Gifts and Endings and All Those Types of Things


Find two members of the culture and ask them about how people give gifts.

I don’t particularly think that gift giving customs in the United States are all that complicated or hard to understand, but I was born and raised here, so it comes as second nature.  As for gift giving customs in Barcelona, let me just say that we spent an entire four-hour session of my Spanish class where my professor attempted to educate 12 of us on how to properly give a gift.

One of my favorite practices of gift giving is for a dinner party.  Dinner party can mean anything from a barbecue to a paella night to just a small family gathering, but there are certain courtesies that guests and hosts follow. Firstly, guests always offer to bring something in the planning of the party, be it a bottle of wine, dessert, a salad, something of that sort. The host can either accept or decline this offer, but the guest usually brings his or her suggested dish to pass, which results in an abundance of food that nobody is ever really upset about.  Honestly, this is a pretty common practice in my household too.  What I think is so great is that at the end of the party, when there is food left over because everybody brought something extra, the host bags it all up, similar to a to-go box at any restaurant, and gives it to her guests as they are leaving.  And it is considered RUDE to not take the leftovers with. Its like a trade off: you bring some food, you take some food, and everybody is stuffed to the brim for the next few days.  I think it just exudes a friendly environment of everyone pitching in to make a great night.

The second gift giving tradition I encountered was a pretty standard tradition for most European countries when American students meet with their host families.  It is customary for the student to bring a gift that represents something about their home country or state or something about themselves.  My friend Peter brought his host family a jug of maple syrup because he is from a town in Minnesota famous for their maple syrup.  If I was staying with a host family, I think I would have brought some sort of fancy cheese because I’m from Wisconsin- America’s Dairy Land!

I really like this tradition because it puts a meaning behind a gift.  There isn’t any obsessive freaking out about ‘will they like it’ or worrying about how much money to spend.  It’s a gift from the heart, which guarantees that it means something.


P.S.  As Task Twelve has come to a conclusion; I must mention that this is probably my last post.  I’m home in America, I’ve written just about everything I can about Barcelona and my travels (for now at least) and this blog will now only serve as a happy memory. Thanks for following.



Not So Different After All


Find two university students from the culture and ask them what their lives are like outside of their studies. Do they have jobs? How often do they see or talk to their families? How much time do they have for friends and socializing?

Fortunately for me, some of my closest, native friends in Barcelona were college students, just as I was. And they were equally excited to trade stories and discuss cultural differences as I was. Deborah and Alba (both mentioned in the last post, as well as many others) both attended the main university in Barcelona. Alba was studying international relations, which is why she was interning for our study abroad program. Deborah was studying business and helped out in her father’s restaurant both out of family duty and entrepreneurship experience. Both of them lived at home and commuted to school. Like most Spanish citizens, remaining with or close to their family throughout their college years, and nearby for most of their life is a high priority. Deborah commented that she had a friend who commuted 2 hours to school every day so that he could live at home with his parents.

As for free time, both of them were easily able to balance school, some sort of internship/part time job, and socializing. University students in Barcelona face many of the same challenges that American University students face: lots to do and never enough time. In fact, discussing stories of how long we’ve gone without sleep and how long we’ve procrastinated before due dates was a common bonding experience.

Alba did comment, though, that as she was progressing farther into a very serious relationship with her boyfriend, she was cutting out time with her family and friends to spend with him. But I don’t find this abnormal at all. In all honesty, I was shocked about how similar college life is between countries.

One thing I am extremely jealous of, though, is the European university exchange program. Currently, the EU is working on standardizing most of the Universities throughout its member-countries so that EU university students could move from one university to another each year, seamlessly, and still graduate on time. This could mean, that if I were an actual resident of Barcelona, I could spend my first year at the University of Barcelona, spend another year in London, a third year in Paris, and my final year in Italy. As a big fan of studying abroad in general, as well as increased connection between countries in a increasingly globalized world, I think this is a great idea, and only wish the something was available for my generation.

