Monday, April 1, 2013

Barca! Barca! Barca! A Taste of Barcelona

Beauty and Danger Mixed

Barcelona, one of the world's most beautiful cities. Set your bag down on the ground and gaze around at the gorgeous architecture, take in a breath, look down and discover your bag missing has ran-off. Pick-pockets and thieves are a HUGE problem in Barcelona, exacerbated by the economic crisis Spain is plodding through.
Barcelona architecture
I race into a bathroom to take a leak, dropping my bags by the door, inside a hostel, re-emerging 25 seconds later, and am immediately scolded by the staff for leaving my bags in the open, warning me that this was the pick-pocket capital of the world and not to do so again for my own good.

You must be extremely attentive at all times, and locals recommend that you if you have a bag, when on the subway, to wear it in front of you and hold onto it. Don't think, even in a crowd, that someone bumping into you was just a random occurrence, thieves work in teams and while one distracts you, the other pilfers your belongings.
Anyone who has been in Barcelona for any length of time has been a victim. My friend Robert had his iPhone stolen out of his hand on the subway, my father said goodbye to his wallet, my friend Anna had someone try to steal her phone while in a restaurant. Every single person I met had a war story to tell.
You don't leave your stuff out at the beach, you don't leave your bag hanging on the chair behind you, if you're suspicious of someone, tune in to it, there's a reason.

The challenge is, there is little disincentive for such behavior. The worst punishment from being caught usually comes from the intended victim, in the form of a bloody nose, and even then, those targeted by crime rarely do so for fear of retribution from larger numbers of bandits working in teams.
If, by some miracle, the perpetrators are arrested, a small fine is paid and they are back out on the street.

Economists believe that you can control most human behavior through incentives and disincentives, and the Spanish police and legislature do an extremely poor job of influencing would be thieves with them.
While Saudi Arabia's cutting the hands off of thieves might be extreme, you don't for a second have to worry about the safety of your possessions while there. The same cannot be said in Spain.

The Cost of Living
To live as a local doesn't cost much. The price of rent has decreased over the last couple years as the Spanish respond to an economic crisis, which, being tethered to Euro, they cannot print (inflate) their way out of. To make matters worse, the government raised the VAT (Value Added Tax) by 3 percentage points, to 21 percent, so in addition to making less money in their jobs, and unemployment hovering around US 1930 depression era levels of 25% (even higher for young people), the Spanish are paying more for their goods and services, leading to less money being spent, and furthering the vicious cycle.
This is what happens after bubbles (real estate)- a retraction, paying for the excesses of the past. It hasn't hit the United States as hard in part because we are the world's reserve currency, thus our money is in demand even as the Fed prints. China and Brazil recently tried to strike a deal to bypass the trade in dollars.

Indeed, you can get by living modestly for about 700 Euro a month here (about $950)
Vegetables and fruits are far cheaper than in California. At least the people can eat.

Spanish Manners
I generally found Spaniards to be quite direct, and in general friendly, but definitely not as polite as in, say, England. In fact, I met some Londoners teaching English in the country who complained about the lack of "please" or "thank you's" being circulated through Spanish society, and confessed that they wonder whether they are considered socially weak because of their knee-jerk polite attitudes.

check out this beautiful fountain in the middle of the park in Barcelona

Waste Not
In America many escalators go around the clock, leave a light on and it will continue to burn. Not so in Spain, who have installed motion detectors in many public areas. Alone at the airport? Think the escalator must be out of service? Wrong; it turns on when you step on it, and off when you reach the top. Lights in a public bathroom, motion detector; there definitely seems to be a conscious attempt to reduce waste here. They have plucked the proverbial low-hanging fruit of conservation, and the world would do well to follow suit.
monument by the ocean
Clubs
The clubs and party scene in Barcelona is fantastic. Unlike Los Angeles, where last call is 1:30 AM, clubs stay open until 4 or 5 AM. The crowd is generally quite welcoming, and it's easy to make new friends.
The club scene is supported by the Spanish tradition of "siesta" where everyday from about 1:30-4 PM, the city sleeps.
While it might increase the quality of life, its certainly understandable why the Spanish can't keep up with the economic output of the United States and Germany.

Food
Tapas- or small plates of snacks are the popular choice for most Spaniards. Paella, seafood, pizzas, coffee, and vegetables make up the majority of Spanish cuisine. The Spanish generally eat in moderation, as opposed to America, I saw very few fat Spaniards.

Overall
Barcelona is perhaps the most beautiful city in the world, with a friendly atmosphere, clean, and while lodgings might be somewhat expensive and the taxes high, if you can handle insecurity in regards to your belongings, it is one of the few must see cities of the world, and one I could honestly contemplate living in.

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