I signed up to study abroad in Europe’s number one party destination, but not for the parties. Having visited Barcelona a few times before, I fell in love with the surreal architecture, vibrant art scene, eclectic mix of international cultures and alternative streak that reminded me of my own hometown of Berkeley.
When I chose to study in Barcelona I had a clear vision of what I wanted my experience to be like: roaming around the dark alleys of the Gothic Quarter, sipping on an americano in a charming coffee shop for hours, practicing my Spanish with other international students from all over the world and of course enjoying a bit of the nightlife that Barcelona is famous for. I’ve been thrilled to enjoy a bit of all of the above, but sometimes it seems like some of the American exchange students have chosen only the latter as the focus of their program. After getting back from a whirlwind two week trek all over India, I feel like a party-pooper because I don’t have the stamina to keep up with my high-energy peers and go to mega-clubs packed with thousands of other Americans until the wee hours of the morning.
Luckily, there’s another set of Barcelonians who appreciate the more laid back lifestyle I crave: the locals. And it’s easy for me to fit in with them. People talk to me in the native tongue and for the most part, I can talk back. I’m a much bigger fan of going to smaller pubs and tapas bars than the huge discotecas, and that’s where my Spanish comes in the most handy. Although my grammar’s a little rusty, my knack for imitating accents means that I can order a drink convincingly enough for the bartender not to write me off as another annoying American tourist. When I can avoid being slapped with that marginalizing stereotype, I’m generally treated with much better service and much larger portions. Of course, I’m screwed when people switch to the regional (some would say national) language of Catalan, but so far I haven’t met anyone who isn’t willing to speak Castellano. My slightly toasted complexion and bohemian clothing help my Spaniard disguise. It’s funny how superficial things like the right complexion and style can make or break someone’s feeling of acceptance in a culture.
Despite my earlier pooh-poohing of fellow Americans, I have met a lot of genuine people who, like me, want to balance having a good time with experiencing the authentic local culture. The other night we went to an Irish pub called George Payne to watch the 49ers game. At first I first felt a little silly traveling this far away from home just to go to a bar that’s a dime a dozen in California. But as the game became more and more exciting, with the 49ers narrowly taking the win against the Saints in the last 10 seconds, I felt companionship with the boisterous Americans in the back. It felt good to unite in celebration by high-fiving the people sitting next to me instead of “liking” a friend’s status 5,000 miles away. It was also rather comical to watch the one Catalonian guy in the corner completely baffled as to what was going on. I guess there are pros and cons to studying abroad in a place filled with tourists.
I have much more to say, but for now I will leave you with the Barca jam of the year.
Image sources: Shirin Ghaffary, Daily Cal