I recently had the pleasure of going to a Jim Gaffigan comedy show in Barcelona with my good friend, Megan. The show, part of his international PALE TOURIST tour, took place at Club Capitol on Las Ramblas on a Saturday night in late February. It was hilarious – almost two hours of non-stop belly laughs as he compared Spain and the States, shared stories from traveling internationally with his family and poked at married life. One part we really busted a gut laughing from though, was when he talked about his family’s first time visiting Barcelona and the curious universal fact that no one wants to look like a tourist… it’s pretty commonly agreed to be uncool if you look like a tourist, do the cheesy, typical tourist things, etc. He recalled how his daughter had asked him, “Dad, where are all the locals? What do you think they’re doing?” Silence… then Jim blurted out, “They’re working! Just like we would be at home!” So obvious, yet so funny.
This realization leads me to the first of many misconceptions about living or traveling abroad. I’ve lived here for almost 7 years now and I wonder how many of my friends and family still think that everyone in Spain does 3-hour siestas everyday… You see, living abroad often is less different than one assumes, for you’re still living somewhere, meaning you’ve put roots, you have a daily routine and community, etc. Living abroad definitely does not mean a perpetual study abroad student-type of lifestyle. Oh no, just like I would in Nebraska my life here in Barcelona includes doing my laundry, paying bills and taxes, grocery shopping, cleaning my home, going to church, working out… ya know, the aspects of routine that make your life and make your home just that, home.
My great Aunt, who’s about to turn 94, is still shocked every single time I call her, that it’s even possible for me to call her home phone from Barcelona, Spain. It blows her mind. I call her landline via Skype, since it would be expensive for me to call her normally (I have a Spanish cell service provider). When I first moved here, she was also shocked that there were cars here and that anyone at all speaks English. Many people speak at least basic English here in Barcelona given that it’s such an international, transient city. As it continues to grow into a tech hub for Europe, especially for startups, English as the common language will only continue to be more common.
What are other misconceptions about living abroad?
I can’t receive normal mail here. Not the case! While I wouldn’t recommend sending large packages as those do often get stuck in customs, normal snail mail (letters, cards, etc.) works just wonderfully! All you have to do is get the right stamp to make sure it will get to Barcelona and you’re good to go!
I can no longer receive iMessages or FaceTime calls… also incorrect! iPhone to iPhone communications are universal and internationally unhindered. That being said, yes I have had many Spanish phone numbers but I think those days are finally behind me so you can delete all the old +34 numbers and keep the current one.
As an American living in Spain, I often get asked if the cuisine here is similar to that of Mexico. In a nutshell that answer is no, no it is not! Spain has a Mediterranean diet, which relies heavily on olive oil, fish, bread, wine, ham, fruits and veggies. Two common misconceptions are that tacos, burritos and fajitas reign here as they do in Mexico, or that Spaniards eat nothing but jamón ibérico, patatas bravas, paella and wash it all down with Sangria 24/7.
Yet again, pretty far from the truth! Don’t get me wrong, I love a summer evening of tapas (croquetas de cocido, bravas, calamares, Russian salad) & Sangria, but the diet here is actually much more varied and healthy than many tourists think! Also, indulging in a fresh croissant here and there or a gelato isn’t thought of as such a guilty pleasure as it is often thought of in the states, probably because you know you’ll just walk it off here! So please enjoy these photos of some of my personal Spanish favorites…
Other misconceptions not necessarily related to living abroad:
– All South Americans love spicy food. Wrong! Sure many folks who live South of Texas enjoy spicy food, but the typical cuisine of many South American countries doesn’t involve spicy flavors at all. Most people I know from Argentina (not even close to enough to be considered a quantitatively relevant sample) hate spicy foods and can’t take the heat in the least. So don’t confuse Mexican food with the diets of all countries to its south.
– Tuesdays are the best days to buy airline tickets. I’ve yet to find that to be true… it’s really all about diligence in terms of snagging the best prices for airfare. That being said, I also know from personal experience that the best, safest option for flights is purchasing directly from the airline’s website, rather than a travel agency or random third party site, especially if your trip is not 110% sure and set in stone.
– You should wear one of those money belts/ zip pouch things whilst traveling abroad. Absolutely incorrect. There is no need to purchase one of those if you are smart, alert, and have your money & credit cards in a safe place on your person.
– You’ll rarely, if ever go home. At least in my case, that is not true at all! I have gone back home to Nebraska often over the last seven years, most years going back multiple times. I was fortunate that my last two jobs did involve travel to the U.S., which definitely helped. That being said though, I think people who live abroad almost always visit home at some point, it just depends on how much of your salary you choose to dedicate to plane tickets in terms of frequency.
– Perhaps related to the above point, many people think that you need a lot of money to travel in general, and specifically in Europe, but I disagree. Yes, you do need a substantial amount of money to get to Europe from the states, that is true, but once you’re over here, travel is much cheaper than we tend to think! Flights to many European cities/ destinations from Barcelona are less than $100. AirBnBs can be found for reasonable prices and the cost of food, drink & public transport in innumerable cities is actually quite cheap... so plan that trip! When we can travel again that is 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this post. If there are misconceptions you think I missed, comment below and let me know your thoughts!