Friday, July 15, 2011

You're moving to Barcelona?!


That’s more or less the reaction we’ve gotten every time we tell someone our big news.  I probably should mention that this is more the excited reaction of our friends and not really our family members.  Our family members, while happy that we’re happy, were a little dismayed at first that we would be moving an ocean away (I particularly remember my dad asking why the Professor didn’t apply for a job opening at a university in Boca Raton, where we could be a mere hour’s drive away albeit surrounded by old people).   

Family members aside, most people, like Janice, in this clip from Friends above, are thrilled and excited for us because they imagine Barcelona to be this sexy, glamorous and sophisticated place akin to Paris, Rome, or London.   I have to be honest-- so do I. However, as I found out a few weeks ago, this view is not necessarily shared by people who are actually from Barcelona.   At a dinner party given by a close friend of mine, the Professor and I met a Catalan couple who had lived in Barcelona for many years.  They felt it their patriotic duty to disabuse us of any romanticized notion of what it would be like to live in Barcelona.  Apparently, petty crime is rampant and prostitutes abound not only in the dodgy areas of the city which we’d already read about and planned to avoid, but apparently in the upscale, nicer parts too.  But crime and prostitution don’t really bother me –after all I am from Miami.  

The part of their warnings that did scare me a bit is when my new Catalan friend pulled me aside and said, “I don’t want to paint my people in a bad light….” and then proceeded to paint her people in a very bad light.  According to her, Catalan people in specific and Spanish people in general, are not very fond of South Americans as a rule.  In their view, South Americans (or to use the derogatory term used by some Spanish people, “sudacas”) are uneducated, lower-class, and generally rude people.  As she put it, “People are going to think that your husband must have been a genius to have been hired over a Spanish citizen.”  When I mentioned that I’m only half South American and that the other half of me is Persian, she said “Worse! Listen, I understand the cultural complexities of your background, but to the average Spanish person, you’re just an Arab, a moro.”

Needless to say, I was taken aback and a little turned off by her frankness.  I normally like people who are straight forward and give their honest opinions. But I couldn’t help but feel like I was being insulted. At worst, my heritage was being put down by someone who didn’t even know me. At best, I was being spoken to like I was naïve and had never encountered discrimination.  The more I thought about her comments on the way home though, the more I realized that she was just trying to be kind and tell me what she honestly thinks I don’t know.  But I DO know. I’ve lived in the U.S. my entire life and even though I’m from a big city where everyone comes from somewhere different, I HAVE been made to feel like I don’t belong here.  I’ve had people make fun of my weird name and my weird food.  When I tell people where my dad is from, I hear all kinds of questions, some innocent and insular (“So do you guys have electricity over there? Does everyone ride camels?”) and some really offensive (“So do you believe the Holocaust never happened? Do you agree with the terrorists?”)  I’ve also been looked at weird for busting out Spanish when no one knew I was Hispanic.  I’ve had people ask me if I’m Mexican or complement me on my really good English.  The point is: despite all the inane and belittling comments, I can keep my chin up and come up with a way to respond to these people that does not compromise my kindness or dignity (okay, so not all the time). 

So, I’ll be okay in Barcelona.  I may get some weird looks or some mean questions, but in addition to my Hispanic hips and Middle Eastern eyes, I’ve also inherited some pretty thick skin.  So I’ll be okay.  I’ll keep the warnings in mind, but I refuse to judge Barcelonans before I’ve actually met them. And I’m sure we’ll make friends from all over the globe as we seem to do everywhere we end up. 

I’m just really hoping that my biggest problem is a hooker.  


  1. This woman may have had good intentions but to be technical it sounds as though she's just a negative Nancy. Sorry someone had to say it. Shes what us medical students would call a scarecrow. (I made that up...kinda like the terrible twenty.) you will be fine and if you're not I'll kick some butt when I go to Barcelona... And when they're on the floor, dazzled by my ninja skills, I'll say a line from a pit bull song with my best southern accent and my bushy Iranian eye brows.

  2. Need more Friends clips (and maybe Seinfeld)

  3. Yeah, I wouldn't put too much stock into it (although I have heard of the prejudice that exists there...I was supposed to move there with my (ex) Salvadorean bf and it's something we were aware of too).

  4. It's kind of complicated but also it has a bit of true. Arabs and Southamericans are more or less the Mexicans of Spain. There are a lot of prejudices around. BUT, it will depend on the social circle you'll live. Racism (as everywhere else) you're gonna find it in the lower and uneducated social classes.

    As a Mexican I never felt threatened in the States. Everyone treated me nice, and in Barcelona I had some of the best time of my life.

    Only try to speak some Catalan and understand that they have their own "nationality" most of them feel Catalan rather than Spanish. That's the Catalan "seny".

    Que tinguis sort i que visca Catalunya!

  5. @ThisTinder Thanks for stopping by!
    @Yörch: Moltes gràcies!

  6. I was just reading your blog and here is a little piece of advice from a South American who already dealt with Catalans... learn Catala!! even if just the basics, it can save you from a lot if you know how to say 'Hola (not the spanish way, with a very back L) , 'no parlo catala pero entenc' 'merci' 'adeu' ... just showing them that you are making the effort brings you to the inner circle and one you are in, the Catalans are great! they treated me wonderfully even though I was in Vic ( a small town and very very very Catala)...
    Bona sort! Visca el Barca y Visca Catalunya!!!