Sometimes it hits me unexpectedly. I could be riding the metro in the morning on my way to school, maybe making my way through some obscure streets in Born after an evening out with a group of friends, or even just while going for a walk with Blanca – I’m living in Barcelona. Yeah, sounds simple enough right? I mean, afterall, that’s one of the original things that appealed to me when I decided to study at ESADE. Either way, it is funny how once you’re here, you don’t really walk around saying “Hey, I’m living in Barcelona,” although, I admit to having done so during these particular instances when it sneaks up on me and I realize just how lucky I am.
So, just what is it like, living in a big, metropolitan city off the coast of the Mediterranean? Well, after coming from somewhere like Fresno, in Central California, I would have to say the differences are pretty significant. So, the point of this post is really to describe, from my personal experiences and perspective, just what it is like to live in Barcelona.
I’ve only been here for six months so far, but that is already longer than I spent in Sweden while on exchange there. What have been some of the biggest differences for me so far? I would have to say the language, the living conditions, and the people – this about sums it up. Now, let me explain in a little more detail what I mean.
The language (or should I say, languages)
I knew coming in that Spain is separated into regions, and Barcelona happens to be part of Catalonia. As such, the folks who live in this region are called Catalan. These people are quite proud of their language…also called Catalan. In addition to this, there is of course, Castilian Spanish – the reason I wanted to study in Spain. Well, Catalan is extremely widely used around town, and often even if you speak to people in Spanish, they will respond to you in Catalan…just because. I would describe Catalan as a mix between French, Spanish, and English, leaving it sounding a little like deranged Portuguese being spoken by a German derelict…if you can imagine that. In short, it is not a very sexy language, in my humble opinion (nor is English, by the way), but it is all over around here, so it’s something I have to live with. My focus, however, remains on learning Spanish, so I am making efforts to speak when I can and hopefully soon will more quickly be able to tell the difference when someone is speaking in Spanish or Catalan!
Life and Living Conditions
Fresno is a big, flat, grid. It is dry, and very hot in the summer, and pretty cold in the winter. Most people live in homes or moderately sized apartment buildings. The only tourists who ever come to Fresno are simply passing through on their way to Yosemite, and the population is approaching half a million. Barcelona is not so big, not entirely flat, and has streets that weave around and turn to narrow alleys very quickly. It is humid, and pretty warm in the summer and moderately cool in the winter. People live in decently tall apartment buildings, unless you have money and can afford a house on the hill. The tourists are aplenty and the population is over 1.6 million.
Personally, I used to live in a single level, decently sized apartment. Everything was pretty new. Blanca and I had our own cars, and no matter what we needed or where we needed to go, we knew how to get there. In Barcelona, we live on the sixth floor of a 100+ year old building in an also decently sized apartment. Everything is very old. Blanca and I have our own metro cards, and quite often if we need/want something, we don’t know where to go or if it even exists in this country.
The US has a service culture – good customer service is taken seriously. Banks, for instance, offer a great number of services and the possibilities of things you can do with your money are abound. Spain seems to have a “what do you want and why should I help you?” service culture – good customer service seems non-existent. Banks, for instance, take your money, charge fees for just about everything imaginable, and getting returns on your money seems pretty much impossible…unless you’re expecting negative returns, that is.
I could go on with the comparisons, but really, I think you get the point. Life is definitely different, and I don’t mean that in a good or bad way, I mean it as simply that – it is different. It has been difficult learning how to cope with the differences, but that is one of the reasons I’m here, and I wouldn’t take back choosing here for anything. If I, as an American, can learn anything about Spanish living, I’d say “relax,” because sometimes…actually most of the time…I get so caught up in the Now Now Now, Me Me Me that I lose sight of the big picture.
Finally, The People
The US is diverse…sorta. Sure, we have cultural variations from location to location, but for the most part we speak the same language, and the biggest cultural changes we see is through migrating from suburban to urban living and vice-versa. Europe is just different. Picture a smaller version of the US, with lots of history, languages, cultures, etc., all within a short distance from each other. Now, exaggerate that scenario, ad a few dashes of people from the rest of the world, and you’ve got Barcelona (and if you want an even more exaggerated and concentrated scenario, you would get ESADE!). I believe Barcelona is pretty well representative of a big, metropolitan European city, and as such, it is truly a melting pot of cultural diversity.
With such diversity comes a very unique living experience, and there is nothing like going to a Mexican restaurant, ordering from a Catalan speaking immigrant from Honduras who places your order with his Peruvian cooks. While the end product typically leaves much to be desired, the process itself is rather impressive.
In the end, I again must reiterate I am daily reminded why I chose ESADE. I am surrounded by so many interesting people with different backgrounds, cultures and languages, all of which has contributed to each individual’s unique personal story…perhaps more interesting is that despite all these differences, life has brought us all to this same place, at the same time. I am thankful for having the opportunity to study here and hope that throughout the rest of my time in Barcelona, I never stop having those moments…on the metro, walking through obscure alleys with friends, or simply while going for a walk with Blanca…where I get to think to myself, “Hey, I’m living in Barcelona!”