Saturday, January 09, 2010

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)


Anonymous said...

Colin, about yesterday's comment:

You live indeed in a country called Galiza, whether you like it or not. Other matter is the fact of that country achieving or not statehood. Remember that even the Spanish constitution vouchesafes for the existence of nations within the Spanish nation (don’t ask me how to explain such contradiction). So, if you prefer it: you live in a nation called Galicia / Galiza. Fact. There exists the Galician language. Fact. It has existed for the last 1000 years. Fact. Will it last 1000 years more ...?

Anonymous said...

Did you know that the Scandinavian Peninsula is still experiencing a vertical isostasic uplifting as a result of having been covered, during the last glacial age, by a heavy thick (up to 2km) sheet of ice? But the most amazing is that all that ice melted away more than 10,000 years ago! And they still keep steadily rising after all that time! Would you believe it?!

Here my advise for your British friend with children: Santander. Beautiful, even greener than Galicia, a stone throw away from Britain. And, not less importantly: they’ve been speaking Spanish, and only Spanish, over there since the funding of the town.

Anonymous said...

And finally (I don’t want to bore you, or your readership): would you imagine myself, or any Galician folk, going to live to Glasgow and whinging about their incomprehensible accent? “I don’t mind their way of speaking, but I would like them to speak to me in Standard English as well”. (In fact, a French friend of mine has made that complain).

Unfortunately, or fortunately, whatever may be, the Scots have neglected their language, to the point of coming to use the very same English Standard. So, what is left to them, to reassert their identity? (Because they are not English, are they?) Exactly: their accent, and their dialect or brogue. And I wouldn’t expect them to having to change their speech while they are in their own country, just to allow me to learn better English, or just to have a more “English-like” vacation.

Colin said...

Well, you are certainly right that this subject is potentially boring for other readers. I am already there.

However . . . . I don’t know where you are going with your Glasgow analogy.

Is Glaswegian a language, a language, a dialect or just a difficult accent that everyone moans about because it’s hard to understand?
If it’s a language, is it a co-official language of the British state?
Are the street signs and the tourist info in Glaswegian?
Are official documents written in Glaswegian (Like one or two recent novels)
Is anyone compelling the Glaswegians (or the Geordies, etc, etc) to change the way they speak English?

Regardless of whether one thinks Galicia is a country or not, Gallego is a co-official language in the Spanish state. The other one is Spanish.
No one (at least not me) is suggesting the Galicians should be stopped from speaking or writing Gallego.
However, if Galicia wants tourist income, it should have the sense to put what is aimed at tourists in at least Spanish. Anything else is just self-damaging petty nationalism.

As for Santander – Is your answer to someone who wants to bring his family and money here really “If you don’t want to learn Gallego, go away. We may have a crisis but we don’t want your money as our linguistic heritage is more important to us than anything else? So much so that we won’t even put anything of interest/value to you in co-official Spanish”

By the way, as you don't give yourself a name, it's impossible to know whether all three comments are from the same person. Or whether you are Mr Cade forcing himself to be polite.

Anonymous said...

Colin, if no one moans about the way Glaswegians speak, why you should moan about the way Galicians write? Anyone going to Glasgow shouldn’t expect them to adjust the way they speak to a more Standard version of English, should they? Likewise, anyone going to Galiza shouldn’t expect them Galicians adjusting the way they write to the standard version of Spanish, shoud they? Each people have their own way of manifesting their own identity. Some people do it on writing disticntively, others in speaking differently, others in having their own religiuos practises, etc. Perhaps we should expect Madrid people to write in English or in Galician? Wherever I go I like to see or hear the diverse cultures rather than expect them to adjust them to what I expect them to be, just because that is what I believe they are, or because I think some languages or dialects are a negative rather than an asset to their people.

On the other hand, if Galicians so desperately really wanted to rely on tourist income, to the point of having to duplicate the way they write, wouldn’t be better for them to use English? That would open their gates not only to other Spanish, but to the whole world ... From that point of view, writing in Spanish (as they do) is petty nationalism, isn’t it?

