Life in Barcelona: The cons
After waxing poetic about the joys of living in this gorgeous Mediterranean city, I regret to continue with a list of not-as-pleasant aspects of expat life in Barcelona. Not all expats have the same experiences, but from a quick glance through Facebook groups and chatter among the expat community, it's not difficult to see that most expats face the following challenges when moving to the capital of Catalonia.
If I had a 10-cent euro for every time an expat in Barcelona uttered the word ¨bureaucracy¨ followed by an eye roll, I would be the queen of Catalonia. Establishing a legal life here is no easy feat, to put it lightly. My friends and family would waste no time backing me up in this view; they have listened to me complain for the better part of 2 years as I have worked to become an official resident.
I can safely say that I have succeeded in becoming legal in Spain, but I wish I could say that the process stops there. After digging up documents, waiting in lines, being redirected to different offices, and then redirected twice more, the journey is far from over.
I am not familiar with such processes in other countries. I imagine they require the same documentation, application timelines, and a vial of your blood. But the difference may be the willingness of other nations to complete these tasks in a timely manner. As I have touted previously, Spain is in no rush to do anything, not even to take part in their endangered siestas.
I am often asked why I put up with it, why I go through all the waiting, all the back and forth, all the miscommunication, all the uncertainty. Clearly there is something appealing about living here, and I wasn't going to let a few months or years of waiting get in the way.
Hours of (in)operation
There is nothing quite as satisfying as a weekend in America. Two full days of 24 hours each, during which so much can be done yet it always seems like there is not enough time. In Spain, Sunday is the day when the city shuts down. For those of you who are reading from the U.S., think of Christmastime in the States, when only few convenience stores and Chinese restaurants are open for those who are actually out doing things.
I may be exaggerating a tiny bit here, as not everything is closed on Sundays. I was excited to find that there is a mall down in the harbor that is open on Sunday, and that most restaurants welcome sangria-sipping patrons on their patios. On Sunday, Spaniards go to church, the beach, or their families' homes to eat and relax. Sunday is truly a day for rest and nothing more.
Catalan is its own language. I have been told by a Galician that it is "a waste of time to learn Catalan" as nearly everyone in the region speaks Spanish. While some hardcore expats take advantage of the free Catalan language classes that are offered in an attempt to keep the culture alive, most (myself included) consider mastering Spanish the priority.
Any expat can tell you that the lifestyle--although invigorating and exciting--can also be heartbreaking. Foreigners come and go. They realize they miss home, that Spain is not for them, that they want to live elsewhere. Expats are less likely to plant roots, especially in a city like Barcelona where the economy is struggling and the desire to fully integrate into Catalan culture is lacking. Making friends as an expat is difficult enough without having to worry about saying goodbye to them in a few months.
My expat stint in Cambodia was an extreme example of this rapid turnover. Nearly every weekend there was at least one going-away party for someone in the tiny expat community of Phnom Penh. Conversations that would normally begin with, "What´s your name?" were replaced with queries such as, "How long do you plan to stay in Cambodia?"
Although this is not a Spain-specific challenge, it merits mentioning as a drawback to the precarious expat experience.
Is all of this worth it? I can reply with absolutely certainty, Yes. I may return home one day, or I may be a lifelong expat here or in a different country, but the flexibility and resilience I have garnered as a foreigner living in a different country are lessons that I will carry with me no matter where I go.