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Diplomatic gaffe

Undiplomatic language costs Spanish consul in Washington his job

Enrique Sardá Valls mocked accent of Andalusia’s regional premier, Susana Díaz, on Facebook

Madrid / Seville

When Spain’s consul in Washington decided to mock the distinctive accent of Spaniards from the southern region of Andalusia and their supposed mangling of the Spanish language on his Facebook page, he clearly had no idea of the hot water into which he was wading.

Enrique Sardá Valls at an event in 2009.
Enrique Sardá Valls at an event in 2009.

Enrique Sardá Valls has been sacked after a post referring to a recent incident when Susana Díaz, the head of the regional government of Andalusia, wore a similar dress to Queen Letizia at an event they both attended.

Sardá Valls wrote the message in what might be described as cod-Andalusian, pronouncing s as a th sound, as well as inverting r with l.

The comments show a lack of respect toward Andalusia that completely discredit their author

Deputy regional premier of Andalusia, Manuel Jiménez Barrios

Verano tórrido. Hay que ver qué ozadía y mar gusto de la Susi. Mira que ponerse iguá que Letizia. Como se ve ke no sabe na de protocolo ella tan der pueblo y de izquielda. Nos ha esho quedar fatá a los andaluse. Dimisión ya.”

The message translates something like: “Torrid summer. What about that Susi’s bad taste and manners. Look what she did, trying to be Letizia’s equal. It’s clear she knows nothing about protocol, what with her being one of the people and a left-winger. She’s left us Andalusians looking terrible. Resignation now.”

In the English-speaking world, this might be akin to a member of the Washington elite parodying a US politician from the deep south, or in Britain, a Whitehall mandarin mocking an MP from the West Country.

Sardá told EL PAÍS he thought the decision by the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry, the first sacking since Alfonso Dastis took over in November, was “disproportionate,” but accepted that it put his boss in a “difficult position.”

He claimed the post was a “joke” that should be seen in the context of the social networks and freedom of expression and that there was no malice intended, reports Joan Faus from Washington.

In a 2016 interview, Sardá, a Catalan, addressed the issue of independence in his homeland and the linguistic and territorial strains they have produced in Spain: “I have lived in Madrid, and to be constantly reminded that one has a Catalan accent is particularly irritating, and that is without going into the question of calls for boycotts [of Catalan products], petitions, rejection and anti-Catalan sentiments. These hurt the feelings of Catalans and we don’t understand it.”

Susana Díaz (above in a file photo) tweeted that she was “proud” to be Andalusian.
Susana Díaz (above in a file photo) tweeted that she was “proud” to be Andalusian. EL PAÍS

The deputy leader of the regional government of Andalusia, Manuel Jiménez Barrios, spoke with Foreign Minister Dastis by phone, asking for a “public rectification” from the consul. Dastis, who is from Jerez, in Andalusia, said he had no knowledge of the incident, and was “surprised,” but distanced himself from the comments, said Jiménez Barrios, adding that Sardá’s comments were not worthy of a public official.

“The comments descend into the worst clichés about this land and show a lack of respect toward Andalusia and its premier that completely discredit their author,” Jiménez Barrios told Spanish news agency EFE.

Susana Díaz tweeted that she was “proud to be Andalusian,” and of her “Andalusian accent”

Sardá is not the only high-profile Spaniard to reveal his prejudices toward Andalusia. In 2011, the then-head of the regional government of Catalonia, Artur Mas, apologized after saying: “In Seville, Malaga, or La Coruña, they speak Castilian, of course, but some of them cannot be understood.”

Two years earlier, Catalan deputy Montserrat Nebrera described the Andalusian accent of the then-public works minister Magdalena Álvarez as “a joke.”

In 2011, Ana Mato, a former government minister under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, claimed that children in Andalusia “are practically illiterate.” She apologized for what she admitted was an “unfortunate” comment, only to say three years later that children in Andalusia “sit on the floor in school.”

 English version by Nick Lyne.

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