The advise to your British friend, Colin, was a sincere one, on the light of how things are developing: the “Scandinavian allegory” represents the way Galician people are wakening up to their national conscience. The teaching on Galician language, after centuries of banishment, has come to stay, and quite probably, to increase, as well as it use in public life. So if you want your children to learn just Spanish, and not second rate dialects, or if you believe your children unable of handling two foreign languages, you should go to a “mono-lingusitic” country. And Santander is a wonderful place, believe me.

Colin said...


I don't moan about "the way Galicians speak Gallego", though both Borrow and Ford did. I coudn't care less about how Gslicians speak Gallego, whether here in Pontevedra or up in Lugo.

And nor am I remotely suggesting that Galicians be instructed to stop speaking Gallego and speak Standard Spanish. They are two separate languages and Gallego is not a 'bad form' of Spanish.

And I am on record several times as saying how much I admire conversations that are taking place between people speaking both Gallego and Spanish at the same time.

What I moan about is that official communications are only in Gallego and not in both of the official languages. To use only Gallego (when even Castellano speakers don't know what 'agas' or 'pechada' means on road sign) is doctrinaire nationalim.

But, fine, if this is what the majority of Galicians want, then so be it. But the evidence from the last elections is to the contrary.

Yes, Santander is a nice place. But the English family want(ed) to come to Galicia for a cople or years or so. You can't blame them if they decide that asking their kids not just to learn but to be educated in two new languages is excessive. Especially as one of them will not be of much use to them outside the Lusosphere. Or even it in, some say.

And one would have to be a short-sighted nationalist to believe their not coming would be to Galicia's advantage.

Anonymous said...


First of all: I am not “Mr Cade” (I've been in his blog), can’t you tell the difference?

You are right in complaining about Spanish not being used in official communications. However, I haven’t seen you complaining about the opposite case, which is the overwhelmingly normal occurrence in today's Galicia. And not only in written communications, but in all aspects of public life, written and spoken, where Galician is the marginalised one. And let’s not forget that while all Galicians are competent in Spanish, a significant proportion of them are not. Just three or four generation ago the opposite was the case. Why? Because of the banning of Galician from public life and from education. Once this unbalance and injustice is redressed, all Galicians will be able to speak and write Galician, which is every Galician's heritage. So I find it quite unfair complaining about one injustice in one side but not about ten on the other side. On the other hand, if the no-Galician doesn’t know what “agás” means , the non-Glaswegian doesn’t either know a lot of the terms and twangs that a Glaswegian uses even in public or in the workplace. So patience, ask, listen, and respect for other people’s languages.

Again about your friend, I’m afraid that they (the Galician authorities) will not make allowances for his children. When I spent a few months in Glasgow, they didn’t make allowances for me either. I had to take the “whole package”, or go elsewhere. But I don’t regret having got a smattering of Glaswegian.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, in my previous message I meant: “And let’s not forget that while all Galicians are competent in Spanish, a significant proportion of them are not COMPETENT IN GALICIAN.

Colin said...

@ Anonymous

Well, firstly, I had already concluded that you are not Cade. Your English is very much better and you are far too reasonable and polite to be him.

I agree with you that Gallego should not be marginalised. I’m on record many times saying that I agree with both the Galician language and culture being promoted/developed. What I disagree with this is this being done to the exclusion of the other official language, Spanish. Especially in official communications, whether these are letters from the Xunta or the Facenda or in the form of street signs and, particularly, tourism brochures. You may have had aural problems in Glasgow but I’m sure you never had to struggle with anything written.

As for the new Education provisions, as I said, Sr Feijoo has managed to displease all the people all the time. The introduction of an English element seems to me to have been misguided, to say the least. Even if the ambition was admirable.

Finally, it seems to me that there are a lot of Galicians whom you cannot shove into a box labelled either Galician Nationalist or Spanish Nationalist, even though the latter is the label given by the Galician Nationalists to everyone (including me) who doesn’t agree with everything they say. These are the innocent bystanders in the war against the two extremes, especially if they have children about whose education they constantly worry. As all parents do. I’m guessing you are not yet a parent and may not always believe it’s just as easy for a kid to learn two new languages at the same time, while being educated in them.

