Strange(r) Things in Barcelona: The Stuff We Expats Just Can’t Understand, But Love Anyway

Everyone loves Barcelona, there’s no question about that. We adore the distinctive Catalan culture, the unique, offbeat and free-spirited vibe of the city, and the unrestricted lifestyle that anyone can have here, no matter where you’re from. So how come the title you just read says there’s something weird about this city?

After a few weeks of living in Barcelona as a foreigner, you start to notice things that may seem a little bit off, but you’re still so smitten with your new life in the wonderful, sunny, seaside city that you keep telling yourself things like: “That’s not weird at all, I’m just new here. I’ll get used to it soon.” Then, as the months go by, you gradually come to terms with the fact that you’ll never get used to any of the strange(r) things going on in the Catalan capital. You will be surprised again and again as you get to know the odd side of the city and the local’s quirky habits, and you will keep asking “why” without ever getting a satisfying answer. But isn’t that the beauty of getting to know a different culture? Especially if in the process of getting to know it, you are guaranteed to fall unconditionally in love.

We put our heads together at the office and each one of our team members added their own thoughts to the list you’ll find below. Some of these things just seem a little bit unusual to us, others are downright puzzling and make us feel as clueless as this adorable, ginormous lobster statue on Passeig Colom, but they’re all things that guide books won’t tell you.

Strange(r) Things in Barcelona - The Weird Things Us Expats Just Can't Understand. Photo by RusskyMaverick
Fun fact: Gambrinus, the giant lobster was originally a part of a seafood restaurant’s decor. Now he’s just chilling and sunbathing near Port Vell, and it’s like he’s saying “I’ve got no idea why they put me here.” Photo by RusskyMaverick / Shutterstock, Inc.

People and Community

  • In Barcelona (and all over Spain), people regularly use intimate terms of endearment such as cariño, amor or guapíssimo (Spanish for honey, love, gorgeous) to address complete strangers. You’ll often hear the shop assistant at your local supermarket calling old ladies ravishing, with absolutely zero irony.
  • You’re expected to give everyone two kisses on each cheek (starting with the left!) every time you see them, even if you’ve just met them for the first time. This usually results in really awkward half-hugs and almost-smooches.
  • The locals like to spend most of their time outdoors – on the beach, in parks, on the terraces of restaurants and bars, on the street – and whatever they’re doing, they do it very noisily. Some activities may involve drums. And fireworks, lots of fireworks.
  • When you’re at a bar with your friends, everyone pays for themselves. Rounds of drinks don’t exist. Plus, for your information, pinta does not mean pint. So don’t ask for a pinta of beer.
  • Families go out together all the time: parents take their children with them everywhere they go. One result is that you can often hear children playing on the street or at a playground as late as 11 pm, and during the Midsummer (or Día de San Juan) festivities, it’s not rare to see kindergartners staying up all morning.
  • Even though Barcelona is a relatively big city, the people have a small town mentality, and they all seem to know one another (at least within their neighborhoods).
Strange(r) Things in Barcelona - The Weird Things Us Expats Just Can't Understand. Photo by TL_Studio
Photo Credit: TL_Studio / Shutterstock, Inc.

Discovering the City

  • Buses won’t stop to pick you up unless you wave them down like a hitchhiker. No matter how significant you think you look standing there with your head held high.
  • Don’t try this at home, but in Barcelona, no one ever waits for the red light to turn green before they cross the street. If there are no cars that seems like an immediate threat, everyone just goes right ahead – often followed by disapproving glances from moms trying to teach their kids to be safe.
  • Locals start wearing winter coats and scarves as soon as the temperature drops below 25°C. Tourists wear flipflops and bathing shorts all year round, regardless of the weather and also where they are (the Sagrada Familia or the beach).

Eating Out and Shopping

  • Most shops (excluding the ones located in areas swarming with tourists, and some large supermarkets) are closed between 2 and 5 pm, during the siesta period.
  • Restaurants close after lunchtime and reopen pretty late, at 8:30 pm, for dinner. People are also passionate about cooking at night – preferably at around 11-12 pm, with the windows open and music turned on loud.
  • In August, everything stops dead, and several smaller shops and even restaurants close for the entire month. Everyone’s entitled to holidays, right?
  • Speaking of holidays: España is one of the countries with the most bank holidays in Europe. For example, both the 6th and 8th of December are holidays, with one working day in between them, so people usually just take the rest of the week off.
Strange(r) Things in Barcelona - The Weird Things Us Expats Just Can't Understand. Photo by Alexandr23
Photo Credit: Alexandr23 / Shutterstock, Inc.

Customs and Traditions

  • Ever heard of the Tió de Nadal? It’s a log of wood with a face painted on it that children “feed” and take care of during the Advent period, then, on Christmas Eve, they beat it with a stick to make it poop some candy. Similarly, the caganer is a little figurine that is essential to every nativity set in several parts of Spain, and depicts a man with his pants pulled down, crouching above a pile of stool. At Christmas Markets, you can buy caganers with the face of famous personages such as Angela Merkel, Michael Jackson and Homer Simpson. Way to bring the holy story of Christmas closer to  us mere mortals!
  • There is a late winter, early spring food festival-type event called the calçotada, where family members get together in the fashion of a barbecue and roast giant spring onions until they blacken. Then they peel off the blackened layer, dip the  calçots in romesco sauce, and lower them into their mouths with their heads hanging back. Does it sound yummy? No. Do all Catalans love it? Yes. We definitely need to give it a try!

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