Visiting Barcelona: 8 Misconceptions Unmasked. By Regina W.Bryan Friday, 13th June 2014
A city of around two million people, Barcelona receives a robust seven million tourists a year;
Thatís a lot of people coming to the city! And it should be no surprise that many tourists come with preconceived notions, and generalizations about locals and the Catalan capital abound.
We dive into a few of these myths to help visitors sort fact from fiction, so you can hit the ground running next time you come to town. † 1. Youíll see authentic flamenco † This one is tricky, because you very well might catch some flamenco in Barcelona. There are a handful of clubs in the old city center featuring women in tight, bright ruffles and wailing vocalists. But flamenco is not part of Catalan culture. This is akin to visiting Seattle and trying to find the best Philly cheesesteak. If you want authentic flamenco, then you should go south to Granada and Seville to see the real deal. If you must see flamenco in Barcelona, then try JazzSŪ, which is an out-of-the-way bar in El Raval that has weekly shows. Also, when the flamenco festival De Cajůn is in town, youíll find some excellent performances. Otherwise, why not see regional music? Search out Rumba Catalana or see some Catalan rock and roll at Sala Apolo. † 2. The food is spicy † This is another common misconception. People tend to think that Spanish food and Mexican food have spice in common, but in fact Catalan and Spanish cuisine is pretty tame. Apart from garlic, onion, pepper and paprika, not much spice is used. Forget Tabasco sauce and chili peppers. The closest things to jalapeŮos in Spain are guindillas. Theyíve got a nice vinegar-pepper kick to them. Then there is the tortilla. Donít confuse your Spanish tortillaówhich is similar to an omeletówith the Mexican version.
Just because Barcelona has a nice beach doesnít mean you should wear your swimsuit in the city. Photo: Regina W Bryan † 3. Barcelona is a beach, so wear a bikini † Nothing is more offensive to locals than tourists coming into shops, bars, and restaurants without shoes, shirts or pants on! This is especially common in La Barceloneta and other waterside Ďhoods. Spaniards and Catalans are laid-back about dress and lifestyle, but mealtime is sacred. They may be anything-goes while on the beach (there is no body shame here, and topless or nude sunbathing is common), but once youíve left the shoreline itís time to get dressed. † Another tip: wear your sandals. You might think that itís all good to walk barefoot back to your beachside hotel after a morning on the sand, but youíre likely to step in A) dog doo doo B) wads of spit C) recently flicked cigarette butts D) garbage in general or E) the leftovers of someoneís fallen ice cream cone. The sidewalk may look clean with your Ray-Bans on, but itís probably not.
4. Service is super friendly † Locals donít tend to chat with random people on the metro, or in line at the grocery store, or even at the bar. They tend to stick to their established friend circle. That said, donít be afraid strike up a conversation with someone. Just because they donít tend to initiate, does not mean they are not open to talking to you. † You might also come across some unfriendliness in restaurants. Servers in Barcelona can get a bad rap for being grumpy and sometimes dishing out rough customer service. Although this can happen (and it will, probably at some point during your trip), itís also important to remember that waiters donít work for tips, and perhaps that has something to do with it. Big city attitude is also part of the issue. Outside Barcelona in smaller villages, service tends to be better and smiles are offered more readily. On the plus side, turning tables is almost non-existent in Spain, so no one will rush you out the door. † 5. Youíre visiting Spain † Wait, no. Or yes? Technically you are in Spain when visiting Barcelona; but look up and scan the balconies. Youíll see many Catalan independence flags hanging all over town. Catalonia is a region of Spain whose government is currently trying to separate it from the rest of Iberia.
These bright Catalan colors will be flying with pride almost everywhere you go. Photo: Regina W Bryan † 6. All Catalans want independence † Nope. Some do, some donít. Itís complicated. What most people want in Barcelona and Catalonia is more local control over where tax euros end up, and even more important, work. There is still very high unemployment all over Spain. Separatists have always been active in Catalonia (as well as the Basque Country, Galicia, and even in Andalusia), but since the 2008† election of conservative president Rajoy, the issue has become increasingly hot. Want to get the locals talking? Ask them about independence while visiting for a lively conversation, as almost no one is apathetic about the subject. † 7. Barcelona is very expensive † Yes and no, because compared to the south of Spain it certainly is. Compared to Northern Europe, itís not even close. Compared to Madrid, itís about even. The holy trinity of olive oil, wine and cheese are inexpensive, excellent and abundant. Eating out can be very friendly to your wallet if you stick to tapas and local restaurants, and the fabulous food markets have tons of bargains. And while tickets to get into many of Barcelonaís famous sights can be pricey, you donít have to visit every single GaudŪ building to get a feel for the city. † Then there is the cost of sleeping. While itís easy to spend more than $100 a night on a hotel room in downtown, you can still find plenty of hotel bargains all over the city and even cozy digs for under $70.
8. Everyone guzzles sangria and eats paella † Youíll see lots of people on La Rambla drinking pitchers of sangria and tucking into platters of neon-yellow paella. Avoid this tourist tradition if you can. Locals do not usually drink sangria, and though they do enjoy paella at local spots, you would never find them digging into a platter of the frozen stuff served along the main tourists routes. Instead have a glass of some of the best wine in the world at a local wine bar, as Spain is revered for its reds and whites. Or even better, order a bottle of sparkling cava. Itís very affordable and† produced in nearby PenedŤs. † One generalization that is no myth is the Spanish love of fiesta. No matter where you go in Spain, whether itís Catalonia or the Basque Country or Madrid, youíll find people celebrating life.
About the author
Regina W.Bryan is a Barcelona-based freelance writer and photographer. When not eating tapas and exploring Europe, she is tending her balcony veggie garden and practicing Catalan. For more of her thoughts on Spain, check: www.regwb.com and www.thespainscoop.com.
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