Time is Money


Ask two members of the culture what they think about U.S. American culture.

This is, again, one of those tasks that I think would have been accomplished even if it wasn’t asked.  One of the most important things to most of the students in my program was finding out what other cultures think of our own.  Americans often believe that theirs is the best and most efficient culture and that everyone else is envious.  As all of us had been planning to travel internationally, we were well aware that this wasn’t the case, but not so sure about the extent.  Did they hate us as much as some people say? Do they think we’re fat? Do they believe all the stereotypes about US?  As it turns out, they were in the same situation as us.  Most Spaniards weren’t so unaware as to assume that every US stereotype was true, but they did understand that there are fundamental differences in our cultures.

Our program advisor Inma had an assistant, Alba, who was about 25.  We became very close with her as she went on most of our excursions, to the point where we often got into deep conversations such as this one.

“Americans are too focused on money.  The live to earn money, but then they have no time to spend it.”  The Spanish way of life is much different.  Stores aren’t open 24/7 because that makes the most money; they’re open during the day and not too early or late with a lunch break in between because that makes enough money and gives the storeowner time off.  Siestas are in existence so that families can eat together and be together throughout the day even though that means they can’t be at work making money.  Americans value money, and that is a very true stereotype that Alba held.

One of Alba’s friends Marta also commented that Americans eat differently.  This seems trivial at first, but I realized it had deeper meaning.  Spaniards take their time when eating, and courses are delivered slowly with lots of space in between.  There is plenty of time for talking and laughing and most meals at restaurants often take hours and are celebrated events.  Americans, on the other hand, eat fast and rarely talk. When I was a waitress, the average time for a couple to stay seated at a table when eating dinner out was just over a half an hour.  I think this goes back to the fact that Spaniards take every opportunity to enjoy their company and be with the people they have; they very rarely have their phones out texting, I’ve noticed.  Americans are so hurried and busy that they don’t take meals as opportunities to enjoy people, just as something that must be done and done quickly.

Alba and Marta opened my eyes to the difference in appreciation for time and family and people that the Spaniards had that most Americans don’t.  Of all the things I learned in Barcelona, I think that was one of the most important.

‘Friendly’ Would Not Be My Adjective of Choice


Ask two members of the culture for directions to one of the following: a bank, restaurant, post office, movie theater, etc.

I have a terrible sense of direction; the only reason I don’t get lost in my own town is because I’ve been there my whole life and I’m used to it. But plop me in any other city? I’m lost. Plop me in Barcelona where I also can’t speak the language? We’re going to have problems. I knew I was going to have to ask for directions long before this task came around, and I was worried.

Now I could just choose two people who provided my favorite response when asking for directions:

Perdona. Perdona. Necesito indicaciones a…

No. *shakes head or hands and swiftly walks away*

How many times did I have this exact conversation? How many times was this experience repeated over and over? More than two I can tell you. I think people just get sick of lost American tourists who need help. I mean I would…

In contrast though, the people of Ireland, as I learned in my 48 hours trip to Dublin, are a lot nicer. In fact, the Irish are perhaps the nicest people I have met in my worldly travels.

We were four girls, lost in Dublin, trying to find the meeting spot for our night tour. All we had was a piece of paper with an address and our wits about us, which were draining fast from excessive travelling and lack of sleep. As the meeting time was drawing nearer and Mary was nearing tears, we stopped to ask the bouncer/head of house person at a nearby restaurant for help. He read the address and admitted that although that specific building should be just a couple buildings down, it was not and that actually address did not exist. He even went so far as to call the number on our paper with his phone (as our phones didn’t work internationally) and tried to track down the company to help us. When that didn’t work, he started waving down people on the street asking them what they thought. After about 10 minutes, we had a large crowd of Irish civilians trying to help us find this meeting point. Nonetheless, we could not find it.

