By Madelyn Swenson, Winona State University
As anyone who has traveled and will travel knows, the United States is different than the rest of the world. Some of these differences are small and some of them are big. For example, you might not notice the benches are more like rows of seats unless your friend points it out to you. Where as you are more likely to notice not driving every you go.
Both of those examples are ways that Barcelona differs from the United States. The benches here look more like chairs in rows that are connected than actual benches. They have a separation bar to keep the homeless from sleeping on them. Not all of them are like this but ones in more heavily populated areas can be.
Here you take the metro, bus, bike, scooter, or walk everywhere you go. Cars are reserved for long distances or if you have a lot of stuff. By a lot of stuff I do not mean two grocery bags or a suitcase. I mean a car full of groceries or multiple suitcases.
Of course, it is a well known fact that Barcelona does have a weird eating schedule. Its true. Here they eat lunch at 2 and dinner between 8 and 8:30. Hate to break it to you but “siestas” are not a thing. A lot of people do go home for lunch and kids get to leave school for their lunch but they still only have about an hour and they still eat at that time.
However, lunch is more leisurely here than in the states. Here you talk with your co-workers or go out for lunch. People take their time eating and they typically will eat a larger meal. Unlike the U.S. where people eat at their desk or eat so quickly they hardly taste their food. Lunch is much more relaxing here than it is in the states.
That being said, everything here is done at a slower pace. You will not see many people walking fast down the street or rushing to get somewhere. Everyone has a very relaxed attitude.
Here they also emphasize family over work. Most people, unless they are a part of a startup, do their eight hours at the office and ACTUALLY leave the office. Not just physically but mentally.
Also everything in Spain and Europe in general is smaller. For example, elevators. They say a maximum of four people but I would like to see four people fit comfortably in one of these tiny elevators. Especially if one or two of them have a backpack on.
Bedrooms are also smaller. I highly recommend listening to your program about packing light because you will have nowhere to store your stuff that you brought with let alone anything you buy if you don’t. Going along with bedrooms, the beds are typically going to be twin sized beds. Good news is we have all lived in a dorm and survived and this is a bit bigger than that.
Roads are also smaller. Word to the wise, do not stand on the edge of the sidewalk because you will get grazed by a side mirror. There are not really shoulders here. If you are on a corner really make sure to watch out because the busses sometimes go over the sidewalk slightly.
If you want salt or pepper at a restaurant you need to ask for it. Salt and pepper are hardly ever on the table. Now, I love salt. It’s basically a food group in my family (I know super unhealthy but what can I say). So this is one of the first things I noticed. It’s also something that really bothers me here and I don’t understand it.
Also most locals do not walk with their phone in their hand…ever or put their phone in their back pocket for that matter. The reason for this is simple. Pit pocketers are a big thing here and they will run right by you and take it and you will hardly know what happened by the time they are half way down the street. Now I am not telling this to scare you. I walk with my phone in my hand almost everyday. If you pay attention you will be fine but if you are not good at paying attention to your surroundings, keep it in a bag that zips.
Another thing that I have had a hard time adjusting to is the way that kids act towards their parents and other adults. They swear at them, talk back, throw fits basically everything that you would get in a lot of trouble for back in the states they do it here and it’s okay. On the metro one of my first days here, I watched as a mother was telling her maybe 10 year old son to sit down. Her son turn to her and told her to shut up in spanish and walked quickly to the other side of the metro car then sat down. I was shocked that kid was not yelled at but its normal here.
There are a lot of people walking around selling stuff on the street in busy areas of the city. When those vendors walk up to a person from Barcelona, the local will politely tell them “no thank you” and keep walking. They do not ignore them or pretend to “no habla inglés.” That is considered rude. I was actually called a name once by a vendor for walking right by him. If you are polite and just say “no thank you” in English or Spanish they will back off.
There are a lot of other differences that friends I have met in the program have told me. Some I had already noticed and others are so small I still don’t notice them. However, you came here to experience new things. Just remember that. Keep an open mind and be patient and you will be mistaken for a local by the time you leave!