An Irishman's Diary

;Suplementos  08 Septiembre 2015  Sección; Especiales 1631 votos

Irish is not the only language to be under threat within its native boundaries. My friend Antonio has started a campaign to restore Spanish to Spain or, to be geographically precise, to the Costa del Sol. From his home in Benalmadena, a few kilometres from Malaga, he has begun legal proceedings which he hopes will result in legislation that will enable Spaniards to conduct their daily life and business in Spanish.

Jose Antonio Sierra was the Director of the Spanish Cultural Institute in Dublin for 22 years before retiring a couple of years ago. He knows about cultural divergence and exults in it, having lived and worked in 37 different countries. But the changes in his native land are beginning to irritate him. His language is no longer the lingua franca of the Costas.

The first charter flights of the 1960s carried a few thousand white-kneed British and Irish tourists to Franco's Spain, mainly to the Costa Brava. Now all the Costas attract millions of foreigners every year. The old lure of Spanish sun, sea and sand is still strong. While the natives have learned to tolerate the English and Irish pubs, the fish and chips, the traditional roast beef lunches on Sundays (booking essential), the lager louts and the vomit in the interest of prosperity and profit, they are beginning to be concerned about the submerging of their language. To the west of Malaga English is predominant; to the east it is German.

Malaga itself is still a proud Spanish city with waves of history rippling back to the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors. Its airport code, AGP, commemorates the original name of the city, Agripina. Most tourists bypass Malaga. For them its airport is merely a gateway to the hotels, apartments, villas, beaches, golf courses and pubs of the Costa del Sol. In addition to the legions of short-term sun seekers, there are millions of foreigners who have bought their own villas or apartments along the Costas as permanent or semi-permanent residences. Whether package tourist or long-term resident they all have one thing in common. They do not need a single word of Spanish to travel, eat, drink, frolic, shop or even to conduct official business.

Some pubs and restaurants have joke notices in their windows: Sa habla español. But try to order a beer in Spanish and you are looked at in amazement. "Una cana, por favor," evokes a bewildered "Una what?" The pub might as well be in Cork or Colchester. The owner has come from Britain or Ireland. He speaks no Spanish and has no intention of learning the language. His staff are all English-speaking. Anyone who drops in for a drink and has no English will have communication problems.

It is the same in restaurants. The menu will invariably be in English with translations into German, French and, increasingly, Russian. If, as a courtesy, there is a Spanish version, it will usually have been translated, badly and amusingly, from the original English. You can walk the streets of places such as Fuengirola and Torremolinos without finding a solitary shop with signs in Spanish.

Spaniards have become strangers and objects of derision in their own land.

But there signs of a stirring of revolt against this linguistic colonialism. In Nerja some Spanish visitors have filed official complaints with the tourist office after visiting local establishments where no Spanish was spoken, including a number of Spanish-owned property companies where business was conducted only in English or German. In Benalmadena Antonio Sierra has publicly highlighted the fact that in housing developments along the coast Spanish residents have to pay to have documents required under Spanish law translated from English into Spanish. "Most of the residents in these developments are English-speaking so everything is done in English," he says. "The Spanish residents even have to pay management service charges for satellite dishes carrying foreign-language channels which they don't need or want. I can't imagine such things happening in England or any other country."

After 16 years working in Belgium Luis Moreno returned to his native land and bought a house in a new residential complex in Marbella. As in Benalmedena most of the residents are English. The chairman and deputy chairman of the residents' association both live in England and visit the complex occasionally. When the association does meet the proceedings are conducted entirely in English. Like Antonio, Luis and his fellow Spaniards have to pay to have their legal documents translated from English into Spanish. "This could never happen anywhere else in Europe," he says.

"The first thing I always did when moving to another country was to learn the customs and language of my host nation." As the first step in his campaign to restore Spanish Antonio is seeking to have the use of his native language made mandatory at residents' meetings along the Costa. He intends to pursue his cause all the way to parliament in Madrid if necessary.

He is facing a long, hard road. The latest findings from the Spanish Institute of Tourist Research reveal that the number of British visitors to Spain is growing by a steady 2.7 per cent a year.

© The Irish Times {jcomments on}

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