There are several reasons for this blog entry today. One of course is the anniversary of T. S. Eliot’s birthday who would have been 124 exactly today. However, that by far is not the only one. To me, T.S. Eliot has always been a special writer why I also wrote my masters thesis about his poetry (more specifically about Death in the Poetry of T.S.Eliot). T.S. Eliot was, is and will always have a special place in my personal library.

Another reason is today’s celebration of the International or European Day of Language.

A third reason is the rising atmosphere of xenophobia here in Spain.

When you look at Eliot’s probably most famous work, The Waste Land, a long poem from 1921, one cannot deny that Eliot is “the” Modernist writer of the beginning of the last century. When you read it, you have an eery sense of what he must have felt like as an American in England. But I don’t want to speak about his biography today, nor will I go into an in-depth analysis of one of his poems or plays. But instead I wanted to talk about the use of foreign languages in his work. T.S. Eliot was an English native speaker of course. But in the course of his life and thanks to a rather high-brow education, he learned Latin, Greek, French and even German. So, he was educated and he was polyglot. Back in those days, that was unusual if not somewhat unique. Plus he was an immigrant in England. He had come from his birthplace St. Louis, Missouri, to England. That must have been a bit of a cultural shock for him, I reckon.

Why do I mention this? Because in the Waste Land we have a kaleidoscope of different voices, like a radio, many voices, all speaking in their mother tongues. Eliot was someone eager enough in terms of intelligence and also with his education, someone who would suck up foreign literature as well as culture like a sponge. He was interested and back in those days, foreigners were scarce enough, so they would be pampered and treated rather uniquely well.

Trying to suck up culture and also the language –  That is something I must say that I tried to copy from him. And having said that, I would wish for more people to be much more open minded about culture, language and also people who come to their country to live and of course to learn their language.

I do find that nowadays our cultural and also intercultural digest/menu is rather shallow and the number of educated and well read people is pretty scarce. When I want to talk books, especially ones that have something more to say than 50 shades of Grey or some other book rubbish, I don’t have much choice since given my natural habitat of now 5 years, I won’t do this with a lot of people who are around me. Most of the book friends, of people who actually go out and buy books (yes, people like that do exist!!!) will be my old friends, or some funny acquaintances I happen to virtually meet through the internet or through the traffic on my blogs or Facebook. I don’t like to say this but it is true: A lot of Spaniards do not read very much… Some of them hardly read anything at all which I found extremely amazing but in a way that also scared me a little. That is just books. Foreign languages is even worse.

So many people in Spain do not even care to consider to learn proper English, let alone German, Dutch or French or another foreign language that would be a benefit to them, especially when you think that at least 85% of all the people have in one way or another customer contact and their business will be tourism related. This may only hold true for the Balearics and some place on the Costa Brava, but still. A shame it is.

Ok, slowly but surely, things are changing. Language schools are popping into existence. There are some language schools around, but let’s be honest. The level of education is still far away from where it should be. Of course, in Germany, the things are nowadays also not as culturally focussed as they used to be. The general level of education has been dwindling for the past 15 years I would think. Some Germans don’t really further themselves either, but since I live in Spain, and I get live examples every day I speak about the experiences I make around here. Especially now, when mobility is one of the key assets that today’s laboral market is demanding from us each and every day, I can’t but ask myself: why does it become more and more difficult to integrate oneself in a society as a foreigner? Why – especially now – xenophobia has come back with a vengeance?

That is one of the key questions I have been asking myself the last couple of days. Triggered by the question, what is nationality and what kind of bearings does nationality bring with it, I went one step further and asked myself why I still cannot speak catalan as well as one might expect after two years of steady learning and trying to be around a lot of catalan speaking people?

The answer in my case is pretty easy. Once guiri, always guiri. When we are speaking of the hindrances to move up in society through the so-called glass ceiling, we should add the vertical glass ceiling as well. I, born 50% Greek and 50% German, been raised and schooled and started out going to uni in Germany and then in Ireland, must state: in Germany I felt very much integrated but that was because the 70’es as a whole was a very nice decade to be a foreign kid in Germany. We used to be the exotic children. With the funny names. Which apparently, the little Greeks or Turks no longer are. The climate has changed. Pretty obviously.

And so it has changed in Spain as well. Here, you are being asked your DNI and when you scramble out your huge green certificate to show your a foreigner, there is this movement in the face of many government workers where you note that to them, foreigners are basically a waste of space. We are being asked more and more certificates, it is so ridiculous. We are Europeans. For God’s sake.

Ok, I am a big girl. I can handle the treatment. But what I can’t handle is the slightly more subversive form of xenophobia which is still alive and kicking. Want to read an example? Sure.

When I think about my willingness to learn Catalan. This is really a thing which is optional. As a Greek/German with perfectly good English and a nice professional level of Spanish, I really would have had to bother to learn Catalan. But then, since I am a language person, I did it. It felt good. It felt like a challenge at the time.

