From Germany to BAR (bar, obviously), CEL (sky),ONA (wave): a german teacher and her journey through the beauty of a cosmopolitan city, crossing the duality of the Catalan and Spanish. By Maya Andreasdóttir
I didn’t know what a wonderful time laid before me. I arrived in Barcelona one day in July without ever having lived in another country, so I tried to soak up all the different impressions at once. Being a German, the first thing I realised was the warmth, the sun light so different from the one in Northern Europe, and, of course, the palm trees. Later on I fell in love with the mountains surrounding the city and the parks everywhere and, of course, the Mediterranean Sea.
The name of Barcelona cannot without reason be split up into the Catalan words BAR (bar, obviously), CEL (sky),ONA (wave), since those are the striking features of the Catalan capital. The architecture of Barcelona is one of its own and really worth a close look; modernist architects shaped the city and its atmosphere in a way one has to experience oneself. My greatest relief was that the city despite having more than 1.6 Mio inhabitants still was easy to get to know and to walk around in.
My way to work took me 20 minutes walking but if you have ever strolled along at a place like Barcelona you would want your way to work to take hours. If you ever go there don’t chose a fixed route, just start at someplace and follow the big avenues of Gràcia and Eixample if you are into architecture and shopping, or let yourself get lost in the labyrinthish alleys of El Born or the Gòtic, both quarters belonging to the antique city centre.
Luckily, I had studied Spanish for quite a while back then which made it very easy to get along with people, although I had to learn that Barcelona is not necessarily the best place to improve your Spanish. Of course, everyone speaks and understands it, but, as most people will have learnt by now from the media, Catalans are different from Spanish and righteously use their own language, the Catalan, which is a Romanian language but still very different from Spanish – and not just one of many Spanish dialects, as it is believed by many – like Italian and French and Portuguese. I wish I had started learning Catalan before and not after I went to Barcelona because it would have shown my respect for their culture, and you can tell they really are proud of it! I did never get treated badly for speaking Spanish, but one waitress at the coffee shop I went to every morning kept talking to me in Catalan, since it was her mother tongue and she had every right to do so. Our conversations weren’t very deep, as you can imagine. But you can get a smile out of people if you just use the Catalan “adèu” instead of the Spanish “adios” when leaving a store or a restaurant.
The good thing is, you as a tourist are already welcomed if you speak any other language than your own, because it shows you interest in other cultures. As a German you wouldn’t come far speaking to everyone in German, whereas French is obviously a common language the Catalans would learn in school due to its boundaries to France. And you can be sure to meet people from anywhere in the world: my flatmates were Italian, Moroccan, Argentinean, Russian, Belgian, French rather than Spanish. My colleagues at the language school I taught German at were English, Scottish, South
African, French and Italian and there only was one Spanish teacher. As you can see, it is easy to meet people, find out your common languages or try to speak with gestures and mimics as long as you don’t share one language. And the more languages you speak, the more languages you can practise while being there; for me it was the perfect place because I spoke Spanish at school with the people I taught, English with my colleagues and Italian with my flatmate (the little Moroccan I learnt consists only of swear words, wherefore I wouldn’t say I spoke Moroccan). All these people I met are very dear to me, still, even though we don’t see each other very often. But as anyone can tell who has ever been to another country with ERASMUS or other organisations, the time you spend abroad is so intense that weeks seem like months and months like years, it shapes you in a different way, it makes you understand other nations, cultures and languages in a deeper sense, even though – or because – they may be completely different from yours.