems that you think that if it were not compulsory to know Galician he would be willing to read the paper in Galician. But since it is compulsory to know Galician, he decides not to "understand" it. Is that what you mean? Because it doesn't make sense to me.

Anyway, I would accept that people were left alone to develop a facility in both languages, if both languages were treated equally (at least in Galicia). That is, if I too could reject requests written in Spanish if I don't understand them. Or if I "choose not to understand" them, as in this case.

Colin said...

Ana Maria,

I agreed with you that the doctor was wrong in the instance you cited.

So, I guess your complaint is that I am never going to agree that it is right to force people by law to use Gallego.

If so, then you are right. So long as Galicia is a part of Spain, I cannot see that it would be right to compel people to use Gallego instead of Spanish. Or, indeed, Spanish instead of Gallego. People should be free to use either one, except where safety demands that only one language be used. And for so long as Galicia is part of Spain [whether one likes this or not], logic dictates that this be Spanish. Or my logic at least. Yours may be different and you may see my logic as that of the victor but such is life. However much you might want it to be, Galicia is not [yet] an independent state and this brings with it certain troublesome realities.

But see tomorrow's blog for further comment on this.

Ana María MR said...

I have never claimed that anyone should be forced to speak any language. And I am not enthusiastic about Independence (although it could be an alternative).

I believe that the best way to make sure that problems like that one do not happen again is making sure that everyone understand both languages, even if they choose to speak only one.

That's my opinion, but I would happily accept any agreement that is symmetric and doesn't make one language prevail over the other one. Although I would concede that in a few areas, such as the Army or Air Traffic Control Spanish should be the lingua franca. Even if in areas like ATC I wonder if English wouldn't be a better choice.

Colin said...

Ana Maria,

I don't disagree with this but, practically speaking, how do you compel an adult Gallego or someone from, say, Madrid, Catalunia or France to understand Gallego if they don't want to? Of course, for jobs under the control of the Xunta or the municipalities, you can do this by making it a prerequisite but elsewhere . . . .?

With [local] children you can do this - as now - by ensuring teaching is bilingual but I can't see how you could do it with adults without compulsion. Unless perhaps you bribed them to attend classes AND pass an exam at the end of the course.

Ana María MR said...

I don’t want to compel everyone to understand Galician. I think the kids should learn both, but with the adults it should be up to them. I am not compelling you to learn Galician, am I? The same way nobody is compelling you to learn Spanish

But it should be you, and not the rest of us, who paid for the consequences. That is, if you don’t know Spanish you cannot be a Judge in Madrid. The same way, you should know both Galician and Spanish to be able to become a Judge here. So, we don’t compel anyone to learn anything, but you cannot park your car wherever you want and say “sorry, I don’t understand what prohibido aparcar means”.

So, as I said, with these two measures would be enough:
1. Bilingual education for the kids
2. Galician as a pre-requisite to become a civil servant here

For the rest of the people it would enough that companies were not allowed to discriminate Galician speakers. I know that there are laws in that sense, but the laws are not enforced. Althouh I agree with you that it would be very difficult to do so. The same happens with sex discriminitaion. We are payed less for the same job, and most employers prefer men than women, but this is something very difficult to fight.
So yes, since I am womam that speaks Galician my chances to get a job are lower than the chance a Spanish speaking male has.

But as long as blatant discrimintaion is not allowed, I won’t make a drama of it. My strategy is very easy: My sex, I cannot change it; but the interviews, I can do them in Spanish. Then I speak Galician in the job, which I know lowers my probability to get a promotion, but being a woman these were not too high already. And whenever I feel that I’m not given a deserved promotion, I will look for other position doing the interviews and writing my CV in Spanish. So as long as I am not fired for speaking in Galician after having done the interview in Spanish (which I would consider flagrant discrimination), I think I will survive. Let’s the market adjust by itself!

Colin said...

Ana Maria,

I can't quarrel with anything you write. All very sensible. Apologies if this sounds patronising.

But isn't this already the case . .
"these two measures would be enough:
1. Bilingual education for the kids
2. Galician as a pre-requisite to become a civil servant here"

Ana María MR said...

The first one yes, not the second one.

In some cases the knowledge of Galician is a pre-requisite, and it can be proved by having done the School or High School in Galicia (which is fine) or by doing one or the two courses the Xunta has (which is not enough). This courses are 75 hours each and everyone passes, so the knowledge you have at the end of them could be basic (if you were motivated) or next to nothing (if you were not). The Spanish exams they ask foreign people to do are much harder.

And then it seems that sometimes they ask to prove the knowledge of Galician to the wrong people. Last summer, for example, some firemen could not work, even if they knew Galician, because when they went to school Galician was not taught, but they learnt it at home. Besides, who really cares if the firemen or the Polish pilot speak Galician? On the other hand you can be a Judge in Cambados without knowing a word of Galician, even if it is more than likely that s/he will have to read it and listen to it every day.