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15 American Habits I Lost in Barcelona

Student Work
by Dayana Aleksandrova May 4, 2015

1. Spending evenings with Netflix and snacks.

On Sundays, my American friends and I would find ourselves hungry for entertainment, and yet too lazy to get up and do anything. The solution was always the same — order a pizza, put House of Cards on, and perhaps throw some cheap wine in the mix. Well, guess what – Spain doesn’t have Netflix! Instead of spending my time with Frank Underwood, I ended up played ping pong at the Ciutadella Park, known for the soft guitar music and the laughter of happy people in the evenings.

2. Comfort food.

America loves its comfort food. Tough day at work? Grab a Ben & Jerry’s. Your boyfriend dumped you? Pepperoni pizza to the rescue! In Barcelona, you eat when you’re hungry and you talk when you’re upset. The locals love their churros and bocadillos, but when an emotional crisis ensues, they turn to a friend, other than Papa John, to talk it out with.

3. Shopping online.

Like many other US girls, I loved to shop online. The ease of browsing through hundreds of stores on the web while lounging around in pajamas couldn’t be beat. In Barcelona, on the other hand, shopping is a social, wholesome experience. I enjoyed spending hours with my roommate at the Glories Center, a cute, open-air mall with a variety of cafes, restaurants, an Imax theater, and the occasional street performer.

4. Using a credit card.

My use of credit cards declined to a bare minimum when I found out that the US “plastic fantastic” culture is not a thing in Barcelona. Not only is it easier and quicker to pay in cash, but the majority of the hole-in-the-wall tapas places and boutiques don’t take MasterCard. Besides, euro coins make a pretty cool collection.

5. Paying for things.

There’s no free lunch, right? Think again. One of the first words I learned in Barcelona was “gratis”, which translates to “free.” Follow this magic word for special promotions and you’ll see the Picasso Museum open its doors for you on Sunday afternoon, an invitation to a mini booze cruise down at the Barceloneta, and a few extra cans of Damm Lemon at your local grocery store.

6. Getting the recommended amount of sleep.

“Eight hours a night is a must,” my mom always says, but then again, she’s never lived in Barcelona. Instead of catching Zs, I spent that time having late-night picnics on the beach with friends, clubbing at Sala Razzmatazz until dawn, sampling tapas at Euskal Etxea and hiking up the million steps to the Montjuïc Castle. If your energy levels are really depleted, you can always ask for a day off to go sleep on the beach. Your boss will understand.

7. Being intimidated by my boss.

Though my American boss was friendly, I always felt like I was being evaluated in his presence. This was the mindset I had going into my receptionist job in Barcelona. Surprisingly, I was invited to have lunch with the entire staff every day, where I sat across from the hotel’s general manager who would tell me about his trips to Girona and gave me recommendations on the best bars in town.

8. Planning.

A meticulous planner and busy American worker, I used to have a schedule for each day, down to the minute. In Barcelona, time passed more slowly, accommodating both my work duties and leisure needs. I no longer made checklists for the weekend. Instead, I woke up and spontaneously determined my game plan, which included trips to Figueras, visits to the hair salon and even a tattoo, done whenever I felt bold.

9. Working out at a gym.

Exercising in the US used to be a chore for me. The dreadful image of running on the treadmill was the first thing on my mind upon waking up, along with the desperation for coffee. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many active people in Barcelona who ran, biked, and rollerbladed. Every morning I laced up my Nike’s and jogged along the Nova Icaria beach, breathing the Mediterranean air and catching the sun’s rays. Another perk was the xiringuitos, tiny cafés lining the beach which serve cold orange juice to quench the post-run thirst.

10. Dressing casually for clubbing.

America is known for its accepting attitude towards people of all cultures, shapes, sizes, and fashion sense. I could easily go to a club in NYC wearing flats and only eyeliner on my face. Clubs in Barcelona have actual rules and dress codes listed on their websites, telling you what the no-nos are. Some examples include hair ties, flats, and pants for the ladies, and t-shirts, sneakers, and worn-out jeans for the gentlemen.

11. Leaving items unattended.

It took one stolen iPhone to teach me to keep an eye on my things. In the US, it may be okay to put your phone down at the bar for a moment, but unfortunately pickpockets are a part of the Barcelona experience, and yes, they do manage to get into Pacha on its grand opening night and steal your purse. Enjoy your gadgets, but definitely keep in mind that others want to enjoy them too.

12. Relying on my phone for directions.

God bless America, the land of free wifi! In Barcelona, this isn’t always the case. For the majority of time out of work, I either had no wifi, or it was very slow. I could no longer rely on Google maps to tell me how to get to Plaça de Catalunya, so I resorted to using an actual map (yes, they still make those) and asking the friendly locals for directions. It worked just as well, getting me to actually pay attention to the beautiful surroundings.

13. Being shy of strangers.

Any American mom would tell her five year old not to talk to strangers. She’s right, but not when the kid grows up to be twenty and still feels uneasy about striking a conversation. The vibrant tourism industry in Catalonia, as well as the laid-back nature of the locals, makes Barcelona the perfect place to form friendships with strangers. So don’t be shy, but still — listen to your mom and don’t get into a stranger’s car even if they offer you candy.

14. Loathing the subway.

Subway trains, yuck! The US still battles with eliminating trash from the underground transportation system. Barcelona amazed me with the efficiency of its metro system, where the majority of trains were new and very clean, always punctual and absolutely pest-free. I’ve gone as far as to take short siestas and eat lunch on the metro.

15. Holding my emotions back.

Americans, as any other human nation, have a lot of feelings, but we don’t often show them. Instead, we eat them, buy them shoes, or take them to therapy. Catalans, in contrast, are very passionate and not the least bit embarrassed about it. Known to always walk around with a polite smile on my face, I was shocked when I found myself crying inconsolably on the metro after saying goodbye to a friend. Luckily, a kind stranger came over, playing the accordion and trying to make me laugh. What a nice change from the usual shrink session!

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