Thursday, March 15, 2007

I am sorry, I am from Barcelona

I am just back from China. I got a couple of excellent Chinglish examples that I will publish in a couple of weeks. I am jetlagged and tired, but I need to write something about Faulty Towers.
Today I had a quite high level meeting with some pretty senior people. Whenever someone asks me where I am from, I always say, I am from Barcelona. I have a hard time to say that I am from Spain, and if I say I am from Catalonia, most of the people say Cata-what?, so since I left Spain 15 years ago I always say Barcelona.
In the meeting I met a Dutch guy who, when I said Barcelona (pronounced in the American way), told me with a grin, I thought you called it “Barthelona” (pronounced as in Spanish). I told him that we , Catalans, call it Barcelona (very close pronunciation to the English one) and that Barthelona is in Spanish, not our mother tongue.
He then told me: but Catalan and Spanish are basically the same language, like Dutch and Flemish. I replied to him that the difference between Catalan and Spanish is the same, more or less, that between Dutch and German. The he argued, the latter are definitely two different languages. I replied that it only took me three weeks to learn Dutch after having learned German (what, by the way, is true) and that I am not “Manuel”.

The reason why the Dutch guy was grinning is because of the British series “Faulty Towers”. One of the main characters of the TV series is “Manuel”, a stupid, clumsy, strongly Spanish accented waiter from, yes, Barcelona, a true stereotype of the Spain of bullfighting and flamenco that the dictator Francisco Franco sold to the world.

I saw one episode of the series once and I could not stand it. I made me vomit. I has nothing to do with our Catalan culture. I do not mind being laughed at, because we dance the most boring dance in the world, the “sardana”, or because we make human towers (“castellers”) or because we are stingy, or because we work when the other party. I do not mind to be called Polish because we speak a different language or singled out because my real Catalan first and middle names are unpronounceable by an average Spaniard, but I cannot swallow the fact that they laugh at me for things I consider are foreign to me as the Balinese dance.

Some time ago I wrote to the Catalan government and the Barcelona town hall asking them to initiate legal action against Monty Python. I did not even get a reply from them. I think they were too busy siphoning money from the law abiding citizens. I hope I can find, one day, a lawyer who is willing to start a class action law suit. If that happens, I am willing to support with one thousand dollars.

For my ease of mind, let me say that I think that Monty Python's John Cleese has done a lot of damage to Barcelona’s reputation in many of the North European countries (thanks God, the series is not popular at all in USA). That's why I have no choice but to qualify him and the other authors as morons, idiots, motherfuckers and sons of some of the hundreds of British bitches that come to Barcelona to get drunk for 2 euros. They may even have a Barcelona father without knowing it.


Ricard said...

I'm also from Barcelona. Don't get this pissed off, it is a matter of culture. That dutch guy would probably not understand a thing of what was Catalonia when he visited. Fortunately, there's also the other kind of visitors, people that appreciate the place they visit when they come to our country.
Regards from Suzhou.

Tom Clarke said...

Ian, he could be from Barcelona, but not be Catalan, couldn't he? He hasn't even got a Catalan name. And he's a really nice guy. This is madness.

Tom Clarke said...

Oh, and Fawlty Towers is not a Monty Python project... it's made by one of the members of the Monty Python team.

Garci said...

I agree with Tom. I think he can be from Barcelona, he can be Catalan and he can speak Spanish. Remember our conversation some time ago: 51% of Catalans have Spanish as mother tongue, which also conflicts with your politically-correct and ethically wrong assertion that 'Barthelona is in Spanish, not our mother tongue (the 'our' pointing to the Catalans). If that is the case maybe we should reconsider the population of Catalunya to be 49% of those 7 million people known currently?
Another point: Barthelona is in Spanish, but Barselona (more similar to English) is also Spanish..remember the South. Spanish can also be Catalan. If you want to speak correctly maybe you better start mentioning Castilian instead.

Another thing: I love Monthy Python and most of my friends back in Ithaca also love Monthy Python, apparently quite popular among intellectually challenged people at the University. But I feel as non-represented by this Manuel as you.

The rest of generalizations, well, more of the same,'ll never learn, and your kids will learn the worst from you..'we work when the other party' is the sort of commentary I would expect from you and many others..but don't worry..I'm used to it.

Catalan and Castilian have 85% lexical similarity, but the former is a bit more similar to standard Italian (87%), although phylogenetically Catalan and Castilian belong to the same subgroup, different from the French and Italian one. German and Dutch, on the contrary, phillogenetically are way apart, although I don't know about their lexical similarity (some literature state it between 76-81%, which would be a bit more different than Catalan and Castilian).

Rab said...

Catalan and Castilian have 85% lexical similarity, but the former is a bit more similar to standard Italian (87%), although phylogenetically Catalan and Castilian belong to the same subgroup, different from the French and Italian one. German and Dutch, on the contrary, phillogenetically are way apart, although I don't know about their lexical similarity (some literature state it between 76-81%, which would be a bit more different than Catalan and Castilian).

