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Getting to Know the Locals

I'll be in Barcelona mid-April 2020. We are 2 single women traveling together, both in our late 50s. We are both a bit introverted but want to experience Barcelona in the fullest way possible. What is the best way to get to know the locals? What are some appropriate conversation starters? I speak Spanish (not Catalan) at an intermediate level and am in the process of learning some basic Catalan phrases. Many thanks for your suggestions.

Posted by
5019 posts

Just a word of caution: many of us just assume that wherever we go, the locals are all eager to get to know us. That may not always be true (especially in those places that get a lot of tourists...and Barcelona is certainly one of those places that does). While I'm sure that many locals anywhere appreciate tourists who make the effort to learn a few phrases in the local language (so you should be praised for your willingness to do that), I would caution you to keep your expectations reasonable. Especially in a big city (really in any big city, but even more so in one that gets swamped with visitors every day) a lot of locals may have decidedly mixed feelings about mixing socially with folks on holiday. Again, you should be commended for putting in the effort and going with a positive attitude. Just be realistic about how wide a welcome you are really going to get (and how deep that may go). I'm not trying to be a complete downer here, just trying to be realistic.

Posted by
1862 posts

On April 25th is la Dia de San Jordi, it's a very special day us in Barcelona, Catalonia, and in a few other neighboring regions. It's a bit like St Valentine's Day, but with a local flair, as the main thing is to exchange books with each other! Yes, there are many book stalls/markets and flower shops set up on the main avenues of Barcelona like Paseo de Gracia and Las Ramblas, even if you are not getting something for a special someone, it's a great opportunity to "mingle" with us locals lol. You can visit different stalls, ask questions about books, and also visit nearby Plaza de San Jaume (for local cultural festivities) etc.

Hope this is what you are looking for :)

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you David and Carlos. David, I didn't consider your response a downer. It is realistic and I appreciate your reply.

Carlos, if I was going to be in Barcelona April 25 then I would definitely enjoy the book exchange. Thanks, guys.

Posted by
989 posts

Consider what hobbies you enjoy and then seek to find the same in your travels. My wife is a quilter, an international language, and enjoyed making a connection with locales at a quilt shop in Barcelona last October.

Posted by
1862 posts

Oh ok now worries, could you perhaps post exactly when you will be in Barcelona? That would definitely be helpful for recommending events/festivities etc.

Posted by
195 posts

I play chess, and the S.O. and I play contract bridge. Both are a great way to mix with the locals in Europe!

Posted by
6410 posts

I go to international jazz festivals held over several days and have met locals that way. If you have hobbies that is a way to meet locals. If you do ballroom dance like salsa or swing that is a way to meet locals at clubs. Get a local tour guide that might help. Talk to the hotel concierge they might refer you.

Posted by
5286 posts

Laundromats -- if nothing else, you will at least have clean clothes.

Posted by
16762 posts

It probably doesn't work so well in touristy places, but I've had some interesting conversations at quiet times with hotel desk personnel and retail personnel when I was the only visitor around. Traveling solo, I often get a chance to talk to fellow travelers on trains and buses. You never know when such an opportunity will crop up, but I can well imagine that laundromats would be fertile ground.

Posted by
6410 posts

Yeah we did laundry my last trip to Barcelona a month ago and the attendant chat us up when we couldn't figure how the machine worked. And other neighbors were washing too talking to each other in Catalan.

Posted by
3249 posts

The laundry suggestions hit home with me. I'm always amused by those whose excuse for bringing lots of clothes is that don't want to waste precious tourist time doing laundry.

I've done laundry in many European countries over the years and those have been some of my favorite experiences, whether it was talking to local residents or other travelers. There's something about doing a chore that almost everyone has to do that is both a great equalizer and a great opportunity to talk. I think I remember those times better than many of the sites or sights I've seen. :-)

Posted by
2507 posts

... do keep in mind we have many "foreign residents" too, as much as 50% in el Raval neighbourhood, and an average of 15% for the whole city (pop 1.7 million). Some have been in town for a long time AND have assimilated... they can share with you lots of stuff regarding the city, the local culture and their experiences with us Catalans and be great "hosts", others have ghettoed in and have no clue of anything but their daily routines and their limited experiences are full of ill-conceived stereotypes. And this doesn't apply to a specific community but is down to the individuals. You can even find some Spaniards that have migrated to Catalonia decades ago and have never assimilated.
Just sayin'

Posted by
4 posts

Wow! Fantastic suggestions!! From laundry to dancing - yes!! I am very grateful to all of you for taking the time to respond to my post.
I'll be in Barcelona April 11-18, if that helps with any other suggestions. Not a lot of time, I know, but while I want to do the touristy things, like seeing the wonderful architecture and other beautiful sights, it is just as important to me to get to know the real Barcelona via the culture and people and visit the quieter places too. Thanks, everyone!!

Posted by
4805 posts

I think to go along with David's comments, there is also a cultural norm (speaking in very broad generalized terms) in Europe different from the US. A number of people I know in Europe have commented that they are always taken aback when in the US by people who easily come up to them and engage in somewhat personal conversation, ask them questions about home, job, what they are doing, etc. For them, that is reserved for people in their inner circle, not a stranger, and only to a small degree business and casual acquaintances. One person was really puzzled why this person basically revealed their life story and divulged all their problems to them. What we might think of as friendliness can come across as stepping over a line. A different but parallel example would be how waiters in the US suddenly become your best friend, in Europe they tend to be a bit more reserved (professional?) and apt to let you be.

That does not mean you will not be welcomed and can have a nice conversation with a "local". There are some good examples above, Hotel Staff, Retail Clerks, Market Vendors, any service/sales interaction can be an opportunity...as long as they also are not busy. My example was that I was in Rome for a week, for a conference, and I stopped every morning into a very small one man coffee bar, first three days, only polite greetings, comments..by the fourth day the guy cracked a joke and we talked (as best we could) for about 5 minutes. It needed time to establish re pore and some history to break down that barrier. Going someplace where the conversation can focus on a topic is also good, the example of Chess, Bridge, Jazz are all good, it could be Art, History, or any subject to prompt discussion.

My advice is start slow, if the opportunity comes up, repeat for a few days, and seek out things to do where people can talk about the "thing", avoid any questions that might be considered too personal.

Posted by
4498 posts

One person was really puzzled why this person basically revealed their life story and divulged all their problems to them.

I can get this most any day riding the L in Chicago. It is amazing what Americans will say in public.

My best experiences have come from introductions by others that know someone - and those can be very rewarding as I have found Europeans in general to be very hospitable to visitors. Perhaps if you know anyone that has friends or family in Barcelona, that would be a good way to go.

Also, while not quite the same, it is not uncommon to meet and chat with other tourists. You might not meet locals, but can converse with people from all over the world. And like you, they are on holiday and not trying to live their busy lives, and therefore, are often more willing to spend time to chat.

Lastly, it helps to live locally. If you stay in hotels and eat in tourist-oriented restaurants, you will meet those in the tourist industry and other tourists. But if you stay in out-of-the-way neighborhoods and visit local restaurants (especially more than once), people will often open up to you as they do not see tourists as often and can be curious.

Oh, and if you are artistic, sit down somewhere and start sketching. THAT attracts lots of attention.