Fortunately for me, my girls are well past the education age and so I don’t have to decide whether this unholy mess would force me to leave Galicia. Though I suspect it would. I’m a little biased and feel my departure would be a loss to Galicia but I am well aware that the Galician Nationalists would regard it as a more-than-acceptable price to pay for the furtherance of their linguistic aspirations.

In my heart of hearts, I rather wish the Galician people would wholeheartedly vote for secession from Spain and then get on with the task of totally Galicianising themselves. At least we would all then know where we were and could take our personal decisions accordingly. So I’m in agreement with the Galician Nationalists on this at least.

But it’s never going to happen, is it? Just years and years of more distraction from other issues.

And, if it did happen, there’d then surely be a new war between the Moderates and the Reintegrationists for the soul of Galiza.

Unhappy nation. Or country or region or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Colin, I have to disagree: I doubt it very much that a Londoner, for example, will find it easier to adjust to life in Glasgow than a Madrileño would anywhere in Galiza. Especially when the written and oral version of Galician has been devised for the accesibility of (Castilian) Spanish speakers. You are not a native Spanish speaker, so you might find it much more difficult, but any of them will adjust really quickly to the official version of Galician, without any trauma. On the other hand, in Glasgow ...

Apart from that, it is not very impressive that after ten years living in the country (if I am not wrong in that fact) you are falling into very naive and misinformed judgements about the general feeling of the population. Between the two extremes, the majority of Galicians have no problem with Galician taking at least 50% of the school time. It’s only a few who make a lot of noise. The national / regional identity is a common trend in all the Iberian folk, and you can’t fight it. I can’t understand either why you should leave the country because of all this, rather than “Galicianising” yourself to add another cultural layer to your own personality. I loved it in Glasgow, and will take with me a slight recognisable twang, proudly. But perhaps you consider more worthy “Castilianization”, in which case your departure would be the wise choice, much to the regret of the good Galicians. But they may attract the sympathetic “celtic” person, in replacement.

Colin said...

@ Anonymous,

Well, let's (civilly) agree to disagree.

We are all victims of our experience and, in your case, of our aspirations. In 9 years, I have yet to meet a Galician who is happy with the situation and the inreasing linguistic dis-harmony and I don't hear anyone blaming it on real or imagined "Spanish nationalists."

I guess I move in the wrong circles, though I don't recognise any of my friends as "Spanish nationalists'. Unless this comes with knowing Gallego but preferring to speak in Castellano.

You talk of the "sympathetic 'Celtic'person". Well, I may not be terribly sympathetic but, with Irish, Scottish and (obviously) Welsh grandparents, I am more Celtic than virtually anyone else living in Galicia. So perhaps I should have educated my daughters in Gaelic. Will they ever forgive me for not doing so?

But . . . As with Galician, which Gaelic?

Anyway, I look forward to seeing Galicians resolve all the issues that have been tabled.

Or, rather, I look forward to getting to Heaven before they do.
And meeting lingusitic harmony there, in the tower of Babel.

Pericles said...


It might help by reminding some of the contributors about Wales and the use of Welsh by its inhabitants. Road signs are bi-lingual.

Wikipedia has its detractors, me included, but for general information, it has its uses.

This paragraph is revealing.

"A convenient, if slightly simplistic, classification is into North Walian and South Walian forms (or Gog and Hwntw based on the word for North, gogledd, and the south Wales word for 'over there'). The differences between dialects encompass vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar, although particularly in the last regard they are in fact fairly minor."

Best regards,


PS Word verification this time is "cogunest". I hope never to see a "cogu" in flight, nor especially:

Anonymous said...

