For two countries which share the same language, England and America can sometimes seem like a world apart (well, they are an ocean apart, I guess). I noticed this most acutely on my recent trip to New York with two friends from London. Whilst in London, shop assistants acknowledge you briefly if you’re lucky, or watch you through narrowed eyes suspecting you of shoplifting if you’re not so lucky.
In New York, it was a completely different story. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by friendly staff asking us about our trip, and recommending things for us to do. The friendliness extends to people on the streets — someone found me the name of a restaurant in Williamsburg and then actually called up for me, and a couple stopped to Google the nearest subway station for us when we got slightly lost. Of course, not everyone is unfriendly in London, but New York seems so much warmer in terms of customer service at least.
This being said, the tipping culture stateside seems crazy to me — in London I wouldn’t hesitate to leave a cafe or restaurant without tipping if the waiter had been especially rude. In New York, one waiter went out of his way to follow us as we left the cafe, muttering “You’re unbelievable” under his breath. It’s not like we hadn’t left any tip at all — it wasn’t 18 percent, but we’d only had a small snack and he had been unfriendly and brusque throughout.
The most fascinating difference between England and America for me as a British visitor lies with the language (ironic, given we’re meant to be speaking the same one). From foods (“Aubergine? Wait, that’s eggplant right?”) to clothes (“Trousers? Do you mean pants?”), there are different words, different pronunciations and different expressions. We say “lift,” you say “elevator,” we say “get in line,” you say “get online.” The weirdest of these for me is “restroom” — why restroom? You don’t exactly go there to rest… “toilet” seems like a much more logical word.
New York and London are two of the world’s most visited cities, and it’s not difficult to see why. The fact off the matter is, both England and America are great countries, and it is their individualities which make both so intriguing to visit/live in.
Catalonia, a region in the north of Spain most famous for containing Barcelona, is in the process of trying to become an independent state. There are divided opinions on the subject, so we interviewed Max, an 18 year old proud Catalan who lives just north of Barcelona, to tell us a little bit more.
1. Hola Max! What’s the current situation in Catalonia?
Hi! Well, currently Catalonia is in a sovereignist process in which we are trying to separate from Spain, to become an independent state. This process started after the massive demonstration (more than 2 million people on the streets) that was held in Barcelona the 11th of September of 2012 and the situation is now in a crucial state. The Catalan people are asking the Spanish government to let them vote in a referendum, but the answer is always no. Nevertheless, a date for the referendum has already been fixed by the Catalan government for later this year: 9/11/14.
2. Why do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?
I want Catalonia to become an independent state for many reasons. First of all, because I do not feel Spanish at all. We have our own language, flag, institutions and traditions which are almost 1000 years old. Catalonia has only been part of Spain for the last 300 years. Before being defeated by Felipe V, Catalonia was, along with Aragón and País Valencià, a sovereign country (Corona catalanoaragonesa). Through these 300 years of Spanish occupation of Catalonia, we have been abused day after day and year after year. The Catalan language and the Catalan institutions have been banned several times through these 300 years in an attack on the Catalan nation. Therefore, I don’t want to be part of a state which hates me and which has been unfair to mine.
Secondly, I want Catalonia to be an independent state also for economical reasons. Catalonia is one of the most prosperous regions of Spain, and as an Autonomous Community (AC), each year it gives a large amount of money to the Spanish government. The thing is that, although being one of the AC that gives the most money to the Spanish state, it is the one which receives the least money back. Every year Catalonia loses 16 thousand million euros to Spain. This is a very important amount of money that would prevent the Catalan government to use restrictive policies and to cut the budget if we were independent. We are also abused in many other ways. Catalan students are the ones who are given less scholarships, Catalonia is one of the the few AC with tolls, and the investments in the improvement of the railway system are ridiculous compared to those made in AC like Madrid, Andalucia or Castilla La Mancha, which are AC that give much less money to Spain than Catalonia. The centralism of Spain harms the catalan economy so much, and the situation in unsustainable.
3. Do you think it would be a problem to come from a country with such an unusual language spoken by only 11 million people? Would schools only teach in Catalan or would students learn Castilian too?
Not at all. I’m very proud of being a Catalan speaker. Catalan is such a cultivated and historical language and the fact of being bilingual is so useful. Catalan dates back to the XI century and played a great role in the Middle Ages. Great and famous novels have also been written in the region, like Tirant Lo Blanch, the first chivalry novel ever. Plus the language is spoken in four countries ( Spain, Andorra, France and Italy) which gives the language more repercussion. If Catalonia became independent, Castilian wouldn’t stop being taught in school since bilingualism is one of the things that defines Catalonia. And as former members of Spain, it would be nonsense to stop teaching Castilian.
4. When is the soonest that Catalonia could become an independent state?
I think the soonest Catalonia could be independent is 2015. Providing, of course, that the answer to the referendum were yes. If the referendum eventually couldn’t be celebrated, there’d be plebiscitary elections and 2015 would also be the soonest Catalonia could be independent.
5. Do all your Catalan friends agree with you? Do most people have strong opinions, or do some not care whether it becomes independent?
