I know, I know, I can almost hear you groan from here. And I don’t blame you. I haven’t even been in the city for a year and I’m already bored to death of the hounding and harangue that seem steadfast sidekicks of this very topic.
Frankly, I don’t suppose for a minute you’re remotely interested in hearing another randomer trotting out tropes and tripe on the rights and wrongs of Spanish versus Catalan, he-said-she-said or whose parliament goes back farther. Believe me—I have used every dilatory tactic known to our species to avoid tackling this subject ever since I got here.
But here’s what does interest me. First, how pervasive it is. And second, how I’m not allowed/supposed to talk about it.
Hanging with the clan
Every time I answer the question “Where are you from?”, it begins. Taxi drivers, shopkeepers, people at work. “Ah, one of our Scottish cousins!” is the fairly standard response. My nationality seems to confer tacit admission into some level of Catalan society. Cousin is kin, and kin implies collusion. The implication? That we’re all somehow in it together, we victims of imperialist expansion, but one day shall be avenged.
I do understand where this perceived similarity comes from, of course. (Even I play on the theme on my own blog, subtitled ‘from Caledonia to Catalonia’. To call it pure word play would be disingenuous.) Several Scots settlers here have told me that they specifically chose Catalunya for its notional ties with Scotland, perceiving a Celtic rather than Latin temperament in conservative Catalan society. A Catalan architect, Enric Moralles, even designed the Scottish parliament.
In fact, the correspondence hasn’t gone unnoticed in recent days, hot on the heels of news that Scotland proposes to hold its first independence referendum in 2014. Its cage rattled, Madrid’s response was swift: a likely veto for any official Scottish moves towards independence, as an action that could only embolden Catalan separatist sentiment. (Thanks, Alex. Just when I thought my taxi journeys couldn’t get any more hairy.)
Taking off the tapa
Even more sinister has been my experience, as an outsider, of being dragged into debates about the topic of Catalan nationalism. “Go home”, is the unequivocal message. Meanwhile, both Catalans and people from other parts of Spain have explicitly warned me off even broaching the subject in any online medium. “Keep quiet”, they warn, “or you will never work in Catalunya again."
Strong stuff, eh? Naturally, being told not to talk about something is like a red rag to Castilian bull, intriguing me even further. The things that society refuses to look at are the most compelling nooks of all crannies.
At the same time, silencing debate doesn’t bode well for Catalunya’s future, whether it follows its big cousin into referendum territory or not. Will be fascinating to see how it all develops. In the meantime, I’m just praying they don’t introduce bagpipes to Barcelona’s street corners. Now there’s a reason worth moving to England for.