A short while ago, I invented (I think) the word ‘un-ruley’, to encapsulate the much-documented Spanish practice of playing fast and loose with rules which are personally inconvenient. I mention this now because I want to address two specific areas. 1. Smoking, and 2. Education in Gallego here in Galicia.
As regards smoking, we’re all waiting for the Ministress of Health to tell us when exactly this year it will become illegal to light up in any public place in Spain. And then some of us will be watching with interest how much notice is taken of the new law. Meanwhile, the government has started a PR blitz on the effects of passive smoking, said to be a major justification for what many Spaniards regard as a breach of their human rights. And articles have begun to appear on just how flouted the existing law is. This is the provision introduced a couple of years ago to compel places of more than 100 square metres to segregate their smokers and non-smokers, while smaller bars could do what they liked. Allegedly, there are 350,000 bars in Spain which exceed this limit but only 3% of these are complying with the law. Which gives rise to the strong suspicion that it's not terribly well policed. If at all. But I’m very lucky. Both my favourite wi-fi café and my favourite bar have provided separate smoking facilities, which will presumably be unnecessary in due course. Perhaps. Vamos a ver. We will see.
As regards education in Gallego, this is of no real relevance to me personally, as my daughters are aged 28 and 33 and, anyway, live elsewhere. But I know it’s a subject which exercises my friends and neighbours here. And it’s also of interest to a British reader who wants to bring his family to Santiago for a couple of years and wonders whether they’ll have to learn (and be educated) in one or two languages. I wish I knew. Despite the fact I have several teacher friends here, getting a straight answer to this question is proving rather difficult. The existing law obliges at least state schools to provide equal teaching in both Spanish and Gallego. And – until the recent change of government - there seem to have been concerted efforts to compel schools to have most of the major subjects taught in Gallego and the minor ones (the marías) in Spanish. The new (right of centre) government is backtracking on this and, in doing so, has once again proved that, although you may not be able to please all the people all the time, you certainly can displease all the people all the time. Essentially, they’ve proposed that a third of subjects be taught in Spanish, a third in Gallego and a third in English. This, of course, flies in the face of reality and I wasn’t surprised last night to hear one of my teacher friends suggest that the (impossible) provision in respect of English was really a cloak to allow parents to choose either Gallego or (more likely) Spanish where English wasn’t available. So, what is the law? What will it be next week? Is the current law being complied with now?: And will any new law be complied with next year? I haven’t the faintest bloody idea. Welcome to Galicia.
On the subject of Gallego . . . An anonymous reader has taken me to task in this comment on the article I cited yesterday – “It is thanks to newspapers like ABC and journalists like that chap Herrera that the Spanish nationalistic view reigns little challenged in Spain. Were it not for them, for their brainwashing and propaganda, their whinging about the English, the French or the Catalan, would be replaced by your own about having to “live in Galician” in a country called ... Galicia (or Galiza, in Galician)”. Well, it’s a matter of (juridical and non-juridical) opinion whether I live in a country called Galicia/Galiza, as opposed to a region in a country called Spain. But the point I really wanted to stress is that I have no objection at all to everything being in Gallego. I’d simply like it to be in Spanish as well. As things were in Bilbao.
Talking of the Basque country . . . Here’s a fascinating little film of Orson Wells, chatting to someone in a village in the French Basque Country. Which also may or may not be a real country.
I’m indebted to Richard Ford for the information that, at least in the mid-19th century, it was a compliment to tell a Spanish woman she had the eyes of an ox. I’ll be quoting more in due course from his famous Handbook for Travellers in Spain that I’ve just started to read but, should you want to read all of this, you can now download it either from Google or from here.
Finally . . . My post of yesterday has stimulated my friend Alfred B. Mittington to send me this encomium to the Spanish president, Sr. Zapatero. Alfred is a bit of a cynic but, since I’ve often said the Spanish are brilliant at the EU game (cf. poor Portugal), I have to go along with him on this . . .
Oh, but all you good people are still such innocent, trusting dupes! Sitting ducks for one as astute as Mr Zapatero in the little matter of staying in the saddle with your reputation unscathed.
Indeed it is an amazing paradox that a Spanish Prime Minister, who is presiding over one of the worst run economies in Europe, should so strongly suggest that badly run economies be punished and brought back into the fold of accountability. What is the solution to this astounding riddle?
Well, here it comes: Mr Zapatero, who is no fool, knows very well that in the course of this next year, he will have to apply some of the most ruthless emergency measures, budget cuts and anti-social legislation in Spanish history. If he doesn’t, the land will simply sink into bankruptcy and third world mayhem. Yet, his priority concern in six years governing has always been to be perceived as the Protector of the Poor, at all costs, come what may: students, old folk, immigrants, minimum wage earners, abused women, you name it. Not only does this gentlemen sincerely believe that this is his Mission on Earth, he also owes his votes and his position to this Image. Therefore he is loath to be seen as the one to propose such harsh measures. How to wriggle out of the dilemma? Ah, here comes a Master at Work! His solution is that the EU obliges Spain, with extreme prejudice, to apply these emergency measures, probably by the mouth of poor Mr Van Rompuy, who therewith finally discovers his niche and his true utility.
And of course, compliance with the New Bureaucratic Rules will come with a tiny, no-questions-asked compensation in the shape of additional European emergency funding…
If anyone is still wondering why the Spanish opposition could never dislodge one as fault-prone and quixotic as Don ZP, the above scenario shows it. The man is simply too good at the game!
Alfred B Mittington
(Former Political Commentator of The Daily Meticulous)