Yes, the vast majority of my friends are in favour of independence – up to 90% of them. Although there are people who don’t care very much, almost everybody has his respective opinion about the subject. And there are also some people in the region who don’t want Catalonia to become an independent state but want it to become a federal state of Spain, like the Socialist Party of Catalonia, PSC.
Read about a famous Catalan tradition here
Read about Barcelona here
Read about Catalonia’s national day here
Read about another Catalan city, Girona, here
Read about a novel set in Catalonia here
So, what can be done about the problem of youth unemployment? It’s a massive problem with no clear solutions, and this is party the reason why it has already escalated to such worrying heights. Understandably, individual European governments have not got money to throw at the problem. It is therefore necessary to think outside the box, and suggest alternatives like becoming freelancer writers or journalists. Clearly, there are downsides to this too – job instability and lack of previous work to name a couple – and certain governments don’t make this a particularly easy path for young people to take. In Spain, amongst other countries, freelance workers are required to pay a certain amount of money to the government per month for the privilege of not working for a company. This means that for many, especially those just starting to work, freelancing is not a viable option as they do not make enough profit once they have paid their fee to the government. Another option for young people looking to go down a less conventional route is in start-up companies – either working for one, or creating their own. This too can have its disadvantages, but no job is completely perfect. Start-ups can become very successful with some hard work and an innovative idea, and investment can come from private companies both in their home country and abroad. The added benefit is of course that start-ups can employ more people once they start to grow. In the mean time, however, governments should focus on keeping young people in school for as long as possible, so that they leave with decent qualifications and have various options open when deciding what to do with their future.
(PS – sorry for the cheesy photo (which is from http://www.transmitpromo.com))
Even though I live in London, England, and therefore do not have much contact with America, I like to read the New York Times. As travelling the world would be the first thing I’d do if I won the lottery, I LOVE the NYT book “36 Hours In…” which offers itineraries for weekend stays in various places. Naturally, the most interesting one for me is “36 Hours In Europe”, which was published in 2012.
Reading its publisher Taschen’s description of the book makes me want it even more:
Culture, history, natural beauty, fine cuisine, artistic masterpieces, cutting-edge architecture and style—Europe overflows with so many riches that a lifetime seems too short to appreciate them. But with the right guidance, you can go far in a single weekend. Stylishly written and carefully researched, this updated and expanded collection of the popular New York Times 36 Hours feature offers you 125 well-crafted itineraries for quick but memorable European trips, accompanied by hundreds of color photographs to fire your imagination. Explore the expected: the Renaissance in Florence, surfing in Biarritz, flamenco in Seville. And discover the unexpected: Sicilian mummies dressed in their Sunday best, a dry-land toboggan ride on Madeira, a hotel in Tallinn with a KGB spies’ nest on the penthouse floor. World capitals, ancient nations that once ruled wide domains, tiny countries with big personalities—it’s all Europe, and all fun to read about (whether you actually go or not) in this handsomely designed and illustrated book.
All I need now is lots and lots of money, and I’m off. (The book has also inspired me to invent my own 36 Hours In London… for teenagers)
I have always kind of liked the marimekko flower prints. Although I don’t tend to love flowery things, something about wandering into the marimekko store in St Christopher’s Place in London feels like diving into the perfect Finnish home, with matching bed sheets, curtains and tablecloths. Whilst I used to have some marimekko blinds in my room (which clashed horrendously with the wallpaper) it has been a while since I’ve seen the prints around. And on one of the most unlikely places: an aeroplane. Yup, Finnair has teamed up with the design company (which is of course also Finnish, so it all makes sense I guess). As of this spring, some Finnair airplanes will be stocked with the company’s tableware, which is sure to make boring flights that little bit more colourful. How nice.
La Boqueria Market, as well as being somewhere you can buy amazing Spanish food, is one of Barcelona‘s most popular tourist attractions.
According to the market’s website (yeah, that’s how famous it is)….
At the Boqueria people eat, shop and gossip together doing what the Spanish excel at, living life well and enjoying a sense of community.
The fruit is so fresh and good value – especially compared to the outrageous London prices. A whole punnet of organic strawberries costs around 1 euro, and the best thing of all is the fresh juice. You can find almost any flavour under the sun – my favourite being coconut and banana. They mix exotic fruits like papaya and mango, and the juices only cost 1 euro 50 for a big serving. It’s possible to spend all day at the market sampling the local food and gawping at the watermelons the size of two basketballs – but it’s best to get there as early as possible before the tourists arrive en masse.
Admittedly, I’m slightly obsessed with this movie. The cinematography is completely amazing, so it’s worth watching just for that. Respiro is set in Sicily, and is centred around the portrayal of family values/ the role of different members of the family as is so traditionally important in Italy (particularly in the south). The shots of the beaches and cliffs are so vivid, it makes you feel like you’re there in a way no film has ever done for me… It’s especially interesting watching the movie after having recently visited Sicily, but obviously the side I saw was the touristic and cultivated one. The side portrayed in this movie, on the other hand, is a lot more honest, raw and wild, and ultimately real. Shots of young boys gutting fish lined up in a big room resonate particularly – you get such a sharp insight into their extremely different culture and way of life. Respiro won various awards at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, and it’s really not hard to see why. An added bonus is that the movie is kinda short (an hour and a half) so there’s not really time to get bored (as I do, easily)…