Guest blog by Olatz Rodriuez. You can find her contact details at the end of this article.
They say that variety makes the world rich. And I don’t disagree with that at all. Wouldn’t it be monotonous and boring if we weren’t all so different?
Beyond personal differences, we each belong to a certain group of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought. We all are part of a culture that not only defines our attitude, but also training and education. I consider myself a lucky person because of the chance I had in my year abroad in Freiburg to belong to a special little community which was made up of people from completely different cultures, as well as social statuses. I’m not going to talk about the latter, in my opinion it’s less interesting, as it’s not material richness which makes us rich.
If you have ever read about linguistics you might know of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, better known as the linguistic relativity, which states that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its respective speakers conceptualise their world. This principle has been rejected, but I think it makes sense. However, during my stay in Freiburg, I noticed that a bunch of English speaking people who were from completely different parts of the globe had different habits and different views of the world. I wonder why I hadn’t thought about this before, because having family in Mexico and being part of the Basque culture, yet not excluded from the Spanish one, I should have known that the same would happen with every single language. In fact, Basque is a minority language with just a few speakers, but then if someone drives through The Basque Country, every five minutes they will hear a completely different dialect. It’s interesting, as well as amazing, since I live in one of the most Basque speaking zones and still, some of the dialects are almost unintelligible for me. As an example, my father was born in a town which is located five minutes away from where I live and he speaks in a completely differently to me. I’m straying from the subject a little, so let’s get back to English.
First of all, I was really lost when our German-English translation teacher told us that in the exam we had to specify whether we were going to write the exam in British or in American English. For me, English was just English. It might sound funny, but that moment was the starting point, that is, when I began to become aware of and interested in English accents. Then in German ones. And ever since I arrived in Canada, French dialects as well, not because I really want to, but because I have no choice (the québécois is killing me). When I remember that moment I feel a bit embarrassed (I know I don’t have to), in school we’ve always studied British English and as a TV series fan I’ve always watched them in the original version, and because most of the series I watch are from the States they are filmed in American English, and I had never stopped to think about the differences. Now I notice them almost instantly, and I have to admit that I love the British accent, even though the people from small cities may have a really strong one for me.
At first sight, British and Irish accents don’t seem very different to us. Basque and Irish have a lot in common, as I’ve found through friendship with Irish people. It has nothing to do the fact that we have different folklore, the point is that we both are part of a nation where habits, music, dance, language, festivals, etc. are neither better or worse, but different, our own and we love and appreciate it, we even feel proud of it. As for the language, though, most of the Irish speak English and even if I learnt many of the expressions through my friend Frances, I personally don’t see many differences between Ireland and Great Britain (this doesn’t mean I’m right, it’s just an impression), just as between Basque and the rest of Spain.
I haven’t seen the light with the Australian accent, I have to admit it. I’m sorry Sam, but I really had to struggle to understand you, besides the fact that you would talk in an incomprehensible way on purpose (don’t worry, I used to have a lot of fun trying to figure out what you were saying), and, on the whole, the Australian accent. I still do, so maybe I will have to go there soon to get to know it better; why not? I am sure I’d have wonderful guides and teachers, as well as a great time.
Well, in Freiburg not only I learnt how rich English was, but also the different habits their speakers have compared to Spain. Just to mention some, the educational system, the way they party and wear, their dating and culinary habits and their either reticent or slightly crazy ways of behaving. What I mean is that Spanish people are known to be crazy, but always, either in the morning when we wake up, in class, or at the doctor’s. I noticed that the people from Great Britain and Australia were kind of serious, but then, out of nowhere, could become the craziest people in Earth. From what I could tell, this didn’t happen that much with Americans, and in that matter they’re more similar to us.
I mentioned the culinary habits before. As everybody knows, in Spain gastronomy is really important, not only because we eat homemade, healthy food, but also because we always eat meals as a family. When I am home, I have breakfast, lunch and dinner with my family, and I take it for granted. I would never wake up and have breakfast by myself. Without doubt the Spanish main meal is lunch, at about 2 p.m., and it was really weird for me that in most of the European countries lunch would be just a sandwich, early and many times by yourself. I really miss Basque/Spanish food, so enough with food. Just one last fact: I recently read an article about words in different languages of the world that are untranslatable into any others and a friend of mine has suggested to the webpage that in the Basque Country we also have a word that everybody knows, whether they speak the language or not, that couldn’t be translated it into another language: “pintxopote”. One day a week, in every town, we go from bar to bar and have a drink you like and a pintxo for 1 €.
Now that I have talked about the British Isles and Australia, I would also like to talk about Americans. In Spain there’s always been a sort of worship for the country. Whether it has to do something with the American Dream or not I’m not sure, but even though there’s a general “public disdain” towards the states because of their power and impact on globalisation, we can’t deny that they have an influence on our lives and that their trends and customs are currently part of our lives. I’m looking forward to travelling there, which will happen in a few days, and I’m sure that even if I wouldn’t fit into their culture, I’ll very much like it. The United States are too big to talk about on the whole though, so I’m not going to judge them at all.
I want to conclude this article by saying that as a language student, for me English has always been one of the most important languages to learn and practice and as it is a lingua franca in most parts of the world, I acknowledge that it must be really hard for those who have it as a mother tongue to learn new ones, since they can manage to communicate with almost everyone with it. When they are speaking with someone from somewhere else and practicing another language, they know that if they don’t know how to express themselves or they have difficulties finding the right words, they can always talk in English and almost everyone is going to understand. Or the other way round, it can happen that the people they are trying to practice the other language with wants to learn more English and always replies back or tries to prompt a conversation in that language. So hereby I want to express my admiration for all those who do this, especially those who aren’t specialising in languages in their studies.
Now it’s time to conclude. All the readers of this blog are invited to experience either the Spanish or the Basque culture, so don’t hesitate to contact me if you are nearby or you want to get a feel how our society. You can reach me at mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ (Olatz Rodríguez). Hope you enjoyed the reading. Now let’s go and travel the world!