So when we sadly trekked back to tell our friend his efforts were in vain and we didn’t get to go on our tour, he pulled us into the restaurant, bought us a round of beers, and ordered us his favorites on the menu to get us started. Compared to the experiences of asking for directions in Barcelona, the four of us were so in shock we couldn’t talk for a few minutes, and when we could talk we only blabbed on and on about how lucky we were and how nice the Irish were.

Asking for directions in Barcelona is scary and usually unhelpful. It made me always research where I was going ahead of time and almost never go anywhere on my own. But I learned that not every city and not every people is like that, which is all I can ask for really.

Barcelona and I Were Just Meant to Be


Ask two members of the culture who are about your own age what kind of music young people listen to.

Let me just throw out to little facts: EDM music is my favorite. EDM music is Barcelona’s favorite. Can you tell why we get along so well?

This task was one of the easier ones because club life is enormous in Barcelona. Many of the people, actually almost all of the people I met, go clubbing and they do it late into the night. And clubs need music. Lots of loud and popular to music to bring in a good crowd and keep them dancing all night long.

Fortunately for me and the clubs, the university age citizens of Barcelona love EDM music almost as much as they love bocadillos and tapas.

Que tipo de musicas es tu favorite?

La musica de las discotecas! The music of the clubs!

I guess its kind of a cycle, but the presence of EDM music in all the clubs makes people look into that type of music which makes them like that music which makes the clubs play that music. But again, I’m not complaining. Of all the things I did to try and look less like a ‘guiri’ and fit in with this culture, my music taste helped me the most.

There are the rogue citizens who said they liked ‘rock and roll’ in English, their Spanish accents twisting the phrase just a little bit. But the only people I could find who weren’t EDM enthusiasts were the Americans I traveled with, trying with all their might to get on board the musical experience that was Barcelona.

But I Don’t Even Like Talking on the Phone in English!


Call a business you are interested in and ask when it is open and where it is located.

So I took a little liberty in completing this task: I called a taxi company and asked them to come pick myself and two other friends up from our dorms at four in the morning the next day and take us to the airport.

We were headed to Prague the next day, while Dylan, Jake and I realized that our normal method of transportation to the airport – taking the metro to the renfe and the renfe to the airport, all for free because of our metro cards – opened at 6am and we needed to be to the airport by 5. All three of us had used taxis many times since being in Barcelona and we all considered ourselves masters at hailing one down and communicating where we needed to go in another language. But calling one? And Scheduling one? We didn’t even know where to begin. After a little researching and picking names out of a hat, I was sitting with my phone dialed to the number of a taxi company, Dylan and Jake on either side, staring intently at me. And the conversation, although planned out as eloquent and seamless beforehand, went a little something like this:

Hola. Hablas ingles?


Oh. Necesito un taxi en la mañana….mañana.


Si. En 101 Calle Sardenya. A las cuatro.



If you add in plenty of awkward pauses and confusion and Jake and Dylan laughing hysterically in the background, you could probably imagine what that fateful phone call sounded like. Fortunately though, I did something right, and the taxi was there at four to pick us up.

How to Get In with the “Hip” Crowd


Speak to at least two people about your age or younger who would be familiar with some of the slang that is currently being used. Ask for their help in identifying at least 10 words or phrases. In your post, list these and tell when they would be used. Give the English equivalent, too.

It came as no surprise to any of us Barcelona-newbies that there would be a language barrier; we speak English and Spain is not an English speaking country. For the better-researched portion of our group, the easy-to-miss fact that in Barcelona, most citizens speak Catalan wasn’t a surprise either. Most of the students from Drake, in fact, knew very well that a quote “different dialect of Spanish is spoken in Barcelona, much like the different dialects in the United States.”

While Catalan may be considered a dialect of Spanish, for those of us that lived in Barcelona, it was a whole new language. You know what’s a really good way to stand out as a tourist? Attempting to speak the wrong language.

After a while, we got better. And although my Spanish got a lot better, my Catalan never really got off the ground. I could read metro signs and street signs, understand the cashier at the market and other basic tasks, but if anyone ever asked me something in rapid fire Catalan on the street, they got a very timid and terrified “Ingles. Lo siento, Ingles.”

