This past week Los Viajeros traveled to the very famous city of Barcelona, and I couldn’t help but feel both under and overwhelmed at the same time. I may have simply been overwhelmed because we had two papers, a quiz, an exam, and an in class writing to prepare for (Hurray for condensed summer classes). However, I think it was more so because of the city itself as well as the civil unrest in the autonomous community of Cataluña.
To provide some background, Barcelona is located in the community of Cataluña, a very industrial area of Spain that produces some of the most capital of the country. For this reason, the region pays more in taxes than they receive. As my Catalan professor pointed out, many in the community feel as if they’re just a colony being exploited by the rest of the country. The region also has its own language and distinct culture. For these reasons, many also feel like Cataluña should be its very own independent country, a sentiment that the majority of Spaniards don’t share.
To top it off, the community receives tourists from all over the world. As a student now studying abroad in Spain, from an Ivy League University such as the University of Pennsylvania, I feel as though now I’ve definitely seen both sides. As there is no shortage of privileged students at Penn who can afford to simply fly to Barcelona for spring break to party, I know exactly what type of tourists are coming to Spain simply to “live it up” with zero regard to the actual citizens or culture there.
Throughout our travels, we encountered several variations of the same phrase spray painted in English in various sites, “TOURISM KILLS THE CITY.” This theme was strengthened as we got to see first-hand how exactly this mass tourism is destroying Barcelona. Scattered throughout the city were many groups of obviously drunk tourists slurring and littering.
We encountered some of the most polluted public beaches I’ve ever been to. In addition, Barcelona was definitively the most expensive city I’ve been to in Spain, costing some in our group more than Sevilla, San Sebastián, and Toledo combined. While this may be good for the economy, on the local level, the graffiti clearly was speaking the truth, Mass Tourism is ruining what once was.
Despite the downfalls of Barcelona, we definitely had a lot of fun, and were able to pick up on the intrinsic differences between the people of Cataluña versus the people in other urban cities in Spain such as Madrid. With this in mind, this wouldn’t be an official Chad Vigil blog if I didn’t include a list of important things to consider, only this time, it’s a list of how to actually absorb the culture of a region without just being another tourist:
Don’t Litter and Respect their Country:
- I know this might seem like common sense to some, but to others this advice is more than needed. If you’re going to be a guest in somebody else’s city, the least you can do is respect it and not leave trash around, as with Barcelona, it can negatively impact the area.
Go where the locals go, not the tourists:
- As mentioned earlier, my classmates and I are fortunate enough to have a professor that is Catalan. He was able to give us a lot of recommendations, and we were able to do research on less touristy areas in Barcelona. There was a definite correlation between the sites that had little tourists and the sites I enjoyed the most.
- Taking the time to research and maybe communicate with the locals can really impact your stay. It is okay to visit the popular tourist spots (for us these were La Sagrada Familia andParc Guell), but taking the time to work in authentic experiences can really help in the long run. Visiting the places the locals frequent makes for not only a more fun and genuine experience, but also permits actual exposure to the culture.
Learn some of the language:
- I say this for two reasons, one, it’ll help you have an easier time in the place you’re visiting. Two, it’ll help the people whose city you are visiting. I can’t count the number of times I heard local Catalan residents having to use languages such as English in their own country simply because a tourist didn’t take the time to try to learn how to do something simple such as order food or ask for directions.
Don’t be Obnoxious:
- I’m looking at your drunk college students. As I said before, many go to vacation in places such as Barcelona simply to party, without taking the time to consider the people who live there. It’s self-explanatory how this can be very rude and incredibly embarrassing when visiting another country, and there is no better way to enforce the American stereotype than going on and making a mockery of oneself. Enjoying the famous cava in a city is one thing but getting grossly intoxicated and screaming in the streets is another (something we also witnessed during our travels).
Taking part in cultural tourism, a staple of Spain’s economy is one thing, but being a nuisance and simply using another country as a vacation spot rather than a new cultural hub is another. This journal may have been a bit of a rant, but I think after what I witnessed in Barcelona it was very needed. This last week before finals David and I are splitting with Los Viajeros to visit our ancestral home of Galicia, so stay tuned! ¡Hasta luego!