Ha! I hear all you SpainStruckers say, we already know the word dieta, Mo, so you can save yourself the trouble and write about something else.
Ho! is my reply to that. Dieta obviously means “diet” in Spanish, so don´t expect me to warble on about something that simple (though I can´t even lose the kilo or six I´d like to).
No. I´m interested in another meaning of this word in the plural - las dietas, the daily expenses, mainly for food, that people in good jobs get when they´re on business trips. In Latin America, the term used is los viáticos, and the relevance of this will soon become apparent.
I heard a story about this dietas question today which not only has left me discombobulated but even more disdainful of the institutional disintegration afflicting this country today.
Turns out I know a guy who works for a big, Spanish cultural organisation (though perhaps “disorganisation” would be a more appropriate word).
It also turns out that this guy was invited by the Spanish Embassy in a large, South American country to give a forty-five minute plenary address to the country´s national Academia de la Lengua.
Wow! CV opportunity.
The guy, whose salary has been cut by ten percent in the last few years and whose last Christmas pay was withheld by the government, and who is about to lose – illegally – some €700 from his remaining, meagre stipend, asked his boss if he should go.
No. The institution would not finance such a trip.
Consequently, the Academia de la Lengua, also acting for a university in the capital city with a name that rhymes with alharacas (big song and dance about something) stated it would finance the flight and hotel for a four-night stay.
“Am I getting to go now [ya shitbag bastard ye]“? enquired this guy of his boss.
“Do whatever you think is best for the institution”.
So it was all arranged. The guy offered to throw in a three-hour course along with the plenary since he was going so far and it was costing the Embassy so much. Everybody was delighted.
But, turns out that today our guy was informed by his boss´s secretary (his boss hasn´t spoken to him personally in over a year and has removed his contact details from the organisation´s publicity) that, fine, but would he sign this bit of paper in which he accepts that the showcase, cultural organisation, presided over by an old gentleman with a liking for Botswanan elephants, won´t be paying his dietas - and furthermore, while he´s in South America, he won´t be getting the lunch vales he does when working in Madrid.
He refused to sign it. And he´s not going to write back to the Embassy in South America and ask if they´ll feed him while he´s there or if he´ll have to run down the street and buy a couple of arepas with his own plata.
So, that original meaning of dieta again. Guy´s getting thin.
And furthermore, there´s a bit of a quibble about travel and medical insurance…….
Turns out this South American country´s just lost one dictator, is engaged in a dodgy election procedure/power struggle, has the highest murder rate in the world and the guy´s not sure if they´re paying for his insurance!
The other meaning of viático is the sustenance of Holy Communion administered to a person in mortal danger.
So this guy says he´s not going like that.
And this girl is glad.
She could have made a real song and dance about this, but she didn´t.