Fast forward two years, and now I can only say: You are being left alone. You are a foreigner. And you remain a foreigner. And that is something that I never felt before in my life. It is a weird feeling.

Last winter, I started out with two courses in Catalan, a B2 level to kind of brush up the grammar bits, and then the C1 course to move forward languagewise. After a record breaking 160 hours of Catalan I cannot really say that I improved very much… And that is due to what? Due to my constant denial to learn things. No, that’s for sure not the case. I really made an effort here, and I very much doubt it that anyone might have gotten better results given the circumstances. First of all, the course was filled with people my age (end thirties / beginning fourties) since this is the age group of Spanish citizens who were left out of the Catalan revolution at schools. So, there you go. One should think that they would be happy to see some foreigners in their courses. Nooooo wayyyyyy. All the Spaniards are somehow sticking together no matter how hard you try to become acquainted even on a superficial level. Second, a teacher who takes care of what his pupils ought to be taught in terms of grammar…

Well, enter and abandon all hope. After the C1 course I did at the local cultural centre in Ibiza called Can Ventosa (carried out by Institut d’Estudis Eivissencs), I must really say: it was a complete waste of time and also of effort. The teacher always spoke about things, only a Spaniard would understand. His accent was so hard to understand that it took me weeks to adapt. When I finally understood him, I noticed it wasn’t much I was missing out. He was speaking about football stars, the latest funny things the king or Udangarin did and some other really strange conversation topics. Nevertheless, I went there. Week in, week out. I am a fighter and I won’t stop going there unless I have had my chance to really get some more education. Little did I know… I should have stayed at home and tried to listens to TV3 or have watched some Catalan movies instead.

Guess what… At the end of the term, when everyone was preparing for the exams, that was the very first time we started out on grammar. I had tried to talk him into using more grammar bits which he would not do, since that would be a thing for much lower level. Now, having tried and failed the C1 test, which – given a proper grammar exercises – I would have easily passed, I feel really bad having wasted so much time on going to courses, where I did not have proper learning, where I did not have at least some social interaction… To be quite honest, there is one woman which I sometimes see but that is about it. Which is very sad. I mean sometimes it does not happen. But since I am a socially interactive person I really start wondering about xenophobia…

In Germany I never experienced this. Now, after 5 years in Spain, in Ibiza, I noticed that we are looked upon as foreigners. Ok, we have a little circle of friends, but there is not one Spanish family we became acquainted with. All our friends are immigrants like us as well. People from all over the place. England, Denmark, Ecuador, Romania, Israel, France, Germany… but the Spanish people obviously like to keep to themselves. Which is a shame.

And the worst of all. The Catalan thing that really should unite people is in fact separating people.

When I apply this knowledge onto the latest events I saw on TV, I really start wondering, what good can it do to a state like Spain when in times of economic downfall, foreigners are being pushed aside… I very much start to wonder if the Catalans are any better… I tried for several weeks to get some involvement with people who would have been able to correct my long short story or short novel, however you wanna call it, and guess what… There is not one person who wants to do it.

They say, that times like these are hard. I would say that mankind slowly loses the capacity of viewing culture, language and music as a vital keystone that they could go out and share with one another. That is something that makes me funnily enough really sad. When I see all these notices about the day of languages… that is also celebrated today, I get sick in my stomach when I see that I – after three months of searching, putting up papers and don’t know what other stuff I did to get someone – cannot find a nice person to read and correct my story… And that is not about me. That is about society as a whole and the way people tick these days.

Everything is about money. And about “Are you useful to me?”. I feel sickened. Having said that, I really do hope that one day, someone will turn up and just show me that there are still some nice people around who tick differently. Right now, I cannot bring myself to either enroll in another Catalan class, nor to finish my novel without the proper help of someone who could fill in my obvious grammer gaps.

Funnily enough, I did a test today on the internet and found out, that my overall comprehension level is C2 and my level of oral as well as written expression is only B2… And that is kind of telling in my book I would say.

I don’t want to end on a downward note, but right now, I seem to have lost all motivation to really follow that road. Maybe, the idea of writing in catalan was too big a thing. Maybe, I am just an anachronism in terms what I expect from people. When I used to study in Ireland in 1991 / 1992 there was not any internet, but there were people from all over the world in Trinity Hall. And that is the kind of cosmopolitan atmosphere I do not find here. I find it stifling. I find I am surrounded by people who are xenophobic. Worse even: they claim not to be xenophobes, when in fact they are… And they are the worst kind of all… They smile into your face. They keep telling you, how nice of you to learn catalan. On the inside, they have these stupid thoughts, that you are just a guiri, and that you are not worth their while. Like I said: Hidden xenophobes. And that is not a good thing to feel like.

Please… Don’t forget. We are everywhere foreigners. Only in the country where we were born, we are not foreigners. Don’t be xenophobes. That is the most stupid attitude on earth, just like racism or other kinds of -isms.

Never forget… Illegal Immigration started in 1492…

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