To add to the whole jumbo of two types of Spanish floating around, there is the lovely concept of slang: phrases used by locals that don’t mean what they seem to mean to poor American tourists when they try to translate back to English. As I’ve mentioned many times though, I had a few locals to help me out and decipher the mysteries of Barcelona/Catalan slang: Deborah, my accidental best friend, and Inma, my much needed program advisor. With their assistance over four months, here is my cumulative list of random words that you should definitely know if you’re headed to my favorite city:

Qué tal? – This is a greeting, much like ‘What’s up’ is for Americans. I never asked for a direct translation because it took me so long to figure out why is was being used in the first place.

Vale – ‘Vale’ can mean a range of things like ‘okay’ or ‘cool’ or ‘good’ or just about any other word you want it to mean. One of my professors was notorious for using it multiple times in each sentence. “Vale. Comprendes? Vale. Vale.” The faster you say it, the better.

Tener buen rollo – So marijuana is decriminalized in Barcelona, which means you come into contact with a lot of friendly stoners. One fateful conversation my friend had ended with our random Barcelonan pot-head swaying off into the distance, mentioning as he left, “tienes buen rollo.” Deborah later explained it means “you have good vibes” But she also cautioned us, that if we ever decided to use the phrase, to make sure we didn’t substitute in “un” instead of “buen” because “tener un rollo” means “to have a one night stand.”

De puta madre – “great” “awesome”. It took me forever to learn this one because my professors often used it sarcastically. Put it this way, I had to understand sarcastic slang in Catalan, a language I had never heard before in my life.

Entender – To the beginning Spanish student, this means to understand. To the Catalans, this is a way to ask if someone is gay. I’m sure you can imagine the hilarity that would ensue…

Guay – “Cool!” Debroah taught me this word. She just explained one night that it was a good response instead of saying “bien!” all the time. And it was addicting to the point where my entire program used it on a daily basis.

Guiri – The first Catalan word we were taught on arriving to Barcelona, “guiri” means tourist. “Don’t be a guiri!” Toni would shout at us, “don’t be stupid!”

Qué fuerte! – This phrase directly translates to ‘how strong!’ but actually is another way to say ‘cool’ or ‘wow’ when someone is telling you something interesting.

Tio/Tia ­ – Literally translated, this means uncle or aunt, but as a slang word, means a cool guy or cool girl – a compliment, not family relation.

Peras­ – This word was discovered as I was shopping with my favorite twins in the world, Megan and Amanda. Both nutrition majors from Rhode Island, the were very health conscious and liked to buy mostly fruits and vegetable. While out look for pears one day, Amanda asked a worker where should could find the ‘peras’. He looked at her with a mixture of concern and laughter. We later learned the ‘peras’ is slang for boobs.

So maybe comprehensive isn’t the best way to describe this list – but hey, there’s Wikipedia if you need a comprehensive list. This is a list of the Top 10 most useful or funny slang words that I encountered in Barcelona.

Barcelona Knows How to Tell You It Loves You


Identify and attend a festival, fair, public event, etc. that is celebrated in the culture. Speak with at least two members of the culture who are present. Choose two who are quite different, e.g., young vs. old, male vs. female, etc. Ask why the event is important. 

The United States has St. Valentine’s Day on February 14th, where typically, men dote chocolate and red colors hearts on their girlfriends and wives and lovers in an attempt to swoon and show their love to the wonderful ladies in their lives.  In theory.  Its actually materialized and retail-based and rarely ever truly romantic, in my opinion.  Especially on the equality front; the entire holiday is based on men giving women gifts.

