My Barcelona: ‘The city is so much richer than it seems’

  • November 13, 2019

For Anaïs Iglesias Masferrer, a 32-year-old marketing and communications manager in event management, Barcelona is such an enticing city that she has made it her home not once, but twice. Here, she tells Welcome to the Jungle why she’s found settling here rewarding on both a personal and professional level.

My story

I come from Girona, a smaller city that’s a little over an hour away from Barcelona. After finishing school, I came here to study political science, before switching to public relations and advertising. I was 18 and discovered Barcelona through its nightlife and student life. After a few years, I moved to the Netherlands to work and do a postgraduate course—I came back five years ago. Since then, I’ve been rediscovering Barcelona!

Finding my neighborhood

When I was a student, I lived in the Les Corts and Sants neighborhoods, which are both affordable and close to the city center, but a lot of my friends lived in Gràcia. When I returned to Barcelona, I decided to move where they lived. Gràcia is a little village within a metropolis and, coming from Girona, that resonated with me. Barcelona’s sheer size and intense rhythm makes it a stressful environment in many ways but Gràcia is an oasis. It really embraces you, one that doesn’t let you feel anonymous in the city. I walk down my street and can have a conversation with almost anyone, from neighbors to shop owners. Now, I genuinely feel like I have family in Girona and family in Barcelona.

“Gràcia is a little village within a metropolis. I walk down my street and can have a conversation with almost anyone”

An open society

Catalan society is what you might call a “Boy Scout society”—highly active and involved. It’s a society of asambleas (assemblies), of collective meetings and communal activities. From an early age, most Catalan children are involved in neighborhood events. This spirit emanates through Gràcia and throughout Catalunya. For instance, I’m involved in Carrer del Perill—an association organized by people who live on my street—and we participate in the Festes de Gràcia, a renowned street carnival held in the neighborhood each August.

Newcomers and foreigners are always welcome in these organizations—simply look for a contact online, or approach your nearest community center, and you’ll probably be invited to a meeting, or even to your first event. Knowing how to speak Catalan is an enormous help, of course, but don’t worry if you don’t—most associations are very understanding and welcoming anyway.

“Catalan society is what you might call a “Boy Scout society.”—highly active and involved. Newcomers and foreigners are always welcome.”

A typical week at work

I work for an events company that organizes large events for and between businesses. Fortunately, I was able to get a job in L’Eixample, which is very close to my home, so I can commute by foot! This isn’t common at all in Barcelona, so it’s a precious treat. I can pop back home for lunch and don’t have to spend time traveling.

But of course there’s no shortage of events around the city relating to work that get me on a bus or a train. Overall, Barcelona is a great city for business, particularly for those interested in technology, design, culture, and music, because of the sheer number of events, conferences, and symposia that take place on a daily basis.

“Barcelona is a great city for business because of the sheer number of events that take place on a daily basis.”

Passions and playtime

To wind down during the week, I go to after-work drinks with my friends. These are informal hangouts that are common in Barcelona between colleagues or old friends. On the weekends, I try to take full advantage of my time. I love theater and performance art, and actually run workshops on improvisation. Fortunately, Barcelona is a theater hub, with lots of venues and schools for people interested in drama. But most of all, I love lindy hop, a type of swing dance that’s becoming more popular in the city. There are even weekend lindy hop dances that take place in public squares or in the street!

The perfect day

My perfect day is a Sunday. I wake up at 10 AM—Sundays are for sleeping, after all!—and at midday I go for a vermut (vermouth) with friends. This is a traditional alcohol that almost every bar in the city serves, often their own, homemade versions. We’ll choose a place near a square where we can chat for a few hours, and where public lindy hop dances are organized. After that it’s time for some tapas at La Fourmi, Pepa Tomate, or Cafè Godot. Then it’s home for a rest—no, it’s not a Spanish siesta—before heading to the movies, and then to drink beer with friends. And if it’s a Sunday when Sala Apolo is holding its big monthly swing night, we finish the day there.

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Anaïs’s top tips

  • Get to know all the parts of Barcelona. Because of its history, it’s a city filled with many smaller “cities”—as it grew, it incorporated the surrounding villages among the new areas that were planned from scratch. As a result, every area has a distinct identity of its own. I spend so much time in my neighborhood that, when I visit a different one, I genuinely feel like I’m in another city.

“Because of its history, Barcelona is filled with many smaller “cities””

  • Get out and meet people. It is difficult to break into established circles—we Catalans are cautious and reserved people, so I’d encourage you to be pushy in a good way. You have to be insistent and persistent, but once you’ve gained someone’s trust, they will open up tremendously. Also, lots of international people arrive and stay in their expat bubbles and don’t leave their comfort zones. But if you learn the language, avoid going where the expats go, and engage with your neighborhood, you can have a totally different relationship with the city. The majority of people in my street association are people from abroad rather than Catalan. And don’t forget, you can definitely meet lots of people with similar interests through apps like Meetup—there will definitely be someone in Barcelona for you!

“We Catalans are cautious and reserved people. You have to be insistent and persistent.”

  • Look beneath the surface. Barcelona is a city that is often misperceived. Many visitors see it as an attraction, a place of parties and nightlife, but not where real life happens. Or it’s Barcelona as portrayed on television, with constant political problems. Yet both these perceptions are limiting and incomplete—the city is so much richer than that, so much more than it seems.

“Barcelona is a city that is often misperceived. It is so much richer than it seems.”

  • Don’t be in too much of a hurry. If I could give my younger self who arrived here after school some advice, I’d tell her to take it easy and not rush to absorb it all. Sometimes the deepest appreciation for a city can come through patience. Oh, and I might also advise her not to party so much!

“Sometimes the deepest appreciation for a city can come through patience.”

Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik

Barcelona-based journalist, author, and sustainability consultant
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