Moving abroad is an amazing adventure, and it’s easy to romanticise it before you actually do it. So what happens when you arrive and find that there’s a bit of a mismatch between your romantic ideas of life in Barcelona and the reality? What was the biggest reality-check for you?
Expectation: On sunny Saturday mornings the strains of a flamenco-playing guitar will float through your open balcony doors as you stretch and yawn and smile to yourself, thinking, “Ahh, Spain!”
Reality: You’ll be woken every morning by the clanging of a key on a metal trolley and a voice yelling, “Butano! Buuuuuutanooooooo!”
Expectation: You’ll do all your grocery shopping at the market, where you’ll flirt with handsome Spanish stallholders over stunningly arranged displays of fruit and vegetables, before heading home with a wicker basket full of oranges and baguettes.
Reality: Every time you venture into the market you have to frantically remember the name of every single item on your list because you have to ask the stallholder for it, but they get impatient with your halting requests in Spanish, and to pile on the pressure you have a horde of Catalan grannies at your back, barking, “Quin es l’ultima?” You revert to your chain supermarket ways because it’s easier and less stressful…but you still put photos of La Boqueria on Instagram.
Expectation: You’ll have a beautiful golden tan from soaking up the sun all summer long.
Reality: After your first summer and at least four sunburns, you realise the sun is evil and you have a whole bunch of new wrinkles. You never go lower than factor 30 suncream ever again and spend next summer wearing a giant hat and sitting in the shade.
Expectation: You’ll spend a year drinking jugs of sangria and feasting on jamón and other tiny plates of Spanish delicacies.
Reality: After one embarrassing evening you realise that no Catalan people actually drink sangria, but it’s ok once you figure out all the cool kids are all drinking vermouth. The appeal of tapas wears off after a few months when you realise that you’ll get scurvy if your sole vegetable intake is a couple of fried and salted peppers. Luckily Barcelona has a very diverse restaurant scene for you to explore!
Expectation: On Friday nights you’ll go out dancing in small, dimly lit clubs where locals will teach you how to dance flamenco.
Reality: Flamenco isn’t that popular in Barcelona, and the locals all dance the sardana on Saturday mornings, which is potentially the dullest folk dance in Europe. Instead you end up partying in the sunshine to electronic music at Brunch in the Park every weekend.
Expectation: After just a few months, you’ve learned to speak Spanish with a flawless accent, though you still make some small – yet charming – mistakes which are smilingly corrected by people around you.
Reality: When you try to speak in Spanish, waiters and shopkeepers look bored and reply in English. Your Spanish gets a bit better but you’re constantly getting muddled up with the sprinkling of Catalan words you’ve come across.
Expectation: You’ll live in a tiny but charming apartment in the medieval centre of the city, with a vine climbing up the wall outside your balcony door and the smell of fresh pastries wafting through the windows from the bakery downstairs.
Reality: After two eye-wateringly expensive months of renting a room in El Gotico, you can no longer bear the hordes of tourists or the endless racket from Airbnb apartments all night long, and you move out of the centre to a quieter, less picturesque area where people, not tourists, actually live.
Expectation: You’ll strike up a conversation with an attractive Catalan in a cafe/ in a bookshop/ any other meet-cute type situation, and it’ll be the start of a perfect Barcelona romance.
Reality: You join Tinder and realise that all anyone wants from you is free English classes.
Expectation: you’ll spend sunny days riding your bike/ picnicking in the park/ swimming in the sea/ playing volleyball on the beach/ hiking through the Catalan countryside/ visiting vineyards.
Reality: After seventeen sunny weekends in a row you’re desperately praying for a rainy day so you can sit around in your pants watching Netflix and eating crisps.