Things I Most Certainly Will Not Miss About Barcelona

13 Jul

Glastonbury, CT

I’m down in Connecticut now, getting ready for my best friend Ashley’s wedding on Saturday!  I am beyond excited and it’s so nice to reunite with all my girlfriends from college, since I haven’t seen them in over three years.  Ashley and I have been sitting around, catching up and the subject turned to her European travels over the last few years.  She and her fiancé, Nick (soon to be husband!) travelled to Barcelona last summer.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet up with them, because I was working outside of Madrid.  We were able to trade stories about some of our favourite places in Barcelona, which was nice, but also started to make me feel a little homesick.  So, while Ashley does some last minute things for her wedding, I’ve decided this is the perfect time to start part two of my list: Things I Most Certainly Will Not Miss About Barcelona.  Hopefully it will curb some of this homesickness to remember a few of the infuriating realities of being an American living in Barcelona.

While Barcelona is one of the best places to live on Earth (biased opinion, here), there are some trade offs for such a relaxed lifestyle.  Many of us expats living in Barcelona came from some very efficient countries- the US, the UK, Germany, etc.  So there were some things that, no matter how long we lived there, would always make our blood boil.  My guiri friends and I could spend hours upon hours complaining about these things and sharing our own personal stories.  I honestly think some of my favourite times were spent sitting around sharing our annoyance and astonishment over certain situations.  Nothing brings people together like shared frustration.

Things I Most Certainly Will Not Miss About Barcelona

Customer Service

I think I could write an entire blog post getting out some of the pent up aggression caused by six years of frustration over the customer service in Spain.  I mean, I get it; Spain is a chill country.  Everyone’s slow moving due to the heat and having just woken up from their siestas, but my God people!  If you have some basic errands to run, you’d better take a few hours off work.  First of all, the bank is only open until 2pm Monday through Friday.  (I could have sworn my bank used to be open on Saturdays, too, but that changed somewhere along the line- la crisis, I guess.)  If you have to go to the bank or something similar, let me prep you on what will happen.  You will see anywhere from 2 to 4 windows, but only one of them will have a person working behind it.  There will, however, be between 2 to 4 other workers hanging out in the back- chatting, having coffee, talking on the phone, filing papers, etc.  If there is a line out the door, you would expect that at least one of these 2 to 4 people would open up one of the other 2 to 4 windows that were obviously constructed with some sort purpose, no?  Don’t get your hopes up.  It’s not going to happen.  And no amount of huffing, pacing, and toe tapping is going to change anything.  The Spaniards waiting calmly will simply look at you out of the corner of their eye like you are a crazy person.

A Particularly Frustrating Day

And forget about trying to set up internet in your home.  While sometimes you’ll get lucky and have the internet set up within a few weeks, it’s not that unusual to go many months getting tossed around through customer service while still being charged for these wifi-less months of aggravation.  If you finally get the internet hooked up, don’t even try to get that money back from those months without service; just be happy it’s finally working.  I was stuck in a monthly cycle for about one year with Telefonica, a company I did not even have an account with. Telefonica was taking money out of my bank account every month.  Every month, I would call up Telefonica to ask why they had taken money out- and how they got my account details!  They would ask for my client number.  I would explain that I didn’t have a client number because I wasn’t a client.  They would respond that they couldn’t look up my account without my client number.  I would reiterate that I didn’t have an account, because I had never signed up with Telefonica.  This back and forth could go on for about 30 minutes before I would hang up in frustration.  Every month I would traipse down to the bank (before 2pm to wait anywhere for about 30 minutes while I huffed and puffed) to cancel the money to Telefonica and then the next month I would start the process all over again.  And don’t even get me started on the restaurant service.  Dear Spain, I will not miss your standard of atención cliente.

Spanish Farmacias

This one is a little less blood boiling.  Spanish pharmacies are nothing like the pharmacies we have in the States.  If you

A Portion of my Local CVS Cold & Flu Aisle

have a cold, you just drive down to the your local CVS, find the aisle full of a wide array of medicines related to your particular illness and hunker down to peruse all your options.  I used to spend hours reading the backs of boxes trying to find the medicine that perfectly fit my combination of symptoms- cold & flu, headache & runny nose & cough, cough & ear ache & sore throat, etc.  I’m sure they’re all basically the same thing, but for whatever reason, making sure I had the exact combination that matched what I was going through made me feel better.

Pharmacies are not like this in Spain.  When you walk in, you will walk up to a counter with the pharmacists and all the medicine behind it.  You will need to tell the pharmacist what type of medicine you want.  If you’re not sure, then you’ll simply need to explain all your symptoms.  Now, if Spanish medical vocabulary is not your specialty, you’d better prepare yourself with some dictionary-time before leaving the house.  I would also suggest, that if your ailment is somewhat embarrassing, prepare to leave red-faced.  There were many times I would walk into a pharmacy, pre-prepared with my symptoms translated.  Trying to speak quietly so my fellow shoppers at the counter wouldn’t hear usually did not help, because my very American accent would cause everyone to perk up and try to listen in.  The pharmacist repeating everything back slowly in a loud voice, in a very sincere attempt to be helpful, usually did not help, either.  I’m kind of looking forward to be able to self-diagnose and spend hours in the cold and flu aisle again.

