Madrid mayor Ana Botella's language skills were put under scrutiny after offering the Olympic committee a "relaxing cup of cafe con leche"
Ana Botella Mayor of Madrid:"...there is nothing quite like a relaxing cup of café con leche in Plaza Mayor. Or a romantic dinner in el Madrid de los Austrias, the oldest part of Madrid..." Francisco Franco on a newsreel: "Cantri, riliyin, femili... Disis aguar ein an drin... ¡Viva España!" José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to Chirac and Schröder: "In the last time of the government, every day bonsais." Sergio Ramos for Real Madrid: "Merry Christmas (pronounced ‘mori crisma’) and a happy new year." Mariano Rajoy to David Cameron: "It’s very difficult todo esto." Alejandro Blanco bidding for the Olympics: "No listen the ask... Which is the question?"
In the wake of Spain’s failed bid to host the 2020 Olympics, much was made in the Spanish media of the language used by the country’s representatives in their speeches in support of the bid. Specifically, much was written about the Madrid mayor’s lack of language skills and her now renowned panegyric to the attractions of “a relaxing cup of café con leche in Plaza Mayor”, and to the president of the Spanish Olympic Committee’s request to a reporter to repeat a question he hadn’t heard with the words “No listen the ask... Which is the question?”
Ana Botella and Alejandro Blanco starred in many of the articles and programmes about the poor English spoken by Spain’s leaders, but the jokes didn’t stop there. The Spanish daily SUR published a double page feature under the heading ‘inglis pitinglis’ - a phonetic transcription dating back to the first days of tourism in Spain when visitors would say:“I am English. Do you speak English?” Other examples were cited, including Real Madrid’s Christmas message last year which featured Sergio Ramos wishing everyone a “mori crisma”, and prime minister Mariano Rajoy talking to his British counterpart David Cameron at a Brussels meeting and commenting “It’s very difficult todo esto” (All this is very difficult).
Another prime minister whose English left a lot to be desired, according to the SUR article, was José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who was commenting on his predecessor’s hobby to Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder and came up with “In the last time of the government, every day bonsais”. Franco in his day also had a go at making a speech in English, thanking Spain’s friends in a newsreel and ending with the words “Cantri, riliyin, femili... Desis aguar ein an drin....¡Viva España!” (which was apparently a translation of “patria, religión, familia... Este es nuestro objetivo y nuestro sueño...¡Viva España!” or in English “Country, religion, family.... This is our aim and dream... ¡Viva España!”).
SUR columnists also found plenty to comment on and our colleague Teodoro León Gross devised a list of English vocabulary and expressions which he said Spanish politicians would do well to learn. His list, with commentary, is as follows:
“Honesty.- Izquierda Unida salved its conscience by refusing to vote for Carmen Martínez Aguayo to be a Senator for Andalucía because of the ERE scandal. Conscience salved, the party was able to vote for José Antonio Griñán, at the centre of the ERE throng, to be a Senator.
“Seriousness.- The Diputación [provincial government] has re-organised its already reorganised appointments. The fourth deputy president, formerly the first deputy president, gets back the responsibilities of first deputy president; the Culture head moves to Environment and vice versa because they have just discovered two years later that she is an expert in the field. Etc.
“Transparency.- Handing Bárcenas’ computers over to the investigating judge with the hard drive missing or reformatted.
“New Times.-Susana Díaz imposes a code of omerta on the ERE case.
“To be polite.- The mayor of Malaga is told to be quiet by the princess of Asturias for chatting during the Olympic bid speech made by His Royal Highness.
“Bad luck.- Bárcenas’ diaries have also been destroyed.
“Pluralism.-Maverick socialist councillor Hernández Pezzi, driven into a corner by his party, ends up in the limbo of the unaffiliated.
“In some way or other.- Strict compliance with the electoral programme, reaching levels of up to 5%.
“Miracle.- Regaining faith in the party when the top appointments are being shared out.
“Mobbing.- See Pluralism.
“To be about to do something.-Fifty years to build an integrated sewage system.
“On the way home.-Nobody hs resigned a week after the Olympic failure of the Spanish delegation of 300 - the same as the number of spartans who held Thermopylae.
“To be grateful.- See ‘miracle’. Special mention for the Diputación, a charity organisation for the unemployed card-holding party members.
“To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.- Press conference by Floriano or Soraya Rodríguez. [After a scrap in parliament over the exact legal meaning of the words “colaborador necesario”].
“Efficiency.- Session in Congress suspended for two hours because of a leaky ceiling.”
He concluded with the observation that clearly, the problems besetting Spanish politicians are all a question of pronunciation, and that once they learn the list, the problems will become a thing of the past - “cosa del pasado”.
Whether it is a language problem or something which goes deeper, it seems unlikely that it will go away soon. And meanwhile, the Spanish politicians’ language skills story will run and run, or, as they say in Spain, “Seguirá dando que hablar” - so perhaps we should say the story will continue giving to talk....