Monday, 18 February 2008

Spain ahead of France in the Protection of Minority Languages

Catalans can be negative about how the rest of Spain deals with matters related to their culture. Although I would not argue that they are wrong, it is worth pointing out that here and nowadays, the Catalan language enjoys official recognition and support. This is is not the case on the French side of the border, in Catalunya Nord.

This weekend we went skiing in Font Romeu with some friends. The resort claims to be one of the sunniest in the Pyrenees and therefore houses one of Europe’s biggest solar panels. The snow obviously tends to be wet in the afternoons, but thanks to an extensive network of snow canons, the conditions for skiing are good at least for those who do not feel any urge to go off-piste.

The ski lift system is small, but for a family with small children it is ideal for a weekend stay. I am an intermediate skier and was content with challenging myself on the black slopes. My wife, on the other hand, regretted that many of the red slopes were temporarily closed, since she found the blue ones a bit too unexciting. Our hotel Claire Soleil, finally, surprised us with excellent five course dinners and a very hospitable management. That is, as long as you speak some French.

Language wise I can not help being highly disappointed, since the name Font Romeu (the Pilgrim’s source) is of Catalan origin. “Nobody here speaks Catalan, but you might find some old people in the town who still do”, I was informed when asking at the hotel. Our four year old did not complain, but rapidly learned how to order jus de pomme (apple juice) and ask for our room key, number dix-huit (eighteen) in French.

The French state has admittedly been scarily successful in eradicating languages, but is that an excuse for northern Catalans of today? They receive a lot of tourists from Catalonia and seem happy to make use of Catalan symbols like the flag and the red barretina (beret) on postcards and souvenirs. Is it too much to ask that they show a bit of interest in the language as well?

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