Last week, I was feeling nice and fuzzy about Barcelona – but as they say, what goes up must come down. After a week of humidity and little frustrations, I’m feeling a bit less enamored of my current living situation. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s a fantastic city, but anywhere has its pros and cons.
Of course, there are some not-wonderful things about living in any foreign country, like language irritations and sometimes not quite fitting in as a foreigner, so I’ve stayed away from stuff like that. Instead, I’m talking about stuff that I don’t like about living in Barcelona specifically.
As they say, nobody’s perfect – and that goes for cities, too!
It’s a sure sign that you’ve grown up in southern California when you manage to find an excuse to complain about any weather conditions that aren’t pleasantly warm and sunny. Now, my complaints about the weather must sound ridiculous to people who come from countries with actual weather – buuuuuut.
The humidity makes the winters colder and the summers warmer. I love warm weather, but I don’t enjoy sweating even when I’m sitting completely still. I don’t like winter at all, and still find it a big challenge to deal with, and the chilly humid air means the cold sticks to your bones.
Long story short: no matter the season, I’ll almost always find something to complain about the weather here!
Job opportunities & wages
It’s really hard to think of something that’s consistently more frustrating for so many people I know here than the economic situation. While things have improved, it’s definitely still not great job-wise here, and the salaries are ridiculously low.
Cost of living is low, fortunately, so you can live a lot on a little. But still, everybody I know who’s got a decent job either works in tech or has their own project going. And every year a handful of my friends are forced to leave to go somewhere else because there just aren’t great work opportunities here.
On top of that, there’s often an insane amount of red tape involved to get anything related to work done here. Spanish bureaucracy is terrible enough be its own stand-alone article, but I’m trying to stick to five downsides here!
While the job situation is draining long-term, noise levels are my #1 daily annoyance about Barcelona. I live in a pretty lively neighborhood, but people having a good time isn’t the sort of noise that bothers me. No, it’s the endless construction works that seem to jump from flat to flat on my street.
Every morning I get jolted awake by a whirring saw or pounding hammer. There’s currently construction in the square up the street, the store a few doors down, the apartment building in front of me, and a selection of random other projects going on. There’s also the man who walks around selling new metal gas tanks by wheeling around a cartful of them and pounding on them – a bit like a medieval town crier.
As somebody who works from home most days, this is definitely not ideal for being productive. Even shutting the windows and blasting music can’t drown out the constant dull thud of a hammer.
Ah, go work somewhere else, you say? The two offices where I sometimes go to work both currently have similar situations with endless hammering. Surely we’ve got more modern technology than hammers that would get the job done more quickly – – and more quietly.
The lack of green space
Barcelona has almost everything – except green space. There are a few parks dotted throughout the city, but in general it can be tough to find a bit of green space here. My neighborhood doesn’t have a single park. Granted, I live somewhere that’s very built-up, but I really wouldn’t mind a bit more grass and greenery around here.
The whole tourism thing
So you may have heard that Barcelona’s been having a bit of trouble with tourism lately, or maybe you’ve been here and seen it for yourself. If you haven’t, let me sum it up quickly.
Barcelona is a small city that receive a huge amount of tourism. There’s just not much space for so many people. And like many cities that get a lot of tourism, there are all sorts of services and shops that cater directly to tourists and not to locals. Unfortunately, these sometimes push out local businesses, even some of the old traditional ones.
On top of that, there are some visitors who come and behave exceptionally badly, and some of the things that cater to tourists get in the way of locals enjoying their day-to-day lives. There are people who complain they can’t go to the market to get their food shopping done anymore, and others who say they can’t even go for a stroll along the beach without getting hit by a rogue Segway.
Of course, the tourists who behave like this are only a small minority of all the people who come to visit. There are lots more who come to marvel at the wonderful architecture or kick back on the beach or get lost in the picturesque streets of the Gothic Quarter or indulge in some amazing food.
Unfortunately, the people who come and misbehave are the ones who are more noticeable, and there’s a huge backlash against tourism from some locals.
I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand, I, too, hate when a Segway tour comes whizzing down the beach boardwalk so you can’t walk. I hate it when I can’t go somewhere I want to go because it’s just too crowded. I hate it when drunken tourists stand underneath my window and shout at each other at 4 a.m.
But. I also hate when locals against tourism are flat-out mean or xenophobic. And when they smash windows of hostels in my neighborhood and paint “Tourists go home” on the broken glass. Or when people are rude to me because I look exactly like the stereotype of a stupid, drunken tourist. I hate when they march by holding up signs saying “Guiris go home” right underneath my window.
Fortunately, the city government is taking some steps to deal with the tourism mess. The way things are, it’s not very much fun for anyone. They seem to be working to come up with a solution that works for everyone (I hope!).
Actually, I’m not the only expat who has a few things they don’t like about living in Barcelona. I’ve included a study from OK Apartment Barcelona that asked expats what they dislike about the city.
3/5 of my least favorite things made their list, too. Complaining feels even better when you’re justified by other people sharing your opinion! 🙂 Just kidding, but I’m definitely not the only one:
I’d love to hear from you – what don’t you like about living where you do?
