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For the Greeks Spain could be a gateway to Latin America

17 February 2014 / 11:02:15  GRReporter
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Fátima Taboada López


Translator, writer, cultural mediator... That is Víctor Andresco, director of the Instituto Cervantes in Athens since November 2012 and GRReporter and Fátima Taboada López had the chance of talking with him. Born in Madrid in 1966, he studied Slavic Philology and worked as a literary critic for the Spanish newspapers “ABC” and “El País”. After a year in Athens, he is very happy to be here and he recognizes that it will be hard for him to leave the city when he has to.

Is there a big demand for the Spanish language in Athens?

Yes, actually in Greece there is a big demand for foreign languages and traditionally the Greeks love the Spanish language. We do not have as many students as before but I think every academy and cultural centre faces the same problem because the situation now is not that good. We have 1,000 students who attend our courses every year and more than 4,000 students who pass the test to obtain the DELE (Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language). In Greece, it is very important and common to have language certifications. In Athens, 4 or 5 years ago, there were 6,000 students taking the exam annually.

What kind of initiatives have you undertaken to improve the Instituto Cervantes of Athens?

We want to give a balanced view of the Spanish language. We promote the language but also the culture and we have the support and help of the Latin American embassies, especially of Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile. That makes us give an overview of the Spanish standard language because sometimes people forget that Spanish is not the language that we speak in Spain alone, but there are more than 500 million speakers in more than 20 countries. People think that we are a disaster in politics but great in sports, and there are some things missing such as our language and our culture, which are very attractive. This is difficult because there are a lot of cultural centres in Europe that also compete to promote their languages. We need to show the Greeks that Spain is the gateway to Latin America, which is a very important emerging economy.

What kind of events or activities does the centre organize?

We hold something called "dramatic readings" of Spanish stage plays in Greek so that people come and get an idea of what is happening in the Spanish contemporary theatre. In the upcoming months, we will have 6 readings of authors such as Juan Mayorga or Sergi Belbel. We also have Spanish à la carte cinema where people choose, via Facebook, what they would like to watch and we show it. We also collaborate with the Greek film library and Latin American embassies and make film series with them. We organize commemorative acts too; we will perform one with the help of the Argentinean embassy coinciding with the anniversary of the birth of Julio Cortázar. There will be an important festival in June, which is the LEA (Latin American Literature in Athens), and we participate in it every year. We are also interested in alternative forms of financing such as crowdfunding, so we help young directors by showing their films at our centre. We try to do dynamic things, because if you just organize conferences with important authors, people get bored. On 6 March we will host a tribute to Emilio Pacheco, who is much loved here in Greece. I would also like to mention our library, where we organize different activities. We also try to promote authors who are well known in Spain but not here because they have not been translated yet.

What kind of similarities and differences do you see between Spain and Greece?

What I find most striking is that when you go down the street, it seems that they are speaking in Spanish because they have similar sounds and pronunciation and you feel at home. People love to be out in the streets, enjoying the sun and good weather just like the Spanish people, I think we are both very Mediterranean. The Greeks are very hedonistic, they like enjoying life and taking it easy, they love culture and I think we like to artistically waste time.

I was going to say that belatedness is a difference, but actually, that is a similarity with Spain. I would say the traffic is very chaotic sometimes, people do not use a helmet while driving a motorcycle and they smoke in all bars. They have difficulties in accepting European laws, because the laws are the same as in Spain but few people respect them. Sometimes there are accidents but the funny thing is that they start yelling at each other in a very aggressive way but in the end, nothing happens. In Spain, to the contrary, this might sometimes end in a tragedy.

Do you think that it is easy for a foreigner to get used to the city and the Greek habits?

I love Athens but I must admit that it is very difficult to adapt to life here if you do not know the language. Even though many people speak English and even if they do not, they always try to help you. Actually it happens everywhere if you go out of your country. On the other hand, it is impossible to find wall sockets in the bathrooms, so you cannot use any electrical device there and that is very strange to me. But I do not think that here it is more difficult to get used to the habits than in other countries. In fact, here I have adapted better than in Milan for example. Greece is more familiar to us than northern Italy. I love it when you ask someone where a street is and sometimes they take you to that street. Therefore, I can say from my experiences that it is easy to get used to Athens. Besides, I think Greeks are like Spaniards and that is why they treat us so well.

You were the director of the Instituto Cervantes in Milan and Moscow. Could you compare your experience in these cities with that in Athens?

For me it is hard to say, you do not realize how much you love a city until you leave it. I keep the good moments I had in Moscow and Milan and I regret the things I could not do there. For example, I did not travel around Italy as much as I wanted, but I think it will be hard for me when I have to leave Athens because I really like it. The fact is that I feel really happy here and I do not know if I was that happy when I was in Milan or Moscow. The work we do at the Instituto Cervantes is very good and interesting everywhere you go, but sometimes the conditions of the city are not the best. Moscow is such a big and noisy city and Milan is very quiet, I think Athens is somewhere in the middle and I feel very well treated by the Greeks.

Do you think that teaching Spanish is becoming a way for the Spanish people to emigrate from Spain?

Yes, of course. And you will see that soon Brazil, because of its political decision of making Spanish an official language alongside Portuguese, will generate a demand for a large number of Spanish teachers. Now there a lot of employers require certificates to appoint someone as a teacher of Spanish whereas previously the mere fact of being Spanish and knowing Spanish was enough to teach. For example, a lot of people went to China for various reasons and they have established themselves there as Spanish teachers.


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