Colin, I have to (civilly) keep disagreeing in two points. First, it is the labelling of Nationalists on unequal terms. With a less prejudiced mind, this error is easy to unearth: Galician nationalist is whoever wants Galician language and nation to come first. Spanish nationalist, whoever thinks Spanish language and nation should come come first. If you know Galician but prefer Spanish, and feel like Galician is being imposed on you, then you are a Spanish nationalist. And viceversa: if you know Spanish, but feel like it is being imposed on you, and you don’t like that, you are a Galician nationalist. But most, yourself included, by what I’ve read, especially from your discussions with a certain somewhat rude Galician, don’t accept this label, beacuse you take the Spanish nationality as a “natural” or “normal” state, and Galician as something “forced”. And you forget that any nationalistic feeling, any, comes not only from a shared culture, imposed or not, but from indoctrination in school. And Galicians have been indoctrinated in school to be Spanish, and to ditch their language. Is that natural? Isn’t that Spanish nationalism, thinking that you should ditch the language and culture of your country / region / nation, and adopt another, alien to your land?

Second, you are, and forgive me for being this categoric, less Celtic than any Galician nationalist. Celticness is not about genes or the colour of your skin, but about sensibility and geography. You are English, Colin, and exude Englishness throughout. Even mr cade, with all his nastiness and uncommon straightforwardness has a Celtic soul and sensitivity, and I can feel that. English and Castilian, or Spanish mainstream, are different form Galician or Welsh or Irish, in essence. You, like many Galicians, have renounced to your Celticness, for some material gains. It is your choice.

Colin said...


Well, that’s a very clear statement of the Galician Nationalist viewpoint.
- We Galician Nationalists are Celts
- Anyone who disagrees with us cannot be a Celt and is also, by definition, a Spanish Nationalist.
- If you’re a Galician who disagrees with us, you are a victim of Spanish indoctrination. Worse, you have lost your Celtic soul. Effectively, you’re a traitor to your people who has denied your essential Celticness in return for material gain..

OK, this brings a neat end to the dialogue as I find it impossible to agree with any of this. Frankly, I see it as semi-Romantic nonsense.

Like others, I wonder why your identify crises compels you to chose to be Celts, rather than Romans, Suaves, Visigoths or even Moors? Do you seriously expect us to believe that the Celtic ‘soul’ survived all these influences on it? I guess you do. Even though there’s scarcely a Celtic word in the language you want to see achieve supremacy over Spanish.

All that said . . . I’ve written many times that I regard Galician Celticness as a 19th century invention, albeit a harmless and possibly profitable one. It is something the Nationalists have grasped as a way to differentiate themselves from all other Spaniards – even their equally ‘Celtic’ neighbours in Asturias – but, of course, this doesn’t mean it’s genuine. Just convenient.

And do you seriously expect us to believe that, whatever your aspirations, Galicia is not part of Spain?

My guess is that you’d argue that all Asturians have lost their Celtic soul. Though I suppose it’s always possible they could rediscover it a couple of centuries after the Galicians. Why not? They’ve got mountains, rain and bagpipes there. Not to mention a sea route to Ireland.

Anyway, I wish you luck in achieving a truly Celticised independent Galiza. But I will be surprised if this happens in my lifetime. Or anyone’s, in fact.

Finally, my thanks for amusing me with the assertion that Cade has a Celtic soul and sensibility. If true, this alone would make me proud to be as un-Celtic as you say I am.

Colin said...

@ Perry

Thanks. Enjoyed these.

Anonymous said...


I am only mirroring your views. You claim to be more Celt than any Galician, so I offer you the opposite view. You “accuse” some of being Galician nationalists, so I “accuse” you of being a Spanish nationalist. If I disagree with your views about Galician nationalist, then I am one of them. All depends from your point of view. You don't have the benefit of impartial judgement to constantly spread malicious or demeaning comments about Galician nationalist. They can only be justified from the opposite standpoint, the Spanish nationalist. You are not on an impartial ground, no matter how much you pretend to, with your "thoughts from galicia". In fact, I think you should rebrandish them to "Thoughts, from a Spanish region called Galicia", which would be more consequent with your views about Galicia.

By the way, did I judge the choice of changing your culture heritage for another, as a way to gain material advantages, as the wrong one? Nope, as yet. But I won’t condemn either those who want to choose the other option.

It seems that there is only a possible political project in Spain, the one dictated by Madrid, to its own benefit, and of those who abide by it.

Like with you AGW denying ... there must be something "wrong" with you ...

Midnight Golfer said...

I hadn't seen that Orson Wells short before.
It was pretty interesting.

It made me think of these fun Litoral ad's...


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