Category: xenophobia


I’ve been living in Spain for the past 5 years and a couple of months. It is strange how your perspective changes during a period of time, especially when you compare the before and after.

I remember back when I arrived here, Spain seemed to epitomize everything I was looking for: freedom, a friendly, lively and open society interspersed with strong family values. I won’t say that this was all gone now. I won’t say that. That would be as untrue as some pre-election preachings by some dopey politicians. But truth is the time here has made me re-evaluate what I was looking for and also if these values are actually here, to be found in this country.

With today’s approval of the new educational law (by Wert) for the upcoming school year 2013/2014, things again have gone step further. A bit further in a direction I personally do not approve of. Spain and its current educational system changes have become my personal nightmare.

Wert and his wish to "españolizar a los niños catalanes"

Wert and his wish to “españolizar a los niños catalanes”

Spain seems to have changed a lot on the whole. Apart from having undergone two (!) upgrades of the VAT: one from 16% to 18 % in 2008 (or 2009), and one in 2012 from 18% to 21%! The mínimum wage still is at 650€ while France and the Netherlands have mínimum wages of around 1300-1400€. Any questions??? In other terms, it’s ridiculous.

 

Spain changed a lot. Politically, but also when it comes to forming a society.

On the other hand, I doubt that there is something like a country that does not change. It is pretty much normal that changes occur. The point is always your point of view. To make it clear: it largely depends if you LIKE or DISLIKE the changes your country is experiencing and actively forging. For me, this kind of evaluation, always has proven difficult back when I was in the old country, Germany. Since I am half Greek, half German, I’ve always felt kind of torn in terms of chosing one philosophy, one way of life and one type of political or society system. I never felt at ease living in Germany. I felt like I was betraying the Greek side in me. Here in Spain, I’m just another foreigner which somehow is liberating. 😉 One who, if I criticize too loudly, will be told to “go home where you belong…” Whatever. I know this could very easily be the case. So I try things on a different level.

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Returning to my situation here in Spain. Of course, the first years in a new country are always the hardest. You fight for survival. You learn the language, try to get a job. You help your kids integrate. You try to integrate yourself as much as you can. You try to basically keep your head above the water. If you still have time to share a joke with friends, maybe have a beer, every once in a blue moon, then you’re good. Actually, holding my head above the water is what I still do now. Economy’s pretty much weakened in the past five years, the job prospects have never been as scarce and as insecure as they are now. To be honest, a whole month sometimes can be pretty long, but your money needs to go that long way and you especially as a family need to make ends meet, somehow. Sometimes, you buy the dirt cheap crap that you know is unhealthy as your kids need new shoes, or you need the money to buy books or you have to repair the car or whatever. Poverty is not a nice friend to have. If always sticks it ugly head in when you least expect it. But that’s what happens. But somehow, we always manage. Somehow, we really do. I cannot complain. But that’s a joint force. Because we are a family and we are tight knit and we kind of don’t want to surrender. Up until now, we have done well I would say. But I’ve seen people come and go. And I know what I see. I know that the coming years will be harder, and more of a financial tightrope. We need to be stricter about the things we never used to think about. The only luxury we ever indulged in every now and then was a journey once per year. And I am pretty happy we did that journey, because that is something no-one can take away from us now. But if truth be told, after what happened in the past couple of months, I very much doubt that next year we will be going on any holiday at all. Plus the income possibilities are getting weaker and weaker. Everyone is trying to get by. Somehow. Every tries to cut corners. And sometimes your job is their corner they need to cut. Understand? Things are gonna be tough. And this is not a fairy tale. This is true shit. It is happening. It is already here. And it is here to stay.

Actually, when I look around me I truly find that there more and more people like me, meaning: educated, well motivated and somehow empoverished. They put everything on one card, moved away from their home town, from their home country, in search of a better country. Often like myself, 2nd generation immigrants, who themselves decided to move away cos they were not happy in the country they were living in. Sometimes, university graduates, like me, going abroad as their homecountry does not really care about them, and their abilities.

