Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Here's a little bit of linguistic weirdness. If you are from the United States, in Spain, you are a norteamericano or an estadounidense, if they're being polite, or it you are. If they're not, they'll call you either a yanqui or a gringo. Yanqui is not particularly friendly, and gringo is distinctly hostile. I tend to excuse myself when in the presence of folks who repeatedly use those terms, though I do the same when anybody repeatedly uses ethnic or racial slurs in general.

The word americano means, in Spain, according to the dictionary, someone from América, the whole Western Hemisphere or New World, as we'd call it, which they see as being just one continent. Now, in English and French and German, it doesn't mean that, it means someone from the United States. Some Spaniards profess to consider that the use of American or américain or Amerikanisch or whatever to mean American in these tongues is offensive and a sign of typical gringo arrogance. My usual response is, "Hey, we declared independence first, so we had first dibs on the name. The other languages went along with us. If the Latin Americans had wanted the name, they should have grabbed it before we did. They were about forty years too late." If my interlocutor fails to laugh and instead gets mad, then I excuse myself.

I once heard an American Communist of my acquaintance over here say that we should all call ourselves "USAmericans". I also once heard her call Gulf War I "an imperialist massacre, not a war", and I once heard her say that racism in the United States was worse than the Nazi Nuremberg Laws. I now avoid her. It's good for my blood pressure.

The funny part is that it's Spanish dubbing of American movies where you hear the term americano--when speaking Spanish, most of us yanquis use one of the two terms they prefer, since it is their country, after all. I use norteamericano because my tongue always trips over estadounidense. Spanish takes more syllables than English to say something, in the first place, so they have to shorten what the movie characters are saying in English anyway. Then, obviously, in the original American version of a movie, the word the actors say is "American", four syllables. Americano is the closest equivalent, at five syllables, so it's always used in Spanish versions of American movies. Estadounidense and norteamericano both contain seven syllables, which would mean that the character's voice would continue to sound for two syllables more while his lips had already stopped. Can't have that in dubbing, so they just use americano. This is considered by anti-yanqui Spaniards to be an impermissible sign of yanqui imperialism. I avoid these people.

By the way, this is why American movies are considered stupid over here. First, they don't get all the American cultural references, so they miss at least half the jokes. (Well, first, a lot of American movies really are out-and-out stupid, but Hollywood turns out twenty or so fairly decent flicks a year, and then there are some pretty good indie jobs, and then there are British flicks, too, which often have some American input. Spain is lucky to produce three watchable films a year.) Second, the dialogue is just different when it's dubbed. It's not anywhere near as interesting, as complete, as detailed as the original, and their having to synch the dubbing with the actors' on-screen mouths doesn't help. Third, some second-rate local actors replace the expressive voices of the original actors. So let's see, we, the Spanish movie distributors, take a regular movie and make the script worse and the actors worse and then we release it. No wonder ordinary Spanish people who see these denatured dubbed movies think they're dumb.

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