Thanks to OK Apartment Barcelona for their help with this post!
I totally agree with point 5! That’s why Spain is not in my list of favorite countries in Europe, despite being so beautiful. It’s not only about going against “guiris”, but there’s a huge xenophobic population among Spanish people (not all of them). I visited Barcelona, Madrid, and Toledo many years ago with my Malaysian friend. I, being from South America, and my friend who spoke no Spanish, of course, shouted “foreigners” from miles away. In many places, we got rude or unfriendly faces towards us, including restaurants and tourist spots. I initially thought it was my impression, but later I found out my friend got the same feeling. And we’re talking about nice tourists here 🙂 We weren’t drunk, we didn’t shout, we didn’t even try to bother with thousands of pictures/selfies everywhere. I was polite, I spoke the language, and not even like that we felt very welcomed. It’s really a pity…
It is a real shame. It’s definitely happened to me as well. The bad tourists’ reputation sometimes gets in the way for nice ones too. 🙁
If you stayed in a holyday rental (airbnb, etc), there you have your contribution to killing Barcelona. Holiday rentals are pricing residents out of Barcelona.
If you stay in appartments, no wonder locals will hate you. Tourism is creating a lot of speculation with appartments, residents are violently forced to move our of them so speculators can rent to tourists.
Or posh expats….
I’m confused by your comment, as neither Carla or I talked about holiday apartments or “posh expat” apartment.
The root of the problem are the local policies that insist on promoting Barcelona with things like looking to build a new terminal at the airport, not limiting cruises, etc.,, or attempts to spread tourism out to local neighborhoods.
Foreigners are an easy target for people who feel angry about the situation. But hating foreigners rather than the people who are responsible for the decision-making that got the city into the this situation is hugely misguided.
Here’s one thing people should hate instead of foreigners, for instance: https://www.facebook.com/CollegeHumor/videos/10154075407807807/
There is a massive problem with rent in Barcelona, which has increased 40% in the last three years because so many people have illegally turned their apartments into Air B&Bs. The end result is people are getting priced out of their own homes and having to move, which in a massive expense, and debilitating in a country where salaries are extremely low (especially with the agency fees and contract taxes). Even the rents in towns 20-30 minutes away on the FGC have prices barely lower than Barcelona because they are filling up with people who have been ejected from their places in the city. To quote one friend, “half the people in my office have had to relocate to Rubí or Terrassa in the last two years”, which is definitely not the place that people envisage when they think of beautiful Catalunya. This is a massive problem and causing huge social upheaval – and causing a major headache for multinational companies who cannot keep highly skilled international workers when the salary to rent ratio rises above 33%.
I’m sorry but I have to disagree about the humidity. Yes, it’s s humid sometimes but not unbearably so. Barcelona winters are MILD, short and often very sunny! I love the winters here! Try living in Northern Europe and you will understand the meaning of cold winters and chills to the bone!
Haha I am admittedly very spoiled when it comes to the weather! I grew up in a place that almost doesn’t have winter. I’d never even owned a coat in my life before moving here. 🙂
I felt the same way about a few things in Seville, namely the job market (and that’s why I ultimately left!). And as far as tourism, it’s brought a lot of good things to the city I lived in, like better transportation options and more English, but it definitely has its drawbacks. I thankfully didn’t notice it as much in my neck of the woods!
Yep, the job market is still really tough, and I know it’s much worse in the south! Tourism definitely has its ups and downs, right? It’d be a shame if Sevilla went the ‘theme park’ route too. I was shocked when I was there last summer at how much it’d changed since I studied there, it’s gotten way more open to tourism.
The tourism thing is so difficult: it brings so many advantages to the cities and mostly: it brings alot of $$$. But I do understand why people are over it these days, even I don’t like Barcelona as much as I should/could because its just so full of people. Especially between Placa Catalunya and the beach. And it does get the worst kind of tourist! Why?! (Proximity to Lloret de Mar I guess)
I think my favourity city Lisbon is heading in the same direction and I’m kind of scared of it. Here’s a great article about it on bloomberg, if you’re interested: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-13/we-live-here-irate-lisbon-dwellers-remind-city-in-tourist-boom
I love your blog, especially because it’s “everything is perfect” all the time.
Have a great summer! (A not so humid one!)
It is complicated! I’m also fed up of not being able to enjoy some events because they’re too crowded, and nobody likes the worst kind of tourist who comes and just doesn’t care about anything because it’s not their home. Still, it does bring a lot of advantages, and I think it’s silly and mean to say all tourists are bad.
Off to check out the Lisbon article right now, thanks for passing it along. 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying your summer too!
I totally agree! These are the things I am also complaining about. Especially the noise and the lack of green space are issues for me…
I can also add the behaviour of Spanish people in the metro. I think they are generally afraid of not being able to leave or enter the metro 😉 They always try to enter the metro before people are able to leave it.
Haha that’s definitely something that happens on the metro! I hadn’t thought of that but it’s so true. 🙂 In general, lining up and queueing aren’t very organized here, especially compared to other places.
