November 18, 2007

Dia Tarde, Bolivar Corto

WE HAVE LEARNED from The Associated Press that Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, has demanded an apology from His Majesty, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, following His Majesty’s very public rebuke of Col Chavez at last week’s Ibero-American summit in Chile.

For those who don’t immediately recall the diplomatic donnybrook, Col Chavez was in the midst of delivering one of his rhetoric-fueled harangues when the rather annoyed king intervened. Col Chavez had declared the former prime minister of Spain, Mr Jose Maria Aznar, a fascist, a move which understandably prompted protest from Spain’s current premier, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. As Col Chavez held his ground and insisted upon the rightness of his position, His Majesty entered into the fray, asking Col Chavez, “Why don’t you shut up?” and emphasizing his point with a finger directed at the colonel.

This was an especially damning comment because of the way His Majesty delivered his rebuke, which the American press missed but other journalists did not. The king’s exact words were, “Por que no te callas?” – “Why don’t you shut up?” However, in doing so, it is worth noting he addressed a fellow head of state with the tuform, which added a whole ‘nother dimension to his remark. Now, I suppose if one is the King of Spain, one can tutear anyone one wishes. Still, it was an added little dig -- and perhaps the best way to thus translate His Majesty’s remark is, “Son, why don’t you shut up?”

For in Spanish – just as in French and many other tongues descended from Latin – there are different ways to say the same thing.* The usted form is formal whilst the tu form is informal. Thus, one would use the formal term when talking with one’s supervisor at work, while using the informal term when talking to the six-year-old child of one’s supervisor at a company picnic. It’s similar to how in English, one calls one’s boss at work “sir” or “Mister” until he is given permission otherwise.

Of course, in the United States, it’s understandable how such a distinction would get lost in translation. Such formalities have long gone by the wayside, to the point where with many people, they get annoyed with being called “sir” or “Mister.” Why this is, I don’t know, although I suspect it has to do with the fact it serves as an unpleasant reminder of the recipient’s own age. I mean, it certainly depresses me when I hear it from someone, even though it automatically earns bunches of style points in my book.

His Majesty’s rebuke of Col Chavez, as Loyal Rant Readers also might expect, earned bunches of style points in my book. Col Chavez’s continued involvement in politics became tiresome long ago. It is one thing if he continues to wreck his own country but another thing entirely if he goes about spouting his backward ideas within earshot of rational leaders elsewhere. This goes especially when one considers Col Chavez called a democratically elected leader of Spain a fascist, which is particularly rich given that up until the Seventies, Spain was sadly rather familiar with that ilk.

This makes Col Chavez’s demand now for an apology from His Majesty a bit much. He has apparently claimed he never heard nor saw the king deliver his rebuke. However, since the incident was captured on camera, and the king made a point of jumping in during Mr Zapatero’s more measured response to the colonel, and the king was all of twenty feet away, this seems difficult to believe. On the other hand, it may be possible the colonel did not hear the king’s remark. After all, Col Chavez did not launch into an hour-long harangue condemning Spain for everything under the sun, which one would have expected from this third-rate disciple of the Maximum Leader. But on the whole I would think that Col Chavez’s demand for an apology is a day late and a dollar short. Or, if you like, 2,147 bolivars short.

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* Also, do remember: ditez vous quand vous parlez une dame.

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Posted by Benjamin Kepple at November 18, 2007 12:10 AM | TrackBack
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