Flamenco, Churros, and Other Catalan Wonders: My ICE Weekend in Barcelona
9th-10th August 2014
Well the first thing I would say about my Intercultural Comparative Experience affectionately called “ICE weekend” was that it in NO WAY, remotely, AT ALL conjured up the image of “ice” in my mind, other than my intense desire to stick my head in a bowl of it. As one who has a rather strained relationship with heat and humidity, I probably should have thought the weather factor through before sleepily (though excitedly!) boarding an AerLingus plane to the Catalan capital of Barcelona. But noo. I just had to wear skinny jeans and a hoodie, didn’t I? I had lovingly embraced the weather in Ireland hardly ever above 70 degrees and often cloudy as to me that was literally the perfect weather. But as I stepped off the plane I was immediately hit by an enormous wave of heat, which brings me back to my very first thought as I stepped onto Catalan ground and immediately started to sweat: Damn it’s hot “ICE” weekend. HAH.” So I suppose that was the very first thing I noticed that was different from Ireland the place I had made my home for the past 3 weeks.
(See, if you google image “Ireland Weather” this is one of the very first images that pops up:
If you do the same thing for “Barcelona Weather” this is the first thing that you find:
Now a little backstory: I had always wanted to travel to Spain. Having taken many years of Spanish in school, I had an immense desire to go and use it. Had I not gone to Ireland for my summer abroad, I would have definitely chosen Spain. So maybe you can imagine how thrilled I was when I found out I was going to get to go to Barcelona for my ICE weekend. Actually, on second thought, you probably can’t imagine it it took a megaton of self control not to jump up and scream and/or pass out right there on the spot. I felt especially lucky and excited to be able to get the opportunity to compare Irish and SpanishCatalan cultures (yes I realize that is the point of the ICE weekend. Shh.) there is nothing more amazing and wonderful to me than traveling and learning about different cultures to the one I’m used to back in the US.
Since we arrived early in the day (yay 6:30 am flight), the two of us from Dublin had about 3.5 hours to go get ourselves thoroughly lost in Barcelona. And oh boy did we do a good job with that. After missing the streets we were looking for about 49 times because our map only showed one corner of the city and we literally went off the map, we can at least say we saw the Sagrada Familia (more on that one later) and 5,000 random streets in Barcelona. But, despite the ohsolovely blisters forming on my feet, it proved to be an excellent way to peoplewatch, do a little culture comparison, and work on getting very bizarre tanlines.
After we got back to the hostel and had a short orientation, we got to GO ON A THREE HOUR TOUR OF THE CITY! At least this time we had a fantastic tour guide, other CIEE students who looked just as dead on their feet as we did, and some pretty rockin’ CIEE staff members.
As we meandered the city (again), I noticed even more things, which I shall now list because I like lists:
1. Language! When first arriving, aside from the heat and my deep regret for wearing pants and having not gone to the bathroom on the plane, my next thoughts were of great joy in seeing signs in Spanish. Mind you, I have a lot of years of Spanish under my belt, but until then I had never actually been to a Spanishspeaking country. It was completely AWESOME to be able to read the signs. I felt like such a languageninja. In Ireland, most people speak English of course, but the signs are all bilingual in English and Irish Gaelic. And it is a mighty good thing I am fluent in English because Gaelic is one hell of a language a beautiful one, but a difficult and very, very not phonetic. I have absolutely zero idea how to pronounce most things when I see them written out. If you asked me just a few weeks ago, I would
have said “Sláinte”, the Irish version of “Cheers” (as in the toast, not the TV show) was pronounced “Slaintea”. So...slightly less of a languageninja, to say the very least. To be able to walk through an airport and understand completely what the signs said and what the announcements were was pretty darn cool. The CIEEer who picked us up at the airport and helped us get to our hostel also spoke Spanish and I miiiight have eavesdropped on her and our cab driver. Because you know...I could.
2. THE CARS WERE ON THE WRONG SIDE. Wait no. They were on the right side...? Turns out I got a lot more used to the cars being the opposite from the way they are in the US than I thought. Seeing the cars back to what I’ve grown up with looked weird to me and I had the exact “wrong
side!” thought that I had when I first saw the cars in Dublin only a few weeks ago. How quickly we get used to things that seem so weird at first.
3. AIR CONDITIONING. Dublin doesn't need AC so it therefore doesn’t have it. Which is totally logical and all, but a total pain when it is slightly warm (because relative to the normal weather, just a little warm seems rather hot). But because Barcelona is 100% ridiculously hot, every building has blasting cold air. Thankfully, or I would have returned to Dublin as a puddle. (You think I kid...)