Fascinating! I went to Barcelona last year and actually had a great experience as a tourist…but maybe it was because I was by myself a lot of the time so I didn’t stick out too much (well, until I opened my mouth…haha).
Where I live now is hardly a tourist destination…but that means it also lacks a lot of the arts, culture and entertainment options of a big city. While it’s relatively quiet and inexpensive and has a charm of its own, there is a tradeoff. I used to live in NYC so it is interesting to see what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost by choosing to live in a smaller town.
I think most people are either nice to tourists or don’t mind them. It’s just a few that are vocal about it, but some of them have gotten fairly unpleasant – but it’s really not many of them, luckily. 🙂
Where I’m from isn’t a tourist destination either, but we do have one big Christmas lights display that is getting quite well-known. I remember last Christmas I saw a bus of tourists pull up and was shocked!
I remember hearing an acquaintance complain about tourism in BCN back in 2012 and I know it’s only gotten worse. Can’t imagine how it is in August. My city seems to be half tourists now in summer (and I laugh because it’s not very well known, though it’s the capital of Basque Country). Have to say, I enjoy the fact most don’t know it but will be interesting if tourists increase.
Job situation sounds like the Bay Area- GOD. If you’re not in Tech, good luck. I often think, I should check out the job listings jus to see what’s available but for the moment, I can’t really complain about a 20 hr work week and teaching… I may not be “Growing professionally” but I’m enjoying my life for right now.
Yeah, the tourism thing can be tricky! Do you get tourists from Spain or international ones?
THe Bay Area sounds like a nightmare, honestly. I don’t know why people move there anymore!
I’m guessing you haven’t had any dealings with the Mossos d’Esquadra or they would have been included in your list of things you don’t like about Barcelona. I went to a Barcelona police station to report a street theft of my camera and cellphone. I had to fill in their form 4 or 5 times as it was repeatedly rejected for ridiculous reasons, eg, I used a black ink pen instead of a blue one. There was nothing on their form about the circumstances or location of the theft and yet they needed to know my mother’s maiden name. The whole thing was a farce and left me with the suspicion that maybe the cops and robbers were working together for their mutual benefit! Enjoyed your blog and photos – keep a tight grip on your camera when walking in Barcelona.
what neighborhood or borough do you recommend as the quietest? (if that even exists)
I sudied fine arts and I find it frustrating that there is so little support for local artists. Really people seem only to care about gastronomy and party culture… While it’s such a creative city!
Wow, didn’t know about the job situation. 3 years ago, a friend of mine did a semester over there and I was planning on going with him, chill out with my bro, get a entry level job and have a great time. Was gonna be in for a rude awakening.
All of these are true, but I would balance the situation carefully. Each country has pro and cons, however, if you think about it, Barcelona is and will be a destination not only for tourists but also for expats. At this point I would not trade Europe for America. 1. No guns. You are not afraid to walk on the streets and get killed because someone shoots you. 2. Health system – it’s better by far. In all Europe, not just Barcelona, în terms of how much you have to pay to get medical assistance, which is close to nothing 3. Other taxes that for example are not so high as in America. 4. Rent – is true, but for example California it’s more expensive than Barcelona. Meaning if you want to live in the city, it gets super expensive. 2500 dollars for one bedroom in San Francisco . About the same in san diego. 5. You don’t need a car. Public transportation is very good. In USA you can’t live without a car and defiantly cannot have your morning coffee from the corner as you get out of your building. Except if you pay a great deal of money to live in the city. As I said, there are plenty of pro and cons, depends how you want to look at the picture. As for green spaces, they are not enough. However, 1.5h drive from barcelona and you get up in the mountains and can find more green than expected. There is also a culture of staying in shape in Barcelona. Everybody is doing some sort of sports, which is healthy and you want it or not, you will do it as well without even noticing you are. As for people being friendly, please understand there is a cultural script here. Europeans don’t act as friendly as Americans, but you can rely on them. They might not laugh at your every joke, but that doesn’t make them not friendly. And for those that want to experience Europe, please note that Europeans are very direct. Don’t take it personal. They are not rude. This continent has a very long history and they see /feel things in a different way. Let’s not forget that not so many years ago they killed each other in a bloody wars. However, we all must acknowledge how far Europe has come in 40-50 years. Another important aspect EU vs USA is the education. In Europe is cheaper and the standards are just as high. In some places, college / university is free and the curricula is in a few different languages. EU gives a chance to its youth to choose a path without having a huge credit by the time they finish college. Pros and cons. Depends how you want to look at it. But I tell you this: you come live in europe for a while and I promise you will visit more places than ever and after a couple of years you will be able to understand how different people are. We are all beautiful in our own way.
Hey Johanna, thanks for taking the time to comment! I agree with all your points (and actually have a companion article about stuff I do love about living in Barcelona). I’m still amazed by the health care and public transportation, and even in the sketchiest areas of Barcelona I’ve never felt as unsafe as I have in places close to home.
It’s not that I think people are unfriendly. It’s that I think they’re fed up with tourists, which is a bit different. They aren’t as smiley and enthusiastic as Americans, which is actually something I appreciate a lot haha. It’s way less disorienting!