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Seven things you should never say to a Catalan person

Catalans are usually friendly people but also very proud of their culture and language, so saying the wrong thing can make things awkward. Journalist Julia Webster Ayuso, who is a Catalan herself, lists seven faux pas to avoid.

things to never tell a catalan
Some topics are best avoided in Catalonia, especially at times of political tension. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

1. Call the capital of Catalonia “Barça”

Our capital is often associated with football, and while for some that’s a real point of pride, not all Catalans are football fans. “Barça” is the nickname given to FC Barcelona, and you will hear people chanting it during a football match. The team is not, however, the same as the city, so don’t say “I love spending time in Barça”, it won’t make any sense to us. We have our own affectionate nickname for Barcelona: Barna.

2. Ask ‘isn’t Catalan a dialect?’

Catalan is one of Spain’s five official languages, along with Castilian Spanish, Galician, Basque and Aranese. Catalan is considerably different to Spanish as it’s from the Gallo and Occitano-Romance branch of languages whereas Castilian is an Iberian Romance language. So, even though there is vocabulary that’s similar in Spanish and Catalan, in some ways Catalan is closer to French or Italian because it wasn’t heavily influenced by Arabic like Spanish was. Catalan is not merely spoken at home: it’s the main language used in government, institutions and taught in schools.

3. Call Catalans “Catalonians”

The people of Catalonia speak a language called Catalan and are known as Catalans (Catalanes in Spanish, Catalans in French, Catalani in Italian, etc). English speakers have often used the term “Catalonians” instead, but this won’t go down well – it’s just wrong.

3. Mix up the senyera and the estelada

The Catalan national flag is made up of four red stripes on a yellow background and is known as la senyera. Though it looks similar to the estelada, there’s one very visible difference: the star on a blue triangle, which makes it a symbol of the pro-independence movement. The senyera is a patriotic symbol, while the estelada expresses someone’s support for the movement that would make Catalonia independent from Spain.

The estelada flag, not the senyera. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

4. Ask if you want to go trick or treating in Catalonia on the 31st of October

Halloween is a relatively new thing in Spain and while some people like to dress up and go knocking on doors on October 31st, many Catalans feels like it overshadows our own traditions. This autumn holiday is historically celebrated as la castanyada, a day dedicated to eating chestnuts and making panellets (little marzipan pastries).

5. Celebrate Valentine’s Day instead of Sant Jordi

Another imported holiday! We’re not fans of Valentine’s Day and you won’t see many Catalans carrying heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and fluffy toys or wishing each other a Feliç dia de Sant Valentí! on February 14th. For us, the most romantic day of the year is the April 23rd (also St George’s day, the patron saint of Catalonia), when it’s traditional for lovers to exchange roses and books as gifts.

6. Say cava is a lesser version of champagne

Yes, you may know of cava as “Catalan champagne”. And while cava is generally much cheaper than champagne, the production process is almost the same. We have some great producers like Codorniu and Freixenet, so maybe you should stop wasting your money on the more expensive French stuff!

7. Say what you think about Catalan independence

Passions run high over Catalonia’s independence and Catalans themselves remain divided, with the latest poll in 2022 showing 41 percent in favour of separation while 52 percent wanted to remain in Spain. Politics can be a touchy subject anywhere, but in Catalonia it’s best avoided all together, unless the Catalan person you’re speaking to wants to talk about it.


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Spain’s amnesty for separatists bogged down in legal wrangles

Three weeks after it was approved by Spain's parliament, an amnesty law for Catalan separatists involved in a botched 2017 secession bid is entangled in legal wrangling and has yet to benefit anyone.

Spain's amnesty for separatists bogged down in legal wrangles

Judges have two months since the final approval of the bill on May 30 to apply the law, which is expected to affect around 400 people including the former head of the regional government of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont.

The aim was for arrest warrants and criminal charges filed against separatists to be annulled, even while appeals against the amnesty law are heard by higher courts — a process that could take years.

But the courts must decide to apply the amnesty on a case-by-case basis, a laborious process that takes time.

“Political leaders and MPs are the masters of creating legislation but jurists are the masters of applying the law,” Alfons Lopez Tena, a jurist and former pro-independence lawmaker in Catalonia’s regional parliament, wrote in a recent article published in legal news website Confilegal.

If a judge “considers that the law, or one of its articles, violates European legislation, he can independently decide not to apply it, without the need for an appeal or a preliminary question”, he added.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who had opposed the law in the past, agreed to grant the amnesty in exchange for obtaining support from Catalan separatist parties in parliament.

That support was essential for him to win reappointment for another four-year term in office after an inconclusive general election in July 2023.

Political crisis

The most high-profile beneficiary of the amnesty is expected to be Puigdemont who fled Spain shortly after the independence bid and now divides his time between Belgium and France.

While Puigdemont was Catalan regional leader, his administration pressed ahead with a referendum on independence on October 1, 2017, despite a ban by the Spanish courts.

Several weeks later, the Catalan parliament made a symbolic declaration of independence, prompting the central government to impose direct rule on the region.

The events triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis since the advent of democracy following the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco.

Puigdemont had said he hoped to return to Spain soon but there is still a warrant for his arrest and a Spanish court is still investigating him for the alleged crimes of embezzlement and disobedience related to the secession bid.

He is also still under investigation for the alleged crime of terrorism over protests in 2019 against the jailing of several separatist leaders involved in the referendum that sometimes turned violent.

Judges have decided that arrest warrants will remain in force pending the resolution of any doubts about the legality of the amnesty law by higher courts.

‘Legal adventures’

There is also a lack of consensus over if the amnesty covers embezzlement — one of the main offences linked to the secession bid.

The issue is one of interpretation. The law allows the amnesty to be applied if the funds were used to finance the pro-independence process, but not if the money was taken for personal gain.

Spain’s chief prosecutor, Alvaro Garcia Ortiz, argues the amnesty applies to all crimes including embezzlement but the four prosecutors handling Puigdemont’s case disagree.

The prosecutor’s office decided on Tuesday with 19 votes in favour and 17 against to back Garcia Ortiz’s position.

But judges will have the last word as the amnesty law specifies that they will decide “its application to each specific case”.

Catalan separatists consider the delays in applying the amnesty unjustified and are growing impatient.

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boyle, has sent a letter to the Court of Auditors — the body charged with verifying public spending — to ask that it annul “without further delay or legal adventures” the process against Puigdemont regarding the money the regional Catalan government allegedly used in the secession bid.