Garci, are you a linguist? Where did you get this nonsense from?
Catalan and Spanish are as similar as Spanish and Portuguese.
Different grammar, different sintaxis and different dictionaries. End of story.

As with regards to the language, since when migratory movements dictate linguistic policy?

Catalonia = Catalan
Spain/Castilla = Spanish/castilian.
It is that simple.

Your logic would mean that Hindi or Urdu is also the language of England just because there is a large percentage of population (immigrants themselves or descendants) that speak Hindi or Urdu?
Is Arabic also a language of Marseille just because there is a large % of population that speak the language?

Are we mad or what?

Will you accept the same principle when the Arabic-speaking population of Malaga reaches 40%??

What a lot of nonsense.

ian llorens said...

Do we know each other? I lived in Suzhou from 1995 to 1999. I was actually there last week, at the Sheraton.

And yes, I am pissed off, I have been for quite some time.
It takes us a lot of effort to distance ourselfs from the Spanish sterotype, and this kind of mass media cultural genocides, even if they are just unintended byproduct, have a very lasting and damaging effect.

Garci said...


I mentioned in another post my sources. Though I've seen at least one paper in Nature with data taken from, you don't have to believe everything of course. As a scientist, I also have to be skeptical, but I'll try to give prestigious sources whenever I can.
And I'll put you one example that is obvious and actually exactly with the same percentages as the ones currently done in Catalonia. In Ceuta, today 51% of kids in school have arabic as their mother tongue. I think this is a percentage high enough to provide classes in arabic and would encourage the Ceuti's government to attend those needs. The difference, Rab, is that I am not nationalist, that's why I don't have any problem in encouraging individuals (and not nation's) needs in this respect. I hope your question has been clarified.

Anonymous said...

*Sigh*. Yet another catalan nationalist shows his true (and horrid) colors... I'm sure your daughter is very proud of her vile father.

ian llorens said...

I have no problem if you take on me, but please, leave my daughther alone.

Anonymous said...


You mentioned your daughter (in a latter post) in such a context as to show your disproval of the video and how you clearly would rather she didn't see it or comment upon it. I mentioned your daughter in a similar way. I would never "take on" your daughter. I was trying to plant the seed that said "you were not happy to let her see the video, but what about the things you wrote in this post?" Would you be happy for her to read them? Is what you wrote better or worse than that which one can see in the video? It was only written to maybe provoke a little more thought...

Peace and hapiness to you and your family.

ian llorens said...

Faulty Towers should be PG13 (Parental Guidance for kids above 13 years old). That's why I did not want my daugther to watch it.
The series is "racist". If Manuel was a black from Mombassa, instead of being a Spaniard from Barcelona, the series would be banned for racism.
It reflects the Anglosaxon view that South Europeans (especially Southwest Europeans) are a little bit inferior, but nice and funny. It is exactly the same thing in USA with Hispanic.
I got exactly the same feeling and I reacted in a similar way in several forums when I saw the movie Spanglish. Why do you thing that in all Spanish TVs, Manuel became Italian or Mexican. Because they were ashamed and did not dare to say that the original character was Spanish.

I normally address my insults to the Catalan politicians (like my preferred target Carod-Rovira) or to us, Catalans.

As far as I know, I have only used the term SOB against racists; John Cleese and Salvador Sostres and I truly believe they are.

Finally I still do not understand why you call me vile. Because I am Catalan, nationalist, because I call J. Cleese SOB, because I do not want my kids to watch the series until I can explain what's behind. I do not know.

Now I need to go. I am at Seattle airport and I need to catch a redeye to Boston.

Habibi said...

Wow, that was an strong post.
Again, I am bipolar in this issue. I am half Andalucian, like 60% of Catalans. Yet, I don't know Sevillanas, and I don't really like Flamenco. Though, I don't like Sardanas or Castells, and I do not enjoy Catalan Rock (other Catalan music is fine, esp. the one made lately). So, I can't really say.
If we start saying that, dear, we will have to sue tv series for presenting German or Swiss people with suspenders, like the fat child of The Simpsons (who is fat cos he eats bratsburgs all the time). And thousand's of other characters. Let me say, mmm... "Suddenly Susan", with a Portorican descendand on the role of a Cuban, not the same accent at all, and all the time blaming Cuban Govern for all; hmm... "Jesse", with a Brazilian guy on the role of a Chilean: he obviously does not know Spanish and when he is suposed to talk in the language, I get mad.
There are no Spaniard in The Simpsons or Family Guy (the only series I watch) but, what if I was Indian like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon? Or Asian like Trisha Takanawa? I'd sue. But I don't. And I am gay, do you know how many series and films make fun of it? Guess 90%. And we don't, cos its humor. And that character is based on stereotypes. I bet they've been to Barcelona, Monty Python, I mean. But, I've been to Italy and I would depict them as loud. Is that always true? I am not sure.

But remember, 60% of Catalans are descendants of people like that character (like myself), and you can't change that. The "pura cepa" (pure) Catalans I know can be counted with my two hands, and even them are very far from the Catalan stereotype.

Miquel Marzabal Galano said...