4. What is UP with these buildings?! Barcelona, in case you were unaware as I was, is dotted with architecture from Antoni Gaudi. And what a weird dude. Brilliant, but weird. I mean look at these things:
Do you see this in Dublin or the US? No you do not. I mean how trippy is this? It’s nothing short of amazing! (Pictured above, by the way, is the Casa Batlló, the still unfinished Sagrada Família, and Park Güell.)
5. DOGGIES! There are a lot of animals especially dogs roaming the streets offleash. I hadn’t particularly noticed anything different about that in Dublin other than the cat that seems to haunt the Dublin City University campus and may or may not understand English, but back in the US noleash is usually a nono.
6. LGBT freedom of expression! As we learned and discussed in class, LGBT rights and freedom in Ireland is still fairly new and still pretty controversial. And though I’ve definitely found that most people I talk to are very cool and chill with LGBT and queer people, it’s still not like you’re going to see a whole lot of queer people openingly showing their queerness on your walk down O’Connell street. WELL.
NOT the case in Spain. At ALL. I saw a gazillion samesex couples, young and old, holding hands
every block we walked. They aren’t kidding when they say Spain “provides one of the highest degrees
of liberty in the world for its LGBT community” (Got that from my good friend Wikipedia). It’s even more amazing when you take into account the history for the vast majority of Spanish history, the situation couldn’t have been more opposite. In that regard, Spain and Ireland have a lot in common despite ridiculous amounts of years of zero/zilch/nada rights for LGBT people, they have both come a very long way in that regard, which makes me super duper happy!
7. STREET SIGNS, or lack thereof. I don’t know why, but the street signs in Europe all seem to be on sides of buildings and NOT super visible to the unsuspecting American that I am. At home, street signs stick out on every corner, and it’s really easy to follow a map or give directions (well okay, maybe not for me as a directionally challenged person, but still...). But as we walked around, casually popping on and off the map we were given, I personally was having the hardest time figuring out where we were, nevermind where we were going. The street signs in Barcelona, though I found slightly more plentiful, were also even less conspicuous than Irish ones...it’s no wonder we kept missing turns!
8. FOOOOOD OMNOM. Let’s be honest one of the most important parts of any trip and LIFE
is food. And food is so different based on where you go! I am 100% in love with Ireland, but I admittedly can’t really say the same about the food...Ireland is a bit more recognized for its beverages than its food. Barcelona, however, has tapas. And churros. The second night, the group all went out to a traditional tapas meal, and the food. just. kept. coming. oh. my. And of course, I did buy myself a churro on the last day and it was pure, sweet, wonderful, fried goodness. (I will say though, that both places were severely lacking in mac and cheese. What is this madness??)
9. DIVERSITY! The world has definitely become more and more mixed, and it was absolutely fascinating comparing the US, Dublin, and Barcelona in terms of the people you see. America is often referred to as a “melting pot” a place where people of all different races, religions, and backgrounds come together. As we discussed in class in Dublin, however, diversity is a bit newer to Ireland and Dublin a historically more homogenous country. It’s true that I notice more people of color in the US than on the streets of Ireland. And as a person of color myself, I often pay close attention to how many others like myself I see. At home, I often feel slightly out of place as an adopted Asian American, but yet there is a different overall feel because I am culturally American and fit in that way. In Ireland, I see fewer people resembling myself in skin color, but I admit I was pleasantly surprised there were still more than I was expecting. In Barcelona, there were so many tourists it was absolutely insane, but I was still able to spot a plethora of different people. Though the US, Ireland, and Catalonia may be in different stages of diversity, immersion, and tourist seasons, it was clear that all three are progressing in opening their doors to those who may appear different.
10. ...Did I mention the weather?? No, seriously. After only a couple hours of sitting on the beach, my legs now look like Neapolitan ice cream...freaking tan lines...
So what did I learn from this Intercultural Comparison Experience? I can’t even begin to explain it in words and in one blog entry. When you get the chance to compare more than two cultures, it’s eye opening in a way that is impossible to describe the world is so big and so small at the same time, a fact that I am now aware of more than ever. It’s amazing and wonderful how each culture has its own traditions and ways of expressing themselves, yet there are also so many commonalities showing that we as people are not as different as we might sometimes think. And I think that is a lesson well worth learning.