A South African in Barcelona


I experienced some panic in my first few hours in Barcelona. There were strong signals that my girls weekend could turn into a solo expedition – The Sister and two friends were supposed to be arriving from London but EasyJet had started cancelling some of their London-Spain flights because of an air traffic control strike by the French! (Not just Transnet who enjoys a bit of strike action, apparently). Planes have to fly over France to get from London to Barcelona, so the girls were in danger of being properly stranded. Then there was the Best Friend who’d missed her Barcelona connection because a diabetic medical emergency had stopped her from disembarking in London. She was also now potentially stranded in London because of the frigging Frenchies on strike.

Despite these bad tidings, I decided to make the most of this new city and left the apartment to go and explore. Armed with absolutely no information on Barcelona (besides Vicky Cristina Barcelona – duh) I decided to do what women do best: ask. I walked into a café on my street corner and, in very broken Spanish (with some Italian thrown in for good measure), I said something which probably sounded like:

“Where is walk, city, famous, beautiful, tourist, nearby?”

The Gran and Gramps behind the bar could not have been more charming and, happily, they seemed to understand precisely what I was saying – when in doubt, use muchos key words. Within minutes, I had enough information on nearby attractions to keep me occupied for many hours – that is, if ever left the café because Gran and Gramps couldn't stop chatting. After a long chin-wag, they asked me where I was from. I told them I was from South Africa. Response to my nationality abroad never cease to amaze me. The Apartheid regime was almost as internationally infamous as the Nazi regime and yet tons of people the world over seem to be surprised that there are white people in South Africa. Gramps, for one, was having none of it. He was convinced that I was having him on. I've experienced this reaction so many times that sometimes I get a bit impatient, but this old man was such a honey that I tried to humour him. I told him that I knew it sounded incredible but that it was absolutely, one hundred percent true.

Still, looked skeptical. Finally, he decided to demonstrate to me just how silly my little story sounded.

“If you’re South African,” he said, “then I’m Chinese!” and he pulled up the corners of his eyes on either side and nearly killed himself laughing.

I was liking the Barcelonians more and more.

By now it was about 5pm and I wanted to check whether the girls would be able to catch a bite to eat chez Gran and Gramps when they (hopefully) jetted in at about 11pm. So I asked them what time they closed shop, to which Gran replied, “Oh, we close at 1.”

I was like, “One a.m. in the manana? Seriously?” I could barely remember the last time I was awake at that hour, let alone working. I felt tired for her.

Welcome to Barcelona:
9:30am: the city's a morgue, except for a few tourists
10am – 12pm: shops open for a little taste of the work day
12pm – 4pm: Leisurely lunch and then SIESTA, baby! (who can argue with them there?)
4pm – 8pm: shops open
11/ 12pm: dinner
1am/ 2am: clubs open
4am/ 5am: the dance floor is packed
8:30am: clubs close for the night, er…I mean, the day…

Serious body clock adjustment required for us Anglo-saxons!

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