Patty: Patty in Spain
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Barcelona, etc.
I first moved to Barcelona in 2000 when Spain still had the peseta. So I was present when the country transitioned from the peseta to the euro. I came to Barcelona because I was anxious to experience a similar, yet different culture growing up Mexican-American. In 2002 I met my husband here in Barcelona through a contact, and in 2004 we were married in California. I naturally returned to Spain with my Catalan husband.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Blogging for me was an outlet to my creative writer's side and as a balm to my longing for home. I was feeling a bit unhappy about being so far from home and seeing my parents a bit more aged with every return visit home. I decided to quit whining and reinvent my vision and experience of living in Spain. I made the decision to focus on everything new, wonderful, and different about living abroad. I rediscovered Spain through my writing and soon forgot about missing home. My yearning turned into a buoyant want to discover new foods, traditions and cities in Spain. It was the best free expat therapy ever!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I do have a few favorite blog entries only because the picture and experiences were so much fun. Recapturing them in writing was the part of the writing process that makes me happy to be living here. These are St. Jordi, Flea Market shopping, Christmas tradition, and Summer.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Barcelona differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
There are two ways to handle culture shock: with angst or with a cultural embrace. Culture shock has many different stages, the first being euphoria. When I overcame that first stage and started living the day to day reality of living in a country that does not have commercial businesses open on Sundays, over-crowded metro wagons during peak hours, and devalues customer service--I almost lost my calm edge of sanity. It was all angst for me and I complained about work ethic, surly salespeople, and dreary Sundays. A kind friend gave me a wakeup call of my privileged experiences of living abroad and nudged me to realization of how lucky I was to be living a culturally rich lifestyle. I shelved that petulant side of myself into a stop-whining-compartment in my mind and began to accept all the good around me.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Barcelona? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I prepared myself for Barcelona by reading about the civil war and Catalan culture, but it was still not enough. Catalan people are peculiar and interesting at the same time. They are a bit standoffish at first. They are not sure if to judge a person by all the anti-American propaganda and stereotypes they hear perpetrated in the media or if to decide for themselves what an American is like by measure of their own interactions with an American. I should have learned some Catalan before coming here. Catalan people love foreigners who attempt to speak Catalan.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh do I have stories, but not enough time at present to explain. I do have a light anecdote about trying to speak Catalan. When I go shopping now, most people assume I am a local (that's a big wow for me, that means I have integrated myself pretty well). They begin to speak in Catalan with me and when they hear my ungrammatically correct Catalan, they revert to Spanish. I ignore that slight and continue to speak to them in Catalan, and they continue to speak to me in Spanish. I finally give up and speak in Spanish to them. My Catalan is not good enough I suppose. Sniff sniff. Who understands Catalans? Bad if you don't speak Catalan and bad if you don't speak it correctly.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Barcelona?
- Learn everyday phrases in the local language. Accept that things will always be different than where you come from, so repress the complaining.
- Make sure you are realistic about how much you are open to learning Spanish or Catalan. Don't stay in an English speaking bubble. Have language exchanges to meet local people.
- And if you are coming from the US, get ready for Target and Cosco withdrawals.
How is the expat community in Barcelona? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I work at an international school, so I have plenty of English speaking folk around me. But if you are a mom or single, join Expat clubs.
How would you summarize your expat life in Barcelona in a single, catchy sentence?
We have Ferran Adrià and you have Rachel Ray.