Correct these mistakes for Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and there’s nothing jollier than knowing your vocabulary. Therefore, today we’re learning about two Catalan words that foreigners tend to get wrong.

Now that the tió tradition has gone properly international thanks to Kate McKinnon (see video below), it’s time to debunk the belief that tió means uncle. ‘If you know basic Spanish’ some people say and even write on their blogs ‘you’ll know that tío means uncle’. Well, yes; but we’re talking about a Catalan tradition, hence a Catalan word. Tió—not tío—means log, as Kate explains. And isn’t it obvious? I mean, just look at the bloody thing.

What Kate doesn’t get so right is calling it cagatió. However, there is currently a debate among natives about this issue (trending topic included: #EsDiuTió). As the song to make the tió poo presents starts with ‘Caga tió’, which literally translates to ‘poo [imperative] log’, some use this as the log name and that’s wrong. Conversely, cagatió is indeed a word that means the act of making the tió poo, the event. So you’ll say: On the evening of the 24th we’re doing the cagatió and the tió will poo lots of sweets and presents for us.

It's only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

It’s only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

A not-so-festive issue, but relevant any time a foreigner mentions Barcelona, is what you can call the Catalan capital. Barcelona is the official name, that’s easy. BCN is a well-known and correct abbreviation. There is only one more alternative: Barna, from Bar(celo)na. Barça (pronounced ‘barsa’) is just a name for the football team. So calling the city Barça or Barsa is utterly wrong. Mispronouncing the wrong term and calling it Barca (‘barka’) is even worse, as barca means boat.

So you finally know it and you can sound a bit wiser this Christmas. Now go, deck the halls and don your gay apparel, unless you live in an extremely religious country. Ah, the irony!

Catalonia inspires Poland

During my last trip to Poland and bearing in mind my nationality, I’ve noticed the Catalan presence in Marie Curie’s country.

There’s the old classic: people speaking Catalan in every city. We’re a few millions, but we travel a lot. Anyway, after running into a Catalan family in Reykjavik, a couple of Catalans in Polish capitals are not that surprising.

Moving to more interesting matters we find Catalan cuisine. First, they sell this bułka katalońska wieloziarnista, or ‘multigrain Catalan bun’; then, you can find a Romesco bar-restaurant. Don’t ask me about the bun. It’s probably just a fancy name. But romesco [pronounced ‘rumescu’] is the delicious traditional sauce for calçots—which deserve their own post.

The Catalan bun and Romesco restaurant through the dirty window of a bus

The Catalan bun and Romesco restaurant through the dirty window of a bus

Other cultural imports are these three books by Jaume Cabré: Głosy Pamano (English title: Voices of Pamano), Jaśnie pan (Honour) i Wyznaję (Confessions). Staying on the culture lines, Dalí stares at us from a guy’s bag.

Polish translations of books by Jaume Cabré

Polish translations of books by Jaume Cabré

Finally, it’s impossible to ignore the Barça T-shirts everywhere—not from other teams. A special one caught my eye, though. It was all yellow with the initials FCB below the four red stripes of the Catalan flag on the chest. However, one can’t manage to discretely take someone’s chest picture.

Dalí's characteristic mustache

Dalí’s characteristic mustache

Go compare Christmas

When you celebrate Christmas in a different country go compare! That’s what happens when a Catalan spends his Christmas holiday in England.

Go compare!

24th Dec. In both England and Catalonia the birth of Jesus is celebrated at midnight in churches by fewer people every time. I guess that the most important thing is the expectation for waking up the following day to discover the presents delivered by their respective characters.

25th Dec. English families find the presents delivered by Father Christmas under the tree. Turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies are eaten. Catalan presents are sort of delivered by Tió, a log with face and covered with a blanket. The tradition stems from the use of logs in the fireplace to keep warm. Tió is kept somewhere in the house and fed fruit some days before Christmas, then kids sing him songs and hit him with sticks — like stirring the fire —  and it defecates [I don’t make the traditions] Christmas nougat and rolled wafers and some minor present. Escudella, a thick soup with pasta and meat balls, and chicken or turkey are eaten.

