The trouble with a bi-lingual country…

I have been learning Catalan for over 4 years now. I’m reasonably confident in my abilities to speak and understand it now; I’m pleased about that.

But the difference for me, in living in Catalunya and speaking Catalan, is that I didn’t first start out with learning Spanish. I went straight into learning Catalan – thinking I should speak the local language and that would expedite the entire ‘fitting in’ process. It hasn’t really worked.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The reactions I get from being able to speak Catalan to the locals is marvelous. They tend to be surprised, then impressed and pleased. And then a bit shocked when I say I don’t actually speak Spanish – yet. Usually it’s the reverse. Foreigners come here and, if they have any intention of learning the language, they will learn Spanish. Sometimes, after a few years, they might pick up a few words of Catalan, but more times than not – they will stick with Spanish. After all, everyone understand Spanish.

But I’ve been feeling the annoyance of learning Catalan lately. There are a lot of immigrants here – many from South America – and of course, they speak Spanish, not Catalan. I understand, more or less, but still respond in Catalan, I have no choice.

The other day, the landline stopped working. So I popped onto Telefonica’s website (which I choose to navigate in Catalan, btw) and filled a report that my phone was broken. To their credit, they rang the following day to confirm there was a problem and told me an engineer would be on his way. A few hours later, an engineer rang and said he’d be over in half an hour. Two guys showed up and fixed the phone. One complimented me on my Catalan, no less. Everything was fine – the system worked perfectly.

Then a couple days later, Telefonica rang again. They wanted to check if everything was okay with the line. Oh yes, I replied, the engineers came and fixed it, thank you very much! “Que?” The woman on the other end spoke Spanish. I explained again, everything is fine. No problems now! “Que?” She then asked if I spoke Spanish. I replied, no, sorry. Just Catalan or English. Well, she said haughtily, you live in Spain. And then she hung up on me.

Telefonica advertises that, even as a national company, they offer service in all the local languages. But clearly this only works if I call them and choose to speak to a catalan-speaking operator. When they phone me, this option isn’t available. Fair enough – but to the point of being rude and hanging up on me, well, that just sucks.

So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I’m sure this problem is common for a number of foreigners living here. Some paperwork is in Catalan and some in Spanish. Some service centres deal in Spanish, some in Catalan. When I’m out with friends, some of whom speak Spanish, yes – it’s a pain in the arse. I would love to say I know both languages – but my small brain can only handle learning one language at a time. Did I make a mistake learning Catalan first?

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