The language thing

Are we
havingpaellaandsangria? No, we're having
botifarra, calçotsandcava.

This month's column touches more on language than culture, but then the two overlap, so that's my excuse. The thing is, some aspects of language use here still feel strange, even after having lived here for so long. Where I'm from, there's only one language, so if someone doesn't understand you just shout at them or treat them as if they're a complete moron. Here, on the other hand, if you don't understand they switch to another language, which you might not know either. It's something I still struggle to get my head round.

But then I regularly hear other foreigners or indeed myself pronouncing Catalan poorly and realise just how common it is, and that people are actually trying to communicate by switching to a language they think might work better for you. A communication strategy, you might call it.

And with regard to that, when my English friends and family pronounce Gaudi and Dali with the stress on the first rather than the second syllable, or when talking about football refer to the “Camp Noo” and the “Burnabau”, I feel I have to intervene. And I'll even get sarcastic about it if someone actually has the temerity to question the veracity of what I'm telling them.

That's what happened to me and my wife not long ago with a friend of ours over for a visit. Every year we organise a “Walk and Talk” somewhere in Catalonia, when old friends of ours come over from the UK and we walk around some part of Catalonia for a couple of days. Among other places, we've strolled, hiked and shuffled along the Camins de Ronda (there's more than one), through Alt Empordà vineyards, Les Gavarres, Figueres, and up to el Castell de Requesens. We tend to take advantage of these weekends to enlighten our friends about the fact that Catalonia is not the same as the Spain they have heard about, highlighting some of the differences… Are we having paella and sangria? No, we're having botifarra, calçots and cava. Are we going to see the flamenco and bullfighting? No, we're going to see the human castles and the caganer.

The incident I'm referring to happened when we took our friends on a Walk and Talk to Portlligat one year. After walking over Cap de Creus to Cadaqués from Llançà, I told them we were going to visit a house. Of course the house I told them we'd be visiting was Dalí's, and not Dali's. “Who?” asked my confused friends as one. “Dalí, the surrealist painter”, I said. “Never heard of him”, they said. “Oh, I think you have,” I countered… “Salvador Dalí, world famous”. “You mean Dali?” asked one of our friends, incredulous. “No, I mean Dalí,” I replied. After confirming the Catalan pronunciation with my wife, our friend did what surely only an English person would think of doing. “Are you sure? In English everyone says Dali. We can't have been pronouncing it wrong all this time”. Oh, can't you now?

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