Sunday, 14 February 2010

International culture?!

I was struck by a headline in the newspaper El País the other day. Es increíble lo mal que Francia conoce la cultura española, it said. Frédéric Mitterrand, French Minister for Culture and Communication and nephew of another well-known Frenchman of the same name, was expressing some concern about how little the French know about Spanish culture. He was visiting his Spanish counterpart in Madrid, Ángeles González-Sinde, discussing among other things the problems of piratería, declaring that the French music industry is suffering terribly from people downloading music and trying to drum up support for international counter-measures.

I susp
ect that they might be fighting a losing battle. While fuddy-duddies like me might enjoy buying albums, remembering nostalgically the pleasure of waiting for the release of a new album, buying it, taking it home from the shop and finally playing it, a younger generation is into the I-want-it-now-today-if-not-sooner culture. They can and will download tunes and legislation is unlikely to stop them. But I do sympathise with Monsieur Mitterrand.

However, it was the headline above all that interested me. He
told us that he had in a way grown up on the cinema, a lot of American cinema but also Spanish. That is where he went on to deplore the French ignorance of Spanish cinema, in fact of all sorts of cultural “things Spanish”. But then, he went on to say, in France you can do your baccalauréat (Spanish bachillerato, English A-Levels) without reading a single work of Shakespeare. Not quite a non-sequitor as he had been going on a bit about international culture.

What he needs to be aware of, however, is that it is almost possible in England to do your A-Levels wit
hout reading a single work of Shakespeare, let alone in France. To study A levels it is generally accepted that students need GCSE English and I know that when English students take their GCSE in English it is supposed to include some literature and that is supposed to mean studying a Shakespeare play. But, and this is quite a big but, I have known a fair number of students in England who managed not to read any Shakespeare. Their set Shakespeare play was Romeo and Juliet and instead of reading the whole play they watched the film of that name starring Leonardo di Capprio and only read “key” scenes from the text itself. I suspect old Shakespeare himself might have approved of this. After all, he meant his plays to be performed rather than just read.

What really struck me though was a difference in attitude. It seems to be generally accepted in both France and Spain that young people should be given an overview of their cultural heritage, at least as far as literature is concerned. Somewhere along the way this seems to have been lost in the UK, which seems to me to be really rather a pity.

A completely different aspect of internatio
nal culture is the news that an Australian farmer is growing and selling pimientos de Padrón. In his marketing material he uses an old gallego saying about these little green peppers, os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non, translating it as “The peppers of Padrón, some are hot and some not”. He also stresses the nutritional value of pimientos de Padrón, informing the Aussies about vitamins A, B1, B2 and C and iron found in the peppers, as well as their ability to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and generally aid digestion. There you go. As I have commented on a number of occasions, Galicia IS the centre of the universe.

If further proof of this last fact is needed, simply consider el sacacorchos de Koala Internacional. This internationally selling (apparently) nifty little special opener for bottles of champagne and, of course, cava was invented by the Koala company run, despite its very Australian sounding name, by a vigués by the name of Francisco Barberá. Some 700 000 were sold all over the world last year.

Another successful gallego!!!!


  1. I'd be more worried about the total absence of grammar in British schools. It's embarrasing to see that nobody knows basic grammar (let alone syntax), not even teachers. The other day I was with one who couldn't distinguish a verb. And 15-years-old still need to be reminded what an adjective is. In foreign language teaching this is more worrying than not reading classic literature.

  2. I quite agree with your concerns. I had to explain grammatical terms to students about to start A Level Spanish or French courses, many of them with top marks at GCSE. And then there are those, including teachers, who just can't spell!!! Please don't get me started!!!