05 October 2010

A Spanish Life

Since many of you have not visited Barcelona, you may wonder what daily life is like here. Although my life as a foreigner and student may differ from that of most working Spaniards, this week is my best chance to establish a routine. For those of you who have followed my writing some, it might also be helpful for me to compare life here with other places I’ve lived abroad.

First let’s talk schedules. It’s true that if you live as Spaniards do, you will burn the candle at both ends—and rarely does the post-lunch pause actually mean having a siesta. Some stores open at 8:00am, most at 9:00, and some university offices at 10:00. I’ve heard of workers taking breaks for breakfast while at work, although I don’t know how common this is, although coffee breaks are rampant. Shops stay open until 2:00pm, and generally this is the most productive part of the day. Whether it’s for enrollment, bureaucracy, or shopping, my errands aim for the morning. Then I return home at 3:00 for la comida, the main meal of the day. My roommates, two wonderful Spanish girls, usually return home from classes at this point and we eat heartily and leave the table slowly. Businesses then reopen at 4:00 and most stay open until 8:00. I have evening classes between 6:00 and 9:00, and then I make the twenty minute walk back home to eat la cena, a lighter dinner meal, sometimes leftovers. We gradually move from eating to talking to homework for the rest of the evening, and bedtimes are late. World-renowned Spanish nightlife doesn’t start until midnight and often ends around 6:00am, when everyone comes back to have churros con chocolate. On Sundays stores stay closed and everyone takes a paseo, a stroll, around the parks and down the popular avenues.

As for language, I’m learning. People speak both Castilian Spanish and Catalan, a similar Latin-based language that has made a significant comeback since it was outlawed under the dictatorship of Franco, 1936-1975. In comparison with my past observations of Alsatian and Breton, regional languages in France, the regional language here has retained and even cemented its role in administration, education, and media. Public schools teach only Catalan and classes at the university may be offered in both languages; if you don’t speak it, Catalan language classes are offered free of charge. My roommates speak to each other and their friends in Catalan, so I’m looking forward to taking classes at the end of this semester. For now I’m focusing on Spanish, although all my Masters courses are taught in English. Although I’m not aiming for total immersion as I did while studying in Strasbourg, language intensives will help me move beyond the functional Spanish I speak now. Classes start tomorrow, 11:30am-1:00pm.

School and home life: I live much now as I did last year in Pontivy, France. It’s an academic life, with all the benefits of the academic schedule and calendar. I love being back in the student seat and thoroughly enjoy the Masters cohort I’ve fallen in with: Spanish students, young multilinguals from Belgium, Finnish-Brazilian couples, two culture kids, and a few of us Anglophones. My class last night on bilingualism could not have benefited more from this mixture, debating questions like: What is a mother tongue? What counts as bilingual? Do balanced bilinguals exist? What is “native speakerness,” and until what age can it be acquired? How is what you speak associated with who you’re speaking to, where, when, and why? I love being a part of these discussions. And then I come home to a living language lab! I question my roommates relentlessly about their Catalan, education, use, words, and more. I would love to study how reinforcing Catalan has affected speakers’ knowledge of Spanish and their use of both languages. The city is like a never-ending experiment rolled out before me, day after sunny day.

That’s why I came to Barcelona.

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