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Monday, May 07, 2007

Catalans and Jews

Here's a joke that someone sent to me, and here's my quick translation:

A Jew says to his Catalan friend:

- I have a trick to eat free.

- Great, tell me how you do it.

- I go to the restaurant, pretty late, ask for a starter, main dish, cheeses, dessert and I take my time to drink a coffee, a coñac and [smoke] a good cigar and I wait until they close. Since I don’t move, when all the tables are turned up, all the seats are placed on the tables to sweep, the busboy comes to ask me if I can pay because they are leaving, I then answer him: “But I already paid your colleague who left earlier”. It’s that easy.

The Catalan then says to him:

- That’s terrific. Should we try it together tomorrow?

- Ok, the Jew answers.

The next night the two buddies go to the restaurant: starter, main dish, cheeses, dessert, etc. It’s closing time, the busboy asks them if he can charge them and the Jew says:

- I’m sorry, but we already paid your colleague who already left.

And the Catalan adds:

- We have been waiting for a while for the change.

Un judio le dice a su amigo catalán:

- Tengo un truco para comer gratis

- Super, cuéntame como haces.

- Voy al restaurante, bastante tarde, pido un entrante, plato principal, quesos, postre y me tomo todo mi tiempo para tomarme un café,un coñac y un buen puro y espero a que cierren. Como ni me muevo, cuando ya levantaron todas las mesas, dieron vuelta las sillas sobre las mesas para barrer, viene el mozo a preguntarme si le puedo ir pagando porque ya se van, entonces le respondo: "Pero si ya le pagué a su colega que se fue antes". Es así de simple.

El catalán entonces le dice:

- Qué genial, ¿probamos juntos mañana?

- Ok, le contesta el judío.

La noche siguiente los dos compadres van al restaurant: entrada, plato principal, quesos, postre, etc. Llega el momento de cerrar, se acerca el mozo, les pregunta si les puede cobrar y el judio le dice:

- Lo siento, pero ya le pagamos a tu colega que ya se fue.

Y el catalán agrega:

- Estamos desde hace rato esperando el cambio.


Catalans are often called the “Jews of Spain”. I’ve heard this from people outside of Catalanya as well as inside of Catalunya. Since being a Jew in Spain is, unlike the United States, somewhat exotic, it doesn’t seem that offensive to call anyone a Jew here, as if being a Jew had certain indelible characteristics.

But why are Catalans called the Jews of Spain? What does Jew mean to a Spaniard? I mean, what is the tacitly accepted definition of the Jew “type”?

To figure this out I first asked a Catalan friend why Catalans are called the Jews of Spain. She said it is probably because they are “thrifty”, they are “investors”, and “tight with money”. Stereotypically, of course. But as with any stereotype, that is projected. Because to a Spaniard, another Spaniard who is thrifty and tight-fisted is merely thrifty and tight-fisted, but as soon that person is Catalan, they become the typical Catalan.

So then I asked a Jewish friend. He said it was probably because they were “clannish and proud”, were “tight/crafty with money”, had “long noses”, and shared a sense of “victimhood”. Since the exception always seems to prove the rule when you look for it, I would say that this does fit certain Catalans that I know, as well as Jews. But, then again, I know people that have all these characteristics (except perhaps for the clannish characteristic) and they are not Catalan or Jewish. My friend also pointed out that many were probably conversos, or Jews who converted to escape persecution from the Spanish Inquisition. Conversos are also known as marranos, which comes from swine. I wonder if more conversos stayed in Catalunya than in other parts of Spain? Or if Catalans are called the Jews of Spain because they apparently adhere to the Jewish stereotypes of being tight-fisted and clannish?

Although many people have no clue where their ideas of Jews and Catalans come from, they bandy about the concepts of “Jew” and “Catalan” on a daily basis, and it ends up meaning what I wrote about above. A group apart, exclusive, shrewd.