Catalunya | Spain | Living in Mexico


Spain is cobbled together out of smaller countries and duchies, the inhabitants of which don't always want to be part of the union. There's feisty Andorra, variously administered by either Spain or France, but maintaining a sort of independence from either. Then, even way over in the USA, we hear about Basque separatists; a bombing attack by the terrorist group ETA on Madrid's railway stations three years ago killed 173 people and made headlines around the world.

Catalonia, with its capitol city of Barcelona, is a reluctant part of the Kingdom of Spain as well. In its constitution, Catalonia defines itself as a "nation," although Spain demurs. Everyone seems happy with the status quo: an agreement to disagree.

You won't see the Spanish flag flying alone anywhere in Catalonia; the Catalonian flag is always flown alongside it, and in Barcelona itself, the city's flag is sometimes flown as well.


Catalonian, Spanish and Barcelonan flags.

Catalonians think of themselves as a people separate from, and superior to the Spanish. Generalissimo Franco, in an attempt to keep the unruly province under control, outlawed teaching of the Catalan language in schools and its use in official communications and documents. The people cheerfully disobeyed him, and today, Catalan is very much a living language.

So much so that the airport taxi driver spoke to us in it. Now, everyone who lives in Catalonia speaks Spanish, so it's not like he couldn't, too. And almost no one getting into his taxi at the airport is likely to speak Catalan. So why the posturing? Rude SOB.

Menus, directional signs and the like are all in Catalan, and pretty much comprehensible to Spanish speakers. Rapidly spoken Catalan is not.

We can all parse this sign. Quiet: Hospital Zone.


But if someone read it rapidly over the telephone, I for one just wouldn't get it.

Even the name of the region is different, partly because the Catalan alphabet lacks the Ñ:


Here's some more Catalan words that might interest Spanish speakers or students:

E: Anchovies
S: Anchoas
C: Anxores

E: Chorizo
S: Chorizo
C: Xoriço

E: Chocolate
S: Chocolate
C: Xocolata

Failure to understand a foreign language can create some strange situations. The other morning I ordered the breakfast special that had been scrawled on a chalkboard at our local café: Flauta de Tonyina Canya Tallat. I was served a tuna-and-anchovy sandwich and a beer.