Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sitting in Class Issues

At my internship, I work with people of vastly different backgrounds. The CEO is from Germany, one guy is from India, another from Argentina, 2 guys from Denmark, an Egyptian woman, an English guy, and 3 people from the Barcelona area. Despite being so different, everyone treats everyone else equally, and I believe it's because everyone is able to communicate in Spanish, despite their different heritages. In the city itself, I've seen this reflected on a much larger scale. It seems that as long as you speak Spanish, or Catalan, you'll be treated equally and respectfully. However, there are always exceptions to any rule.

Spend enough time around the city and on public transportation, and you'll see groups of African men toting large sacks of cheap wares that they'll spread out on the ground to sell. These men all travel together in very large groups, and try to sell to any and everyone nearby until the police show up. As soon as any cops are spotted, all the men will gather up their goods and head for the nearest subway. If any group is treated worse than other people, it's this class of people. I believe this stems back hundreds of years, when the African Moors used to rule Spain. After the Moors were kicked out, there was significant backlash, with Moorish buildings torn down and converted into churches. This trend still continues today, albeit not as overtly, but as a faint idea in the backs of people's brains, I believe. However, despite this issue with Africans, Barcelona is a very progressive city; where the ability to speak Spanish is your ticket to ride!

What do you think about class issues in Barcelona, or any other similar city?

What Divides a City?

Barcelona is very much an international city, with strong influences from the rest of Europe, Africa, and South America. Yet much of what provides the differences and divides in the city is whether or not people speak Spanish (or Catalan). Any Spanish speakers, regardless of where they're from, are generally more accepted and embraced here. Argentinians have a strong influence here, with neighborhoods, bars, and restaurants all over the city. There is in general a strong Latin influence, especially Argentinian, as evidenced by some of the most famous and popular restaurants and bars being Argentinian. L'ovella Negra, or the Black Sheep, is one of the biggest bars in Barcelona, and is considered an 'Argentinian' bar, especially during the World Cup. Foc, Margarita Blue, and the Rosa Negra are all very popular Latin restaurants, in all different areas of the city. In fact, much of the city seems divided by tourist areas; some people even say that much of modern Barcelona was planned to cater to tourists.

Whether or not Barcelona was actually planned with tourism in mind, the city layout is fairly simple once you learn where a few important landmarks are. If you keep in mind where Plaza Catalunya, Las Ramblas, and the Barceloneta beach are, you'll be set for much of the city. All these areas are very different feeling from the rest of the city; they're kept cleaner and seem more tourist friendly, and give off an old meets new vibe. Especially walking down Las Ramblas, you'll find modern stores like H&M housed in an ancient looking building. Leaving the touristy areas, the city becomes much more gritty and industrial, I work in the Poblenou area, just off the Bogatell metro stop. The area is filled with garage and motorcycle shops, and small cafes populated by the working class. The whole area feels just a bit seedy, like a place you wouldn't want to be alone late at night. Yet walk just a few blocks, and you'll find a more upscale residential area fronting onto the Ciutadella Park, the Central Park of Barcelona.

Overall, Barcelona seems divided by whether the area is intended for tourists or not; the differences can become apparent even on opposite sides of the same street. Ethnicity doesn't play as big a part as other places, as far as I can tell there's no 'Little Italy' or a Chinatown anywhere. Instead, you have the big, glitzy tourist-friendly areas, from Plaza Catalunya down Las Ramblas all the way to the beach, and the gritty, working-class areas, such as along the Diagonal. Barcelona is a beautiful city, but is all that beauty contrived just for tourists, or is it natural?

Ever been to Barcelona? Let me know what you think about the city, or any other city!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Barcelona Flow

Despite what you may think of this post's title, I will not be writing about hairstyles in Barcelona, rather the ebb and flow of time. Don't get me wrong, hairstyles here are pretty wild, but so is the way people treat time. Before coming here, I'd been repeatedly warned that the people who live here see it differently, that 'Barcelona time' is different from the rest of the world. Well, after a month here, I can tell you that it's true. Everything and everyone is more casual, more relaxed, more toned down. People hardly work more than 4 to 5 hours a day, and lateness isn't a real concept. Getting to work a half hour late, or even 3 hours late, doesn't seem to matter. Due dates for work are expressed as 'whenever' and meals are expected to be at least 3 hours. Sitting down for dinner, the custom is to get drinks and nurse those for an hour, then you order food. Eating is followed by more chatter, and then maybe a desert or coffee a good hour later. Finally, if you sat down around 7, you might be ready to leave at 10.

Last summer I interned near home, in Philadelphia, and like most American jobs, time was a precious commodity not to be wasted. Work had specific due dates, down to the minute, and coming in late was a sure recipe to get fired. A common quote I've heard, especially in public relations, is that if you're not at work on Sunday, then don't bother showing up on Monday. Working on the weekends here in Barcelona is considered anathema, it's a completely ridiculous prospect!

A busy day in Barcelona might consist of going to work from 9-2, getting lunch, and then relaxing at the beach, before dinner and a few drinks at a bar. I think to most people, this sounds like an ideal day, with more time spent relaxing and eating than anything else. Siesta time is very important here, most smaller businesses will be closed from 2-4 pm everyday because people are eating and napping. Actually sleeping at night isn't a big priority, because it's expected for a typical party-goer to be out until about 5 am or later. In fact, without siesta napping time, life here just wouldn't be possible, because there'd never be enough time to sleep!

Supposedly, the government is slowly trying to move people away from this relaxed work-ethic lifestyle, but it's such an ideal lifestyle that's so entrenched here I can't imagine it happening very soon. Plus, with all the tourists and visitors such as myself, the relaxed atmosphere is only added to. Check back early next week to hear about my 4th of July experience abroad!