Monday, October 25, 2010


Just days into the job and Trinidad Jiménez, Spain’s new foreign minister, is coming under flack in the Spanish press because she apparently doesn’t speak English.

I find this very amusing as nobody questions whether a British Foreign Secretary speaks French, Spanish, German or any other tongue. Whether David Miliband did or William Hague does has never been an issue – being British means you presume people on the international stage speak your language.

French used to be the language of diplomacy and by all accounts Miguel Ángel Moratinos spoke it well and could get by in English. Indeed it was said that Zapatero left much of the international liaison to his foreign minister because he is not gifted in the language department.

Poor Trinidad - there have even been those in Spain who have questioned whether she could speak Castilian having tagged her as pure Andaluz in accent and phraseology.

What is sure is that when she sits down with the chief minister of Gibraltar she will have no problem communicating as he of course like all Gibraltarians speaks Spanish. I have even heard it whispered he too has an Andaluz accent. William Hague can always rely on Caruana to translate for him when the three meet – which opens up the possibilities of all kinds of mischief if the chief minister was to twist what Trini was saying – and visa versa. As if!

It has been suggested by one publication that Trinidad Jiménez is an example of Peter’s Law – that a person is promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. It goes on to say that many of those in Zapatero’s government weren’t sufficiently qualified for the job.

I am curious that the Spanish media believes it foreign ministers and indeed premiers should be able to speak English, especially given that Spanish has long overtaken French as the second international language after English excluding Chinese.

However Zapatero was ridiculed for having gone to the Davos Conference in January where he had to have a translator at his elbow to translate what was said in English – the international language of all the politicians and business leaders gathered there. Indeed not only was Zapatero ridiculed it was said Spain had been humiliated.

It is obvious that the media have been digging in to Trini’s past as El Confidencial Digital has unearthed the fact that she twice suspended taking the exam to be admitted to the diplomatic school in 1986 and 1988. Well whether that is fact or fiction has yet to be established – but the minister’s press team have so far remained silent on the matter.

Previous blog on Jiménez and her Andaluz accent:

PS: the government reshuffle also saw the exit from the ministerial ranks of Bibiana Aído. I wrote about her in February when she allocated over 26,000 euros to a project designed to explore the delights of a woman’s clitoris. I was tempted to say that now she is no longer a minister she will have time to put her own finger on it. Prospero, who is older and wiser than me said I shouldn’t, so I won’t!


sIMON said...

Hi David

"I find this very amusing as nobody questions whether a British Foreign Secretary speaks French, Spanish, German or any other tongue."

This is the telling part of your piece IMHO. Which of any of 10 or so languages would it be useful for a British Foreign Secretary to speak? The answer is of course none - unless he happened to be in a country which speaks the language he chose to learn. It's easy for foreigners to decide which language to learn - it's English. Would that it was such an easy decision for us to make! Perhaps more Brits would learn a foreign language if it was obvious which would be of use!

Prospero said...

Learning a language, Dear Simon, is not only about it being useful; I mean to those of us who are unlikely ever to be Foreign Ministers...
But it's a good point: English is the 'universal language' though it defeats me how those of us in the so-called English-speaking world understand each other. Do you really understand the English of the Florida Panhandle, for instance? Or as it's spoken in Glasgow? Would the Foreign Ministers of either of these pockets of confusion understand each other?
My eternal objection is about those people who, having chosen to live in a particular country, can simply not be bothered to learn the language of their country of choice. I find it rude to the point of insulting, not because the language is not learned, but because the effort is not made. And this is not just about expats in Spain either.
A little anecdote: I was standing in a check-out queue in Miami a long time ago. The cashier was a beautiful blue-eyed blonde with the all-American teeth and smile. In front of me in the queue was a middle-aged Cuban couple speaking in Spanish. When their turn came, the blonde said in the nicest possible way. "I'm so sorry, but I don't speak Spanish. Maybe you'd like to wait and I'll call someone over who does..." The man turned to his woman companion and said, in loud indignant Spanish, "It's about time she learned!" I couldn't hold my tongue (a frequent defect) so I rounded on him and said, in Spanish, "No, sir, you're wrong! You're a guest, maybe even a refugee, in this country and it's you who should learn English, or at least make an attempt!" His reply was to dump his basket all over the floor and leave, for which I apologised to the blonde (I'd have licked her feet given the chance, except my then wife, a Cuban, was in the queue behind me) and her manager, neither of whom said a word but could not hide their smiles.
You see, to me learning a language is to widen my horizons, to open doors to people, to their culture. I venture that the more we know about others, the less chance there is of us bombing them. Or throwing their purchases over supermarket floors.
As for the clitoris, Dear Sancho, I think you've said enough on the subject. In any case, your poster-politican Bibiana, who, as you know comes from nearby Cortes (or is it Arcos) de la Frontera, is now a Secretary of State, so she'll hardly find much more time any more easily. Her partner, however, a self taught expert on local-ish prehistoric paintings, is another matter. Would that I were older and wiser not to feel a hint of jealousy on the subject...