The Spaniards, rather the Catalunyans (because it is only celebrated in Catalunya), have a much preferred and sweeter version: the Festival de St. Jordi, on April 23rd.  On this day, men typically buy women, ranging from their mothers and sisters to lovers, to just significant and important women a rose, while women buy the respective group of men a book.  But this doesn’t mean that the Spanish version of Walgreens and every store in the entire area is packed with overpriced books and flowers to charge the heck out of everyone with a romantic side.  Instead, on every street corner and small tables, set up by local citizens and small business selling 2 euro roses and 3 euro books of every shape and size and smell.  Valentine’s day crushes romantics and causes cynicism non-romantics; St. Jordi makes everyone fall in love.

Now, don’t give me too much credit. I’m not a romantic and had no special guy to gift a book.  I wasn’t planning on participating much.  But after seeing roses everywhere, confetti all over the city, and the general happiness and calmness of the population, I bought two of my best girl friends, and my favorite Spanish professor, a rose each.  And I felt like I truly told them I cared about them.  To me, it was more special than any Valentine’s day, artificial happiness I’ve every had.

As the tasks command, I talked to some varying people about this holiday and, despite their personal differences; everyone seemed to have the same opinion about this lovely holiday/festival.  One of the older men who works the front desk in my building said that he’s been buying a rose for his wife every year since they were married.  One of the cute preschool girls coming home from her school near my building said she bought a book for her dad and she was near exploding with excitement.  My program director, Inma, said this was a day of ‘amor!’ and one of my German classmates said he was just as jealous of this holiday just as much as I was.

I guess there isn’t really much more I can say except that I seriously wish this was a holiday in the States, or that I could be in Barcelona every April 23rd for the rest of my life.  It was the sweetest most loving gesture I have ever seen in my life and even managed to take a little bit of my cynicism/anti-romanticism away.

FCBarcelona and How Futbol is a Way of Life


Identify a museum, park, festival, etc. that is representative of the culture. Find at least two members of the culture and inquire about why it is representative (e.g., what does the Washington Monument tell about the U.S.). 

So I’m going to go out on a little bit of a limb here, and argue that futbol, or soccer as the Americans like to say, is the equivalent of a festival in Barcelona. I say this for two reasons: 1, futbol games are the equivalent or greater of a football game in Wisconsin and I consider those mini-festivals in themselves, and 2, there aren’t a lot of festivals in winter seasons (even if Spanish winter is almost as warm as the early part of Midwest summers).

That being said, I went to an FCBarcelona game with my friend Madeline. Her boyfriend, an avid futbol fan, bought her two tickets long before we even left the states and she asked me to go with her. We bought some memorabilia to blend in with the crowd, went out for pizza beforehand, got sufficiently pumped up, hopped on the metro. When we got off at our stop and up the steps to the fresh air again, we were shocked. Everywhere you looked, literally as far as the eye could see, were people crowding towards the various entrances of the infamous Camp Nou. We shuffled along and were eventually directed to our seats. Madeline and I arrived right as the beginning announcements were started so we didn’t have much time to talk.

Now I assumed a futbol game would be similar to the many Packers games I’ve gone to in Wisconsin. Loud. Crazy. Fun. Lots of excitement. Was I wrong….

Madeline and I started chatting during the first couple of minutes only to realize that we were, potentially, the only people talking in the entire stadium. Everybody else was staring intensely at the field below. It was like watching a round of golf, where everyone is silent because even the tiniest sound could mess anything up. And during the second half, when Madeline and I tried to take a few pictures with the field in the background, we were yelled at by Camp Nou officials to sit down and that we were ‘disturbing the game.’ (Don’t worry though; we got a few good pictures. See below)


Of course, being young, American girls, Madeline and I continued to talk throughout most of the game, discussing everything in the world – and the game going on below us. A few minutes before the game was over (and Barcelona easily won), two men in their late forties turned around and asked us where we were from. ‘The states,’ we replied. The explained that they knew we were talking English, but our accents were very strange and they weren’t entirely sure. I learned on many occasions that my Midwest accent, both in English and Spanish, is very strange to non-Midwesterners. But as we conversed with the gentlemen in very good English, we asked them about the seriousness of the game, and how it shocked us so much. ‘A goal can happen in a single second and one goal can change to whole game, so you have to pay attention every single second’ one of the men explained. ‘We can talk any time of the day, but futbol games are for watching futbol’ the other added. Madeline and I felt a little silly, but the men laughed it off and we watched the last few minutes as intensely and silently as any good citizen of Barcelona would.