26th Dec. In England, Boxing Day is a bank holiday and, although it was a date for the rich to share with the poor, it’s become the first day of sales. In Catalonia, Sant Esteve is also a bank holiday, however, nothing special is done.

28th Dec. Englishmen feel pity for the undeveloped south European-north African Catalan, who dare celebrate April Fools’ in December under the name of Sants Innocents.

31st Dec. In England — and most of the world — there’s a countdown and the new year is welcomed with impressive fireworks. In Catalonia the home dels nassos or man of the noses walks the streets; kids are encouraged to find the man with as many noses as days left in the year. At midnight Catalan people eat twelve grapes as the bells strike twelve, which are meant to bring good luck.

6th Jan. Since Catalan kids only received minor presents on the 25th, the Three Wise Men from the East deliver the main presents of the season while they sleep so that they’ll find them in the morning.

Go compare!

Saint George’s Day: books, roses and lies

I happened to post on Saint Valentine’s Day and Saint George’s Day by chance. And it seems we have another episode of the Anglo-Catalan culture.

Such a fierce dog-sized dragon!

Catalan people have our version of Saint George’s legend by Jacobus de Voragine. We say that the dragon’s blood turned into a beautiful rose Saint George gave the princess. On 23rd April, we give roses and books to our couple or couples (that’s a self-management issue, not a linguistic one). In 1995, UNESCO got inspired by this and decided that the World Book and Copyright Day would be celebrated on the same date.

The rose has been in our tradition since the 15th century. The book was added to it last century because of a dubious reason. Both Cervantes and Shakespeare died on 23rd April 1616. In fact, Cervantes died on the 22nd and was buried on the 23rd and Shakespeare did die on the 23rd, but according to the Julian calendar — 3rd May according to the Gregorian calendar. Anyway, books are worth the lie.

Apart from these literary reasons, Saint George is the patron saint of England and Catalonia. Moreover, this year’s 23rd April is the only day in the year a god is dead. Being atheists, should my piece of England and I use the planets alignment and get married today? We’ll think about it, the day isn’t over yet.

Some good news about Catalan in the world

This week begun with two pieces of news which ennoble the Catalan language. I’m not keen on journalism, but sometimes it makes me happy.

Google says Catalan is one of the ten most active languages in the world (

Google highlights the presence of Catalan on the Internet in relation to its number of speakers. There are two rankings depending on whether the language is only used in its territory or all over the world. Catalan moves between positions 10 and 15 of the international ranking — it fluctuates through time. What would my Swedish friend say now?

Small American publishing houses publish Catalan literature (La

An American publishing house will publish The grey notebook by Josep Pla. Publishers and translators criticise the “provincialism” of the United States that ignore other cultures and the things that are not written in English. Even though, they say that small influential publishers are now translating Catalan authors and taking other cultures in account. Quim Monzó and Mercè Rodoreda are being translated with good results already.

There’s no need to say anything else.

Saint Valentine may not be a Catalan tradition, but…

We spend our lives thinking that we betray our motherland with foreign celebrations, but maybe we were doing just fine.

I’ve always been interested in things from outside Catalonia; mainly in cultures, ways of life, languages, traditions… Some years ago I told a friend of mine how I envied her intercultural relationship with an English boy, I wanted someone exotic for me too. Last week I found her after a long time and was able to tell her that I also have an English partner.

I’m writing about this because today it is Saint Valentine’s Day, something that I’ve always ignored in favour of the Catalan traditional lover’s day Sant Jordi. Well, being on an intercultural relationship myself now I’ll celebrate both things, English and Catalan, for we both want to keep our culture and learn from the other’s one.

As I accepted to celebrate Saint Valentine, I did some research on it and found something surprising. Saint Valentine was a Roman martyr who lived in the 3rd century, whose relics were moved to Catalonia and to whom some chapels were devoted.

The worship to this saint seems to be focused on weather issues here, a Catalan poem about Saint Valentine as a love day written in the 15th century —when Saint Valentine was first documented in England and Scotland— was found. I’ll celebrate Saint Valentine just like Sant Jordi, no matter whether it is also Catalan or not.

What do you think?