It has taken me a second to realize I’ve been in Barcelona for a month. My life has been a rush of dubbed movies, takeout sushi runs, afternoons at Platja de Bogatell, stationery shopping sprees, Zara hauls, and hour-long rundowns on Barcelona city planning.
I still have a long way to go, but I think it’s time to acknowledge some realities of my life here. Before my flight to Europe, when I was weeping over my anxieties for a semester abroad, a close family friend told me, “Don’t try to anticipate everything. There will always be situations you can’t plan for.”
I took that to heart. And now that I’m settled, I want to talk about the scenarios I could not have possibly planned for. Without further ado, here are the six biggest myths I ran into before studying in Barcelona.
1. There’s perfect weather every day of the year.
Sure, when you arrive in the summer, it’ll be scorching enough to cook an egg on your terraza. It might not even be enjoyable, since the beaches are packed and tourists are devotedly occupying the streets you take to get to your 9AM.
However, months pass. Seasons change. It’s October, and I’ve already sat at Montjuic’s MNAC steps shivering in summery linen shorts as locals stare at me for being the clueless student I am. Who wears shorts in October? Me, because I assumed Barcelona is perpetually warm and did not pack anything but shorts.
2. You’re going to party all the time.
Going out in Barcelona is super, super different than in the states.
First of all, in Barcelona, nobody ever has any plans. Things just happen, and you can either go with the flow or spend the night trying to figure out what the plan is. In general, “going out” means ending up at a discoteca with a GIANT group of friends. Life happens outside, because when it happens inside, your two neighbors downstairs will open their doors to glare at you every time you exit the stairwell. This might be why so many Barcelonans take advantage of their public squares!
Don’t forget that the meal schedule will take some getting used to. It’s unheard of to have dinner before 9PM. As a result, people don’t go out until later. It’s common to see Barcelonans out and about past 5AM.
And let’s face it, with your classes, you’re not going to be up for that more than once a week.
3. You need to travel every weekend.
This is a tricky one. You can travel every weekend: it’s simple, it’s relatively cheap, and all your classmates will do it. But they really shouldn’t.
Barcelona is a work of art. You can think you’ve mapped the whole city, but you’ll be strolling around a familiar neighborhood after a month of daily living, and you’ll stumble upon a cathedral or Gaudí building you never knew existed. That’s a simple pleasure of studying abroad in Barcelona, and you might not experience it if you don’t wander aimlessly in your free time.
It is impossible to get to know any major metropolitan area in four months, but taking weekly trips will mean you won’t know Barcelona at all. You can be a tourist all your life. When’s the next time you’ll have the chance to live abroad for four months?
Plus, if you choose to sleep in on your Saturdays, you can save up that travel money to buy some more clothes that aren’t shorts at Zara. Personally, I’m happy with this decision.
4. You can live comfortably without knowing any Spanish or Catalan.
Before arriving in Barcelona, I was nervous that I wouldn’t get to practice Spanish abroad. After all, Spanish isn’t the primary language of Catalonia, and Barcelona is a popular-enough tourist destination that English is commonly-understood.
This is all valid, and if you look for advice online, travelers tells other travelers the same thing. And that’s just it — if you’re studying in Barcelona for four months, you’re not a tourist. You’ll need to go grocery shopping, ask for directions in rural towns, buy necessities, stop at markets, eat at cheap restaurants, and yell over house music to strangers at bars. Barcelonans are as fluent in Spanish as they are in Catalan, so if you can’t get past, “Bon dia!” you can at least follow-up with, “Solo hablo un poco de español,” and hope they’re up to give you a free Spanish lesson. Of course, anything is better than starting a conversation with, “Do you speak English?”
Residing in Barcelona requires a working proficiency of Spanish, and out of respect, a basic knowledge of Catalan. It’s difficult to meet friends and feel at home if you don’t have either. The Americans who complain about Barcelonans’ unfriendliness are the same ones who expect to communicate in English without attempting to grasp local languages.
5. “Barcelona” is pronounced with a “th” rather than a “c“.
If you’re speaking Spanish and have a regional accent, yes. If not, don’t do it, you’ll just look silly. The English pronunciation sounds almost exactly like the Catalan one, so there’s no reason to make it harder.
And avoid calling the Castilian accent a lisp at all costs.
6. Nobody wears sweatshirts, shorts, or sandals in Barcelona.
Sweatshirts, shorts, and sandals are common here. Not just on visitors — on everyone. I would go as far as to say sweatshirts are becoming a trend, especially when they’re cropped and/or advertising random American cities, like Sacramento.
This is not what the internet will tell you. I’m not sure how TripAdvisor gathered so many lost voices on one website, but they managed to confuse me, too. Though I ignored their advice on shorts, I failed to pack any sweaters at all! When I’m not shivering outside in the October breeze, I’m shivering inside as my roommates blast the air conditioner like it’s July in Death Valley.
Luckily, I do happen to live near the Zara at Plaça de Catalunya.