“Catalonia, an autonomous region with dreams of complete independence”. –The word “dreams” has connotations that make it sound cynical and disrespectful, but anyway. Autonomous regions are mere administrative partitions that were established in 1978 after the death of Dictator Franco, similar to federal states. The history of Catalonia dates back to the 1st Century and until 1714, Catalonia had nothing to do with the Castilian kingdom (now Spain), that's 7 years after the Act of Union of the United Kingdom in 1707.
“Catalan is the official language of the city and region” – And not only that. Catalan is the language of ca. 10 million people in the world across 4 countries, including 4 autonomous regions in Spain (Catalonia, Valencia Region, Aragón and the Balearic Islands - yes, Majorca, Ibiza, etc!), the official language of Andorra (yes, a fully independent country) and also spoken in parts of southern France (formerly, Catalonia) and Italy. Catalan is a language derived from vulgar Latin just like Spanish, Italian, French or Portuguese, yes, at the same level. It is therefore not a dialect or a mix of Spanish and something else. There are records of written Catalan since the 9th Century.
“Castilian is taught as a foreign language!” – many would actually like this to be true, but it's not. Spanish is taught as the co-official language that it is. English is by default the first foreign language taught at school.
“all Catalans speak Spanish as well - albeit reluctantly in some cases on account of their regional pride.” – Yes, virtually all Catalans speak Spanish because both languages are official. Certain places are more exposed to the predominance of Catalan (mostly rural areas) and their spoken Spanish in these cases can be a little “funny” (say, strange accents, some language interference), but in a large international city like Barcelona, the use of Catalan say, in the street, is actually far behind Spanish. It’s difficult to get a taxi driver to understand Catalan, for example! As for “reluctantly”, maybe elder people in rural areas are (mostly because they find it difficult, but they try their best), but in general, no problem at all. We adapt to everyone and speak in Spanish, Catalan, English or German, like myself, just limited by our actual skills! Mixing languages in the same conversation or quickly reverting to Spanish/other when necessary is very common. It happens in other bilingual countries too, nothing unique.
“The Catalan culture on a basic level is quite similar to Spanish culture” – on the basic level, the English and the Scottish culture are the same, or Americans and Canadians are the same… no comment.
“Bull-fighting is frowned upon for example (indeed the Catalans reject the bull as their national animal, selecting the Catalan donkey instead)” – not only frowned upon, but against the law. For us, this foreign custom is as barbarian as it might be to any of you and thus, our Parliament (yes, not only do we have one, it’s also one of the oldest in the world, older than the English Parliament itself), passed a bill to ban it.
“the sardana is preferred to flamenco” – personally, I prefer Stereophonics, but since we’re talking about national symbols, it’s not so strange to “prefer” one’s own national symbols, don’t you think? Or do Americans prefer the maple leaf to the eagle? And who cares anyway? And in any case, flamenco is the folkloric dance/music of the romani (gypsy) ethnic groups settled in the south of Spain. To us here, it’s just as exotic as to any of you, whether we personally like it or not.