As I am starting my fourth week here in Barcelona, I have settled into somewhat of a routine. However, just as expected (but still a little to my surprise), there were a couple weeks of culture shock as I adjusted to life here. Just as the students, it is my first time experiencing life in Barcelona, and it can be a little overwhelming at first. Thankfully I have amazing roommates and friends here who have shown me a little bit about the way of life here…but some of it was up to me as well. Stepping out of my comfort zone during the first couple weeks was something that helped right up front! It gave me some great first experiences, which I will share with you now. Some of my “firsts” in Barcelona are below.
Riding a moto through the city.
As I rode in the cab from the airport on the way to my new flat, I was entranced by the city views. The hills, and the ocean, the narrow streets, the architecture…and then as we stopped at a light, I was snapped out of my trance by a man on a motorbike pulling a little too close for comfort next to my backseat window and blocking my view. As we pulled away and I looked around more closely at ground level, there were too many motos to count; their riders were everyone from men in expensive business suits, to women in stilettos, to students, old, and young. They rule the city streets here in Barcelona. There are many reasons for this – motos are less expensive and fuel efficient, easier to maneuver around crowded streets and easier to park. Also, as Barcelona enjoys generally mild weather, they can be used year round. After watching the motos zip around, dodging in and out of lanes and through traffic, and onto sidewalks to park, I was not very eager to jump on the back of one myself. However, while here, I am living with two Barcelona natives, so it was only a matter of time before I was invited along. That time came last week, when Elena (my lovely amiga/co-worker/roommate) casually invited me along for a ride to the beach. I tried to play it cool, like I had done this a million times before, but I think she could tell by the way I squeezed her waist for dear life as we took off, that it was my first time. She yelled back to me, “This is your first time on a moto?” “Yes!” The streets were not too crowded, thankfully, and Elena was pointing things out as we made our journey through the streets to the beach. A beautiful museum, a good place for tapas, a bar that has live music, the street she used to live on in Barceloneta. As we made our way to the beach, I relaxed my hold on Elena, and enjoyed the journey. To a Barcelona native, I am sure it is no big deal to hop on the moto and go – but for me, it was a thrilling and beautiful ride around the city, one of my favorite “firsts” here!
Drinking coffee “aqui”, not “para llevar”
I cannot think of the last time, in the US that I sat down and enjoyed a coffee at the shop I bought it from. It is always “to go, please”, or making it myself before work in the morning and drinking it while rushing around to get ready. In fact, most coffee shops in the US don’t ask if you want it for there or to go – they automatically put it in a to-go cup. In Barcelona, you rarely order your coffee “para llevar”. One time I asked for a coffee to go, and after a look from the woman and some digging around, she came up with a plastic cup for me to take away my coffee. I walked away with burning fingers, trying to figure out how to hold a plastic cup of hot liquid, and made a note to myself to just sit and drink next time. Coffee culture in Barcelona is very different from the states – it is meant to be enjoyed, drinking it while sitting and talking with friends, co-workers, or sometimes on your own. And if you order a café, you will get a single shot of espresso…café con leche (with milk) is the closest thing you will find to typical coffee in the states.
Menu del Dia and Dinner at 10:00pm
Ok, so maybe this is not my first time having a three-course meal, but the “Menu del Dia” is something you can find everywhere here for a fairly reasonable price (usually around €10-12). Since lunch is the biggest meal, many restaurants will have a special menu with three or four choices for first course, and the same for the second course and the dessert. Although I am not used to lunch being such a big meal, I love it! Lunch is eaten at around 2:00pm, so you are not hungry for dinner until a little bit later. Therefore, when you are meeting friends for a dinner, it will not be until around 9:30 or 10:00pm. Since this is usually when I am in bed on weeknights at home, it took a little adjusting to get used to eating late and going to bed even later.
Another way to get around the city is the bicycle sharing system called Bicing. You must be a resident of Barcelona in order to use the bikes, but after my whopping 3 weeks of living here, I am basically a resident (thanks for the membership card Elena!). Bicing is a great eco-friendly way to get around, and a great way to see a lot of the city you might not otherwise! My first Bicing trip was at night, and was up one of the main roads, Gran Via, from Plaça de Catalunya to Plaça d’Espanya. Gran Via is well lit, has 2 center sidewalks and a bike path; riding a bicycle through a new city was almost as thrilling as my first moto ride! Cut to the next day, where I was bicycling down a street with no center sidewalks, and with motos dodging and cars driving right alongside me…it was a little nerve-wracking. However, there are usually always bike lanes and drivers are somewhat used to bikers by now as the Bicing program was implemented in 2007, and revamped in 2009. More than 6,000 bicycles are on the streets, with 375 docking stations throughout the city, so in most cases it is no problem grabbing a bike and going.
The standard Barcelona greeting here is two cheek kisses. You can give the dos besos when you are meeting friends, after you meet co-workers for the first time, or friends-of friends (and if you are in a big group, yes, you still greet each person with dos besos). Temporarily abandoning my Western idea of personal space, I felt I had it down and adopted the greeting. Then, one night, I went to meet my co-worker Clara for dinner. Her fiancé came along, and as I was introduced, I panicked slightly….fiancé of a co-worker…kiss? Handshake? Hug? I stuck out my hand for the handshake, deciding to go with what was less awkward for me. He went in for the 2 kisses, and we laughed nervously. After a couple seconds, we greeted with the two kisses, and our walk to dinner turned into a conversation about who is appropriate to kiss upon first meeting. I guess fiancé of a co-worker does in fact fall under the category of the besos.
Overall I have truly enjoyed my first 3 weeks here, and hope to continue my list of firsts in Barcelona!
By Rachael Kacos
Program Advisor & Partner Relations Senior Coordinator