Dos and Don’ts

Tipping: “You can, but you don’t have to,” explains Richard Schweid, senior editor at Barcelona Metropolitan magazine. The cabbie from the airport, who might have had to wait an hour to get to the head of the line, will appreciate 10 percent; local people usually round up bar and restaurant tabs and such to the nearest euro—or not, as they feel like—but at upscale eateries you need to be a bit more generous.

Identity Issues: Never suggest to a native of Barcelona that he lives in a “region” of Spain or that he speaks a derivative of Spanish. Relatively few Catalans are ardent separatists, but they’re all fiercely proud of their distinctly different history, culture, and language.

Greetings: Two kisses (besos), or light touches cheek-to-cheek, one on each side, are the normal way of greeting people, even people you don’t know. This is usually between women, or men and women; men can greet each other this way, but it’s more unusual.

Meals: “You’re on the Mediterranean clock here,” advises Richard Schweid. Don’t expect a restaurant to be open much before 1:30 p.m. for lunch, or 9:30 p.m. for dinner. If you’re meeting local people for a meal out, count on them to be reasonably (but not obsessively) punctual. Unless you’ve been invited, the normal expectation is that everyone pays his/her share of the bill.

Phrase Book

Spanish is understood everywhere in Barcelona, but people will appreciate your willingness to try Catalan. A few useful phrases, with their Spanish equivalents:

Barça: Futbol Club de Barcelona—the city’s soccer team, its pride and joy. Pronounced BAR-sa.

Cigaló (Sp. carajillo): Small cup of thick coffee (a cortado) with a shot of brandy in it; blue-collar morning kick starter, but good anytime. Pronounced see-ga-LOW.

Seny: Common sense, practicality. This, and its opposite, rauxa (rau-sha: chaos, creative madness) are said to be the twin pillars of the Catalan national character. Pronounced senh.

Si us plau (Sp. por favor): Please—used both for requests and getting attention. Pronounced cease plow.

Tancat (Sp. cerrado): Closed. Stores and offices—with some exceptions for the tourist trade—are tancat from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Sundays, and for most of August. Pronounced tan-KAHT.

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