A Typical Restaurant Sign
in Catalan & English

Having to Watch Your Bag (Very Carefully, At All Times)

Barcelona is known for its pickpockets.  And with la crisis it’s not unusual to have your bag swiped off your shoulder by a passing bicycle or moto or to have it lifted from your feet by a man running past while having drinks on a terrace.  In my last few months in Barcelona, I witnessed this daily and I am not exaggerating; my flat mate Sarah and I had quite the view from our balcony.  When sitting at a bar with friends, you cannot allow yourself to get too comfortable, because something absolutely will get stolen.  I think I’ve sat through entire meals or nights at the bar with my bag wrapped across my body and my hand on the zipper almost the entire time.

We are so conditioned to be constantly vigilant, that it’s very difficult for us to relax when we go somewhere where this is less common.  A favourite story of ours is of the time our American friends Karin and Logan went back to the States for a wedding.  They were at a private wedding surrounded by friends, when Karin suddenly realized her bag wasn’t right next to her.  Her instinct was to shove her chair back and exclaim with panic in her voice, “Logan!  My bag!  It’s gone!”  Don’t worry, it turned out nobody at the wedding had stolen her bag.

Having to Stream Bad Reality TV from the Internet

As most who know me would agree, I like my lazy days.  And I really like TV.  Normally, I’ll spend my time on quality shows and could discuss them ad nauseum (Six Feet Under, The Wire, Homeland, anyone?).  But sometimes I just really like to turn off and enjoy some Jersey Shore or Real Housewives.  This is something that is much more difficult to excuse when I have actively searched out these shows, sometimes spending an embarrassing amount of time finding a working link.  At least in the States I’ll be able to brush it off by saying I just happened to switch on the channel and there was nothing else on.

Having to Defend the US

This is not unique to Spain and is simply a reality of being an American and travelling.  And it has certainly happened to

Bush Graffiti

me less frequently since Bush left office and Obama came in.  But those Bush years were not fun.  I remember sitting in a hospital with one of my friends who had hurt her back, as she was sprawled out on a gurney for hours waiting for the doctor to see us.  An older woman sitting in a wheelchair put her suffering on hold for a minute to ask if we were American when she heard us speaking English.  When I responded yes, she suddenly became energized and asked, “Why did you vote for Bush another time?  He is a bad, bad man!  We hate him here!  What were you thinking?”  I politely explained that I did not, personally, vote for him either time, but that her point was duly noted.

Even with Obama in office, it would still happen occasionally.  Some people feel it’s their obligation to inform Americans that the decisions the US make affect them too.  The fact that they would decide to inform me, a complete stranger, while I was drinking in a bar in Spain has always baffled me, however.  What did they want me to do?  Call up America on my America Phone and relay the message, “Hey, got some news from over here in Spain.  This French guy just told me that some people hate us over here?  Not sure if you realized that, but maybe we should fix this? Maybe send Europe a fruit basket or something?”

People Not Queuing or Not Respecting an Already Established Queue

Queuing, or forming a line to us Americans, is just about non-existent in Spain.  Granted, in a lot of situations they just have a different system than us.  I suppose this system was agreed upon thanks to situations like the bank, which as you now know has a very long possible wait time.  When walking into a bank, sometimes you will not see a queue.  You will see people wandering around, checking out the signs on the wall, or sitting in the chairs along the wall.  In this situation, it’s customary to ask “¿Quien es el ultimo?” which means, “Who is the last person?”  I suppose it’s a good system.  Those who want to sit can relax in the chairs and no one is confined to a rigid line.

For those of us who are used to lines or queues, however, this can be a nerve-racking experience.  Being American, I like the clarity of order and rigidity of a queue.  There are no questions as to who is before you and who is after you.  With the “¿Quien es el ultimo?” system, however, I found myself keeping a firm eye on the person in front of me and taking mental snap shots of all those who came in after, just in case they tried to sneak in before me.  This “¿Quien es el ultimo?” system generally does not apply to situations where you are waiting for any sort of public transport, however.  Then, it’s just every man for himself.


Well, now that I feel cleansed of all my frustrations I think it’s time to start looking forward.  Barcelona will always be a huge part of who I am, but I think it’s about time to start my new American life.  And what better way to do that than with a big, American wedding?  On to the Prete-Vargas Wedding! Congratulations to Ashley and Nick!


3 Responses to “Things I Most Certainly Will Not Miss About Barcelona”

  1. Aideen July 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Ditto on that last one.

    Now Catalans can be very mannerly in some respects, but crazy rude in others. The amount of times I held a door open for someone only for them to walk through it without even making so much as eye contact with me… I think I did a Natasha on it once and shouted DE NADAAAAA after them.

    I also won’t miss the Sardana outside my window every Sunday for about 9 months of the year. Hello? Don’t they know I have a HANGOVER?

    • Lindsay July 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      I was always doing the sarcastic “De Nadaaaa.” I don’t think anyone ever really got it though. They just look at you really confused, like “¿Qué?”

      And I forgot you lived in Plaza Sant Jaume! How did you deal with that every Sunday?

    • Mick July 23, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

      Aideen, that door situation happens to me almost daily.

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