The Ins/Outs of Barcelona

I’ve spent the past four days in Barcelona now, and as I prepare to get on the train back to Madrid, it’s time to digress the ins/outs of what some consider, “the LA of Spain”

As always, let’s talk fashion first:

In: Cool Spanish phone necklaces

If you’re like me and have never heard of these before, they are a Spaniard must. This is something I noticed far before stepping foot in Barcelona, as soon as I walked into the Madrid airport, I was slapped in the face with phone leashes. Walking down the street, it’s apparent they are simply very popular. As they should be as well, it’s a genius idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped my phone or lost it in my bag. This way, it’s always right around your neck, and therefore also much harder for someone to steal.

I give the crossbow phone case four stars and a plan to integrate it into Midwestern society.

Out: Wearing AirPods everywhere, all the time

Even though the Spaniards have made their phones more accessible than ever with them just dangling around their neck, that doesn’t mean it’s always in use. On a college campus, you can’t pass 10 people without at least nine of them having their AirPods in. It’s really nice the people here don’t always have their headphones shoved into their ears, especially when I need to ask them for help.

I give wearing AirPods all the time two stars because sometimes I just want to listen to music and have nobody bother me.

In: Dressing up, even for a walk in the park

When it comes to fashion, it seems that everyone here comes to play. I haven’t seen one person who doesn’t look completely flawless. As someone who traveled to Barcelona with only three outfits in an Osprey backpack, it can be pretty intimidating. I wonder how every single person I pass on the street was raised with such a high fashion sense.

I give dressing nice all the time three stars because it seems exhausting but I wish I could do it with the same ease they do.

In: Dresses and other flowing clothes

One easy way to always look put together is to throw on a pretty dress. Spaniards don’t seem to be much for tight clothing, so the looser the better. Lucky for me, I’ve got at least three dress options in my suitcase that would make them proud. As for other clothing, baggy parachute pants, baggy button-down shirts, and baggy jean shorts that fit perfectly at the waist. Not the kind of baggy that makes you look like you rolled out of bed though, the kind of baggy that makes you look like a Vogue Paris editor.

I give both dresses and baggy clothes five stars. If a law got passed tomorrow that nobody could wear skinny jeans again, I would celebrate.

Out: Athleisurewear

Evil takes material form in athleisurewear. It is the arch nemesis of style and one that Americans constantly divulge. Athleisurewear, as we are constantly told by Ana Wintour, is not style. As someone who is absolutely unable to do serious walking in a pair of Levi jean shorts, this is probably going to be my biggest problem while abroad.

I give athleisurewear three and a half stars because although it doesn’t look nice, it treats me so, so well.

Out: White Air Force 1s.

The epitome of athleisurewear. I like to think I am more stylish because I wear white Levi tennis shoes, however all white tennis shoes can be lumped into this category. Fancy tennis shoes with dresses are in, platform sandals with walking support are in, but white sneakers are not in.

I give White Air Force 1s two stars (although I give my Levi sneakers four stars, because of nepotism)

Now let’s get into other cultural things.

In: Walking

It’s just so easy here to work everywhere you need. Thirty-minute walk to breakfast? No problem. All the calories I just consumed were burned on my walk home. Beach 50 minutes away? The walk is not that long. The taxis sit around aimlessly, there are hardly any Ubers, the Vespa’s sit unused on the sidewalk.

I give walking five stars.

Out: Sweating

It’s generally over 90 degrees here and although everyone is walking everywhere, they are never sweating. One might chalk my sweat up to not being used to this heat, but the city I lived in this summer averaged 106 degrees and I went running every day. Everywhere I look, there is perfect makeup and flowing hair while mine stays matted to my scalp.

I give sweating half of a star, simply because I feel as though it would be bad if we all just stopped sweating.

Out: Air Conditioning

With the heat and the lack of sweating, you would think there was some sort of universal air conditioning, but in reality, it’s the opposite. On my first day, I would duck into a coffee shop for much-needed air conditioning only to find it more stagnant and stuffy than outside. Even the clothing stores and nicer restaurants seated most people outside under umbrellas.

Although I love all the outdoor seating, I have to give air conditioning five stars, and the lack thereof two stars.

Out: Carrying water bottles

The only thing that’s been keeping me alive the past few days is my blue 32oz Nalgene that I’ve been filling up in Starbucks’ bathroom sink faucets all across Spain. However, when I look around, nobody else is carrying water. The bag of choice here is a small purse, meaning there is no room for a water bottle. Again with the sweating, I’m not sure what secrets the Spaniards have that I do not, but I’d love to figure them out.

I give carrying water bottles three and a half stars because I need water with me everywhere, but it does get a bit clunky on occasion.

In: Shutting down parks due to falling trees

This pertains to Madrid, but we’re already on a roll talking about the heat so I just wanted to keep going. The biggest park in Madrid, Parque del Retiro, was closed down the other day because it was too hot. As explained by the policeman at the gate, the city council has concluded that when the temperatures get too hot, it causes their trees to spontaneously fall down, and therefore it is dangerous for people to get into the park.

I give shutting all the parks down when it gets too hot half of a star – in a big city with no air conditioning, the green spaces are the only places slightly cooler. I’ll take the chance of having a tree fall on me.

Out: Free Bathrooms

If you make your way into one of these parks, you may find that it’s quite hot and you need to drink a lot of water, which we know in turn makes you need to use the bathroom. However unlike the US which has public restrooms all around our parks, you’ll be searching for hours. At the train station, I had to pay 1€ to use the restroom. Coincidentally, the lobby was full of a vast array of plants. I told my mom that if I had known I needed to pay 1€ to use the bathroom, I would have just gone in the plants.

I give free bathrooms five stars, for obvious reasons.

In: Eating dinner at 9pm

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day here, eaten around 2 p.m. With this being known, it’s understandable why dinner is eaten so late. When I got back to my hostel in Barcelona the first night, I was preparing for bed as most others were preparing their meals or headed out. Since they eat so late, that in turn means things generally start later in the morning.

After my week of being here, I give eating dinner at 9 pm three stars, because I need to go to bed earlier than that, especially when I’m averaging 20 miles a day of walking.

Out: Personal space

Another major cultural difference is how close people get to one another here. The first time I was sitting on a bench when someone came and sat next to me, I thought I was about to get kidnapped. If someone accidentally runs into you or brushes up against you, there’s not going to be an “excuse me” because it’s just a general happening.

I give personal space four stars, because I’m from the midwest and I still need some space to myself.

Out: Working on laptops in coffee shops

This has been one of the hardest things for me. In the US every coffee shop you find has people buried in their computers, free WiFi, and the understanding you will be posted up there for a few hours. Here, I’ve had to walk for hours to the nearest Starbucks and hide out in the corner so I can work without buying anything because it’s the only place with tables, WiFi, and air conditioning I can get my work done.

I give working on laptops in coffee shops four stars, because it’s so much better than libraries. Maybe there will be more people doing this once school starts.

As I sit here at the train station terminal waiting to board the train back to Madrid, it’s odd to realize how different the US is from this new country. I got on a plane in one country, fell asleep, and woke up in an entirely different culture. 

I was told many times by advisors that I would have a few weeks of culture shock when I first arrived, and not to let it discourage me. Although I’ve definitely been able to see the differences between my home country and this new one, it doesn’t carry a negative connotation with it. So as I ride back to Madrid, I’ll enjoy looking out the window as I officially return to the city I will call home for the next six months.

Yours truly,



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