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But when we get down to brass tacks: A true exodus of brains already happened ten or even twenty years ago, the retrograde development of educational systematics in terms of the double language system in Catalonia, the continuous cutbacks in important government subventions especially in the region of culture, education and infrastructure – this is all so wrong. It can only be called wrong, sinister and I do say it, it is criminal. It is a crime against the next generation.

When I think back on my days at school, I do need to say one thing. School was basically fun. We had books, we had teachers who worked on a nice payroll, they were happy, we had facilities, we had rooms, we had tables, benches and chairs, books, films, educational material, money for excursions, and there were always things to do and the equipmment was pretty new. I was lucky that my formative years fell into the Eighties when Europe was in an alltime high in terms of economy and also financial possibilities. I feel truly blessed. But that is not the point. I was basically just lucky.

I know that the reality today looks pretty much different. It looks much more like a country in Eastern Europe. Could be Bulgaria, could be Romania, but stop, hang on, it’s Spain.

What happened? There are still enough millionaires around. The money of millionaires is actually in this country. Trouble is they don’t need to pay taxes. We – the stupid ones, the workers – we do. We are the slaves of the 21st century. A lot of money is to be spent. They do it. Politicians do it. Millionaires do it. Black money. I would very much say so. Anyone who disagrees is entitled on a free course of how the Spanish state financially works. Anyone who disagrees lives in denial.

If someone dares me, I will start to burn a Spanish flag any day. Any day. And I would go to prison for it because I think there is seriously something really wrong going on here.

Especially on a cult and supposedly rich (hahaha) island like Ibiza you get to see crass discrepancies of the extremely rich and the extremely poor. Here you have the big spender in his Hummer sipping champagne on the beach, snorting cocaine and bribing pólice officers. On the other side of the road you will have some nearly hungry and practically homeless kids, living in some sheds, working for next to nothing, only to get some shelter and put some food on the table. Those kids get picked up by the pólice for doing a joint and they wander into prison for having a gram on them while others walk free. That’s Spain today. The social disparities are getting crasser each and every day.

From a personal standpoint, I think I have found my home. I do feel so much at home here in Spain, and more so in Ibiza, but the thing is the political and social decisions here are getting more and more on my nerves. I feel almost violated through the insanity of the decisions that we are served each and every day. I detest reading or listening to the news. It makes me manic. Each day there is something that really hits my nerve. The worst is I cannot do anything against it except for let others know what I hear, what I see and make them think for themselves. My hands are tied so I am damned to see and do nothing more which in itself is torture. But I have to inform myself. I cannot pretend I would not know anything or I would not care about what is happening around me.

The current happenings here in terms of school and language options, the so-called Balearic decisions, and the Wert law that passed government approval today, make me think that the decisions by the minister Jose Ignacio Wert are truly a joke. No, serious, they are a threat to a well founded education of my children. Thus, the only thing I can do now is hope that we and others too will take the Wert law and throw it back in his stupid idiot face. I cannot believe this is happening. How can someone be that blind and that ignorant? How much must he hate the catalán language and culture he really wants to eradicate it from the educational sector and from the minds and hearts of people. 30 years. All for nothing? I don’t think so.

Trouble is though I cannot vote against him since I don’t even have a right to vote in Spain.

Another thing that is worrying me is that there is no real figurehead, no personality in Spain who is counteracting what is happening here, and who has the power to change things. The Royal family are themselves a desaster and a laughing stock, Rajoy, well, I won’t start on him now, and Wert, well, I’ve covered that area with today’s post. Are there no people around who are activist enough to do something? I wish there were. If I would see a cause I would deem worthy enough, I would surely try to be part of it.

The times to be non-political are definitely over. Even if you think you are non-political, you are indeed political. Wanna know how? If you say you are non-political or unpolitical, you let everything pass by, not assuming responsibility, and thereby cementing the current players who are in control. By you being passive, they actually gain power and you are thus inadvertently helping the current government. Like it  or not. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

There-are-no-dangerous-thoughts, Thinking itself is dangerous.

Wanna think this over?

PS: Actually, the more I think about it, the more I come to think that the whole language discussion is a red herring maneouvre to distract from current inner politics that went wrong as well… By the whole language debate, the catalonians will get worked up, and thus their power will be diminished… Therefore, it is so important to keep an eye on moving forward in terms of Independence.

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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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