1 Week / 5 Spanish Surprises

I’ve decided to dedicate my first post to the dismissing, confirming, and highlighting of various assumptions that some of you might have about the wonderful city that is Barcelona, Cataluña, España.  The following are the various things that I learned within the first week or so of living here:

Catalan:  Yes, Spanish is the official language of Spain.  However, Spain is also comprised of many very unique and very proud autonomous communities, one of which is Cataluña (or Catalunya in Catalan) where Barcelona is located.  To put it simply, Catalan is everywhere.  For example, my favorite Starbucks Coffee shop here (let’s face it, no U.S. college student could live without it) has a menu that is written entirely in Catalan.  Do not fret though, for there is almost always a Spanish translation for every Catalan sign, advertisement, and restaurant menu.  Also, every native Barcelonan is fluent in both languages (and then some).

El sol:  Coming from Arizona, I was extremely surprised when I looked up one day around midday and could not find the sun.  I’m not well-versed enough in astronomy and the works of Galileo, so I cannot tell you why, but in Barcelona the sun will rise to a spot about 60 degrees in the sky, stay in that same spot for about 10 hours or so, and then go back down.  I mention this because combined with all the tall buildings and traveling by Metro, I can go days here without once seeing the sun.  It isn’t a bad thing, because the city itself is beautiful (and the Metro is a fantastic form of public transit), but it’s definitely a change for those who have not lived in a big city and especially for those who are from the Valley of the Sun.

Fumar:  It’s true what they say, everyone in Europe smokes.  Well, at least in Barcelona anyway.  Now, I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but I would say that roughly 98% of Spaniards smoke.  It seems that in Barcelona, smoking is a social or cultural norm of some sort.  I mention this for those of you (like myself) who may have asthma or be sensitive to secondhand smoke, because you are bound to get a giant gust of it in your face on a daily basis.  On a positive note, there is some recent legislation that has banned the activity inside public buildings, so you can enjoy your meal with a breath of fresh air.

Comida:  If you’re a vegetarian or watching your carbs, then I’m sorry, because Barcelona may not be the best place for your diet.  Here the Spaniards love their red meat (particularly ham), cheese, white bread, and olive oil (sadly, I have yet to even see butter).  Almost every meal you order will come with all four.  Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city, though, and offers many interesting and delicious food options.  It’s mostly just about experimenting with your taste buds and remembering which stop on the Metro you got off on when you found that quaint cafe that served the most delicious pasta and herbal bread spread.  Honestly, some of the best places I’ve been to were found by just wandering around the city.  If you take the time to explore, you will find all sorts of gastronomic gems.  Also, if you love caffeine and dessert as much as I do, then you are in luck because the coffee, chocolate, and ice cream here will take you to taste bud heaven.  As a side note, I highly recommend you buy some sort of city guide book, because they have great advice for avoiding tourist traps and finding really good places for authentic cuisine.  And finally, be prepared to adjust not just your eating schedule, but your whole day.

“Spanish Time”:  Take a normal American day and rotate it clockwise about 45 degrees and you’ll have yourself a typical Spanish day.  In Spain, breakfast usually consists of café con leche and a pastry around 9am.  Lunch, the biggest meal of the day, is around 2pm and is a time for socializing.  Dinner is eaten around 10pm and is a much lighter meal usually consisting of tapas at a local bar, which I would compare to starters or side dishes at a typical U.S. restaurant, and socializing for a few hours before going out.  Along with this different eating schedule, Spaniards like to siesta during the the afternoon, which usually just means resting and eating between work or school.  And why do the Spaniards need to rest?  Because they know how to party like no other.  The party scene is insane, but in a good, world-renowned kind of way (seriously, DJs from around the world come to Barcelona discotecas all the time).  Spaniards usually head out between 1am and 2am and then hop from one of Barcelona’s many clubs to another and dance the night away until 5 or 6 in the morning.  I’m convinced that the only way that Barcelonans are able to lead the life they live is because they do not sleep.  It must be all the carbs and caffeine.

To sum up what I learned in my first week here, Barcelona is entirely a world of its own filled with all sorts of excitement, adventure, and life experiences just waiting to happen.  And if you plan on visiting here, then leave all expectations behind, because they will all be surpassed anyway.  You would have to make a serious effort to be bored in this city, because there is just SO MUCH to do and to see and to experience.  It’s cliché to say, but there is honestly something here for everyone.  And with so many things to do, who has time for sleep anyway?

Martin Drafton
Barcelona, Spain
Spring 2012

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