Monday, April 04, 2011

Taking The Biscuit: The language of promotion

Fancy having a biccy when you're in Palma? Seems like an odd thing to have a website to tell you about. It would indeed be odd, which is why is of course nothing to do with biscuits. It is to do with bikes. Bikes you can use for free. Or can you? Can you in fact use them at all and how free are they?

The other day, in "The Guardian", there was this thing about what's new in the Balearics. "Life may be chilled in the Med's coolest islands, but it doesn't stand still." Hey, hip, daddy-o. Do people really talk like this? Presumably they do at Guardian house. So chilled are they, that they don't exactly pay a lot of attention.

One thing that isn't standing still and that is now cool is, the paper informed us, the fact that Mallorca has "gone all Boris" with a "free bike scheme". Just chill, and click onto Bicipalma. No HobNobs or Garibaldis, just a load of gibberish in Catalan; gibberish if you don't happen to speak Catalan. Many Guardian readers do of course.

Ah, but there is always a Spanish version, which is rather more intelligible, but still not exactly English. A Guardian readership may dream of hours riding around on a bike and being abused by car drivers and driven off the roads of Palma, but dreams are what they will remain. You see, the Palma biscuit ride isn't for tourists. The site says so. "It is not a public system for hiring bikes for tourist or recreational use." It says so, but in Spanish and in Catalan.

The chilled journos of The Guardian have rather overlooked this slight drawback, as they have also overlooked the fact that the site adds, but not in English of course, that "in order to use Bicipalma, you only have to have a citizen's card (and be over 16)". Yes, only have to have a citizen's card, for which read an identity card or a residency card, were one still available. I may be mistaken, but most British tourists would have neither; nor, indeed, would many a British resident of the Med's coolest islands.

So, life may not be standing still in the oh-so-cool islands. It may be clambering aboard two wheels, finding the roads of Palma mercifully free of buses because they're on strike, before being knocked over by a taxi, but life, for the cycling tourist, is well and truly stationary. Nice try, Guardian, better luck next time.

Oh, but there is also this free bit. Irrelevant the service being free or not may be to a tourist, its actual freeness is not all that it seems. There is a free period of use, but there is some confusion. Is this free period for 30 minutes or two hours? The site seems to suggest both, but to be fair I didn't tarry long in trying to fathom it out. I shall not be availing myself of the service anyway. You have to be insane to want to drive a car in Palma, but as for riding a bike ...

The absence of a language other than Catalan or Spanish on Bicipalma does rather give the game away. Or you would think that it does. That there may be no English doesn't automatically mean that the tourist is being ignored. What it usually means is that no one can be bothered. As is the case with pretty much any fair or fiesta you may care to mention.

Someone remarked to me recently that the poster for the upcoming extravaganza in Alcúdia that is the annual rubber-ring gastronomy fair is only in Catalan. What on earth does he expect? Of course it's only in Catalan. It's always only in Catalan. And even were it in English, it would still insist on referring to "sepia", which wouldn't mean anything to an English reader. Even if it were translated as cuttlefish, it wouldn't exactly have hordes of Brits rushing to the nearest restaurant, unless possibly they were Guardian readers of the cuttlefish-eating classes of middle Islington.

"Oh wow, amazing. Gideon, there's a cuttlefish gastronomy fair in Mallorca. How chilled and cool is that. We simply must go."

"Oh, yuh, amazing. Can you hire a bike as well?"

"I'm not sure, but there's something here about biscuits. They're free apparently."


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