Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Speaking of Tongues... 31 enero 2009 [archive]

Last week was the end of my pro-seminar, which was meant to introduce me (and the rest of the program) to the culture of Barcelona.  As it turns out, all three classes we took were more or less useless; however, I found that the three-week adjustment period did yield two excellent learning experiences. 

            The first came about last Monday.  We had no classes on Tuesday, and so the natural thing for my friends to do was drink a bottle of cheap wine each.  In the middle of this, I had decided to do my second load of laundry (first time for my jeans—so good to have them clean!), and so I would periodically prance from my quarters down to the laundry room in the basement.  There, I encountered Adrian, a Spaniard from Aragón, who was duly impressed with my fluency in Spanish. 

            I of course explained that, when tipsy, I am much better at foreign languages.  It would seem that a bit of the nerves are diminished, and besides, alcohol is known to stimulate the language process in the brain, thus giving way to loquaciousness and fluency in tongues.  This explained, Adrian continued to insist that he originally thought I was Spanish, and even remarked as such to our next new friend, Catalina, who was from the Canary Islands.  The three of us sat in the laundry room and discussed classes, politics and elections (Obama is the natural topic of discussion between Americans and Europeans) for over an hour.

            The whole experience was quite an ego boost, which I assured Adrian on multiple occasions—¡mi ego está subiendo!  I was pleased to discover that I do in fact have what it takes to converse with native speakers (albeit drunk), and even convince them that I am a native speaker!  Additionally, I was elated at his friendliness: the local people actually might be friendly!  Granted, both Adrian and Catalina are Españoles, and not Catalans, but their openness was very encouraging.  Hopefully, I won’t have to settle for Americans and other foreigners as my only friends.  


            Then, this past Wednesday I finished my Catalan class (after learning hardly anything), and went across the street to celebrate with a beer and a game of foosball (or futbolín).  The bartender was quite friendly, and after we explained to him that we had just finished our Catalan class, he spoke to us for a few minutes in Catalan, asking our names, where we were from, and various other beginner-level questions.  But even as we were playing foosball, he continued to talk with us, looking over his shoulder occasionally to check on customers.  He was very enthusiastic about talking about Catalan and Spanish, and, of course, fútbol. 

            The bartender, we discovered, is Catalan.  So far as I can tell, the only requisite for being Catalan is knowing the language, living in the area, and generally disliking Spaniards.  Even still, they have a fierce pride in their language, and the bartender definitely displayed it.  It is his son’s first language, he told us, as it was for him.  During Franco’s regime, the use of the language was strongly discouraged, and banned from official state use, yet the people—his parents included—continued to use it.

            It was not only informative to learn about his pride in and continued use of the Catalan language, it was also very encouraging to find that even trying a little bit in Catalan can yield amazing results.  Apparently the aloofness is a façade reserved for tourists, but the true immigrant can break that façade with a little interest and a bit of effort.