Like a Local

So, Shakira’s “Loca” music video has convinced you to study abroad in Barcelona – excellent!  Now, here you are excited about getting to dive right into Catalan culture, improve your Castilian, and finally figure out what the heck tapas really are.  Well, there is no better way to accomplish all of these feats – and then some – than to simply allow yourself to assimilate right into the city and become a Barcelonan yourself.  “But Martin, how do I become a Barcelonan if I’m from the U.S. of A. and still not really sure when to use por vs. para?”  Do not fret, fellow study abroader!  The following are my tips on how to look and feel like a local and not like an alien, or worse, a stereotypical American:

Dress for success:  Barcelona is a very fashionable city and Barcelonans dress nicely all day, every day.  Nothing will stand out more in a sea of in-season pea and trench coats than your extremely comfortable university sweatshirt.  I recommend you bring only what you really need/love to wear and then set aside some money in your budget to buy some new, European clothing.  Trust me, you really do not need your entire wardrobe and, more importantly, you really will not want to be lugging it all up and down Spanish airports in the form of 6 suitcases (I speak as a personal witness to this).  And, if you’re lucky enough to be here in January and February, you might have to attend shopaholic meetings because you’ll be here during Spain’s Rebajas season where all clothing is anywhere from 10-70% off!  Your closet is looking pretty unattractive right about now isn’t it?

Learn to eat properly:  By this I don’t mean to be sure to get your USDA recommended servings of all food groups (although I certainly do recommend it!),  but what I mean is to learn to eat the way that Spaniards do.  That is, learn what to eat, when to eat, where to eat, and how much to eat.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are very different here (I recommend reading my last post for further details on this particular subject).  For example, being from the U.S., it is not unusual for me to not eat very much during the day and then have a large dinner in order to compensate.  Well, one evening, when I tried ordering more food on top of the food I had already ordered, the server looked at me and asked in Castilian, “Isn’t that already a lot of food…?”  Yeah.

Para aquí > para llevar:  So you’re running late to class, but you really need that Starbucks coffee because you went to Razzmatazz last night and you were out really late and you don’t want to fall asleep in class because last week a girl was kicked out for dozing off.  Well, first of all, I suggest you manage your time better, but secondly, I recommend you get out of the habit of ordering things “to-go,” or as it’s said here, para llevar.  In Spain, punctuality may not be anyone’s strong suit, but Spaniards actually set aside time to eat and enjoy the experience.  I am a devoted Starbucks enthusiast, but riding the Metro while drinking a white mocha and eating a delicious xocolata ambs galetes just screams tourist.  Learn to make your dining experiences times to socialize and relax with some friends.  Plus, sitting in a café at a major plaça provides some great opportunities for very interesting people-watching and for practicing your Castilian (and Catalan!).

Speak Spanish:  Shocking, I know.  But I’m being serious.  If you’ve come to Barcelona with no intention of speaking Castilian, then honestly, you should be studying abroad in a different city.  The first barrier you’ll need to get through in order to really feel like you belong here is the language barrier.  Barcelonans are incredibly friendly and appreciate a sincere effort to speak and learn their language.  There is really no need to feel embarrassed or scared about trying to speak Castilian with locals.  Embrace the Spanish with open arms and an open mind and they will return the favor.  Besides, more than a misconjugated verb, what will give your citizenship away quickest is speaking English.  And yes, even though Barcelona is very cosmopolitan and is filled by people from all over the world, people will still stare at the loud, English-speaking American study abroad students riding the Metro to and from classes.

As a side note, let me clarify why I keep referring to Spanish as Castilian and not simply Spanish.  Castilian is Spanish, yes, but, fun fact: so is Catalan, Basque, Galician, and Occitan.  They are all Spanish and recognized languages of Spain!  The language that we’ve come to so fondly call Spanish though, is more accurately called Castilian.

¡Barça!:  You can’t get more Barcelonan than going to a bar and cheering on Barcelona’s soccer team, FC Barcelona, with a bunch of locals.  Barcelonans LOVE Barça and after watching a game (in-person if you’re awesome and lucky), you will, too!  Not to mention you’ll learn all kinds of fun Spanish words from locals themselves!  ;)

The above tips were provided for the purpose of helping you find a way to become a part of the city, as opposed to just being in it.  No need to feel like a fish out of U.S. waters!  On a more serious note though, blending in is beneficial not only for cultural immersion, but for personal safety.  The better you blend in, the less likely you’re to be targeted by pickpockets and other shady people who prey on tourists who are unfamiliar with their new surroundings.  With that in mind, be sure to rewatch Shakira’s “Loca” and re-enact the whole video.  That’s my plan, anyway!

Martin Drafton
Barcelona, Spain
Spring 2012

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