But the seriousness of a ‘fun sport’ was still so strange to me. And since the best people to ask about strange cultural things are professors, I asked my favorite professor Toni about it. What Toni said absolutely shocked me:

FCBarcelona represents more than just one futbol team; it represents the entire Catalunya region. And Real Madrid, the team from the capitol of Spain, therefore, represents Spain as a whole. Since Catalunya is attempting to succeed, many Catalunyan citizens only identify with FCB and not Madrid, as a way to symbolize that they see themselves as citizen of Catalunya, and not Spain. So when FCB plays Madrid, it is not just a match they are battling out, it is a social issue as well.”

To the citizens of Barcelona, and the Catalunyan region as a whole, FCB represents freedom and a successful succession while Real Madrid represents tyranny and repression. They use futbol as a means of civil expression, not just entertainment.

This, to me, was such a huge discovery and difference to me in contrast to American culture that it has stuck with me to this day, and is still one of the things I consider to be the most important from my time in Barcelona.

I Am Here to Crush Some Hopes and Dreams


Identify a food that is not readily available in your culture. Go to a restaurant, store, etc. where that food can be found and ask a server, cook, store employee about that dish. If it doesn’t violate any dietary restrictions, taste the food. What do you think? 

One word: paella.  Another word: disappointment.

The definition of paella, according to the even-knowledgeable Wikipedia is “a Spanish dish of rice, saffron, chicken, seafood, etc., cooked and served in a large shallow pan.”  My friends though, led me to believe the paella was the all-holy combination of everything right with the world, mixed in with rice and seafood, all grilled up in a pan large enough to feed 20 people for a couple days.  I WAS LIED TO.

Most Spaniards will say that paella is a representation of a period in Spanish history when poor families would grill up everything they had left at the end of the week with some rice in a large pan and eat whatever came next. Over the years though, the refinement and experimentation of paella left a delicious delicacy that Americans attempt to copy but do so unsuccessfully.

After my hopes and dreams were established and entirely based on trying this wonderful dish, I asked around for where to go that wouldn’t break the bank.  My professor Toni gave my class two helpful tips that I gladly give to anyone who asks me for Barcelona advice: any place that advertises that they have paella is a tourist trap and probably has bad paella, and the best day to get paella is Thursday because, traditionally, that is when all the left overs of the week are gathered up and stirred into the delicious melting pot that has become Spain’s signifying dish.

While Toni’s advice was helpful in avoiding tourist traps in the search of this delicious dish, he, like every one else I talked to, forgot to mention that there is no such thing as good paella.

I am sure that, if this blog were actually frequented, a lot of people would be upset with me right now.  But let me give you the low down: paella is bland (like most Spanish food, actually), the rice to meat ratio is way off, and you can get single serving paella, which to me, just defeats the sprit and excitement of the whole dish. IT SHOULD BE A GROUP EXPERIENCE.

But even after my first paella experience at a decent restaurant that crushed the majority of my seafood-paella-hope-and-dreams left me hungry and unsatisfied, I continued my search.  To no avail.  I spent four months in Spain and four months asking around and getting directions and trying and tasting and I did not find a paella that I liked.

Maybe its just me.  That is a definite possibility: maybe I’m just not a paella person.  But I love most food and I’m not a picky eater, and I love rice and seafood and large pans of sizzling hot mixtures.  Safe to say, I left Barcelona a little sad and confused in the department of the national dish and international Valencian delicacy.  If you’re even in Barcelona though, get a bocadillo from a little side of the road stand, eat as much pan con tomate as your stomach will allow, and black out on sangria at least once, and I guarantee you’ll get all you need to get from the Spanish food experience.