Hi Ian,
I understand your anger.
I live in the Netherlands and I have experienced that indeed Faulty Towers helped to spread the idea that Barcelona is Spanish culturally and linguistically. That the Catalan language and culture do not exist.
It's annoying.
I also have experienced the irritating pronunciation of Barcelona in Spanish language. And I also have to tell them that Barcelona is a Catalan name of a Catalan city and the original pronunciation is the Catalan pronunciation with a Catalan 'C' and a Catalan neutral 'E', which does not exist in Spanish language.

Often Dutch people try to say things in Spanish to me as doing me a favour. People who know me more than 10 minutes know that Spanish is NOT my mother tongue, that by speaking Spanish they are neglecting that my mother tongue is Catalan. And this hurts me instead of being a nice experience.
When someone speaks Spanish to me I do as if I don't understand. In Holland I don't speak Spanish to anyone. I say: Sorry, what do you say? I do not understand.
It is also very irritating when Dutch people try to practice their Spanish on me. I immediately say:
I don't speak Spanish. I speak Catalan.
My colleagues know how to say good morning in Catalan, and that makes me happy.
I hate it when someone says something in Spanish to me.
So no one does it any more and now I am much happier.
But when I meet new people I always have to defend that my language is not Spanish.
And start all over again.
Another thing is that I am a speed skater on ice. Some of my new mates said to me: Why don't you participate to the winter Olympics for Spain?
So I had to start ALL OVER AGAIN.
And tell them that if I would participate for a country for the Olympic games that country can only be CATALONIA. For Spain I would NEVER NEVER NEVER participate. Over my dead body.
At last I would like to add that the difference between Catalan and Italian, Spanish French or Portuguese is more or less the same as Dutch and German indeed.
It is very very easy to learn German if you speak fluent Dutch.
The same with Germans who come to live in Holland. Very quickly they can learn the language.
Spaniards (Spanish speakers I mean) learn very easily to speak Italian. Very very easily.
I don't see why it is soooo difficult for them to learn Catalan.
There is only one reason:
Catalonia is not an independent country and we cannot completely force them to speak our language.
Catalonia should be independent.

Anonymous said...

Well, I've lived in Barcelona for the past 3 years as an ex-pat Scot with a strong sense of national identity, institutionally instilled from an early age. I can understand your indignation, but I feel it's misdirected.

Some time last year they re-transmitted the 1st series of Fawlty Towers on one of the regional terrestrial TV channels (I forget which one), dubbed into CatalĂ . Manuel was... Italian ("I'm so sorry, he's from Milan").

It should be borne in mind that this series comes from a period in British comedy that precedes the "political correctness" movement by at least 20 years. In the UK of the 1970s it was considered perfectly 'PC' to joke about "dagos", "wops", "sambos" etc. and generally take the piss out of foreigners, partly because the UK at the time still held the remnants of a worldwide empire that had survived for over a century. We had a sense of superiority to support...

But to take that programme as offensive in this day and age suggests that for you nothing has changed in the world over the past 30 years. In its' time this comedy was seen as sharp, poignant and topical (and I'm old enough to remember seeing it on TV the first time around), but nowadays it's seen as a relic of a bygone age. To posit that this series still reinforces anti-Catalan stereotypes is to have your head so far up your arse that you've forgotten what daylight looks like.

You should get out more.

ian llorens said...


I have lived in Singapore, mainland China, Altanta, Texas, Mexico and now Massachusetts, I travel globally 75% of my time (300000 miles last year), I know perfectly well everything that you tell me, but I still get pissed off with Faulty Tower's cultural aberration and making use of my right to freedom of expression, I blast againts John Cleese.

However I promise that I will try to go to outer space to get some more exposure.

Wintermute said...

I went to Barcelona almost one year ago for the first time. It's a very likeable city, full of life, but I was shocked by the pro-catalan nationalism. All this fuss about the catalan language... It seemed almost anachronical. Europe is trying to get together, and it's not easy between so much different countries, and then there are 'sub-countries' like cataluna that can't stand speaking their common language, and even demand independance... :(
I'm French, and there are sub-entities like that in France too, like Brittany, Alsace, Corsica (though we should dump them for they're just a bunch of lazy mafiosi but that's another story), the Basque country... I can't imagine any of them asking for independance. Actually, I would gratefully accept English as the common european language if it could help us knowing each other and unite. So the cultural war cataluna is waging for its language predominance and its autonomy is kind of aberrant to me.

carolina said...

Of course you are french you share your out of control imperialism with Spain. "How dare we even want to become independent?" Why not? the doors are closed. is it not our right? French linguistic policies are similar to spanish but well even worst. You actually have managed to erase most other languages from France. Spain has not quite manage it yet but do not worry they are working on it and continuing the "fine job" that Franco began will probably be successful unless we become an independent country.
Ian...I know you don't like Salvador Sostres but I find him hilarious and he is right (whether politically correct or not). What spanish people say about catalans is 100X worst than anything that Sostres might have said but we have to play nice and accept this multicultiralism even as we see our own culture invaded!!