Catalonia: ‘To keep friends and family close it’s best not to talk politics’

A year after Catalans went to the polls on October 1st, 2017, to vote in a highly controversial - and illegal - referendum on whether the region should be granted independence from Spain, Adrián Lizanda Herrera, hit the streets of Barcelona to find out the mood among the locals after a tumultuous 12 month.

Catalonia: 'To keep friends and family close it's best not to talk politics'
People tie yellow ribbons and bang pots in protest at jailing of Catalan politicians. Photo: AFP

The vision of Catalonia differs enormously in citizens who support independence and those who reject it. But one thing remains constant. And that's uncertainty. 

Pro-independence Catalans feel excited about the political situation, while unionists consider it to be discouraging.

The Catalans who spoke to The Local disagree on how politics are affecting relationships between families and friends.

Again, unionists expressed that tension is in the air, sometimes straining friendships and relationships because of the strong difference of opinion.

Pro-independence Catalans, however, argue that such tension is not as palpable as others claim.

READ MORE: A year after referendum, Catalan separatists rudderless

One issue that remains at the top of the agenda, even on the streets, is the fate of those Catalan politicians who are languishing behind bars, while others, including Carles Puigdemont, the former regional President and instigator of the declaration of independence on October 27th remain in exile. 

Across Catalonia, tied on lampposts, railings, trees and motorway bridges are yellows ribbons, the symbol representing the campaign to free the “political prisoners”. Posters with the faces of those imprisoned adorn posters plastered on walls and hung from balconies across the region.

“Politicians must be set free before any solution is reached”, insists Júlia Santamaría, a 27-year-old waitress who has lived in Catalonia for just over a year.

Santamaría is originally from Cantabria, a region north of Spain. There, she claims, she cannot talk about Catalans. While she considers that a referendum like the Scottish would be a solution to the Catalan problem, many on her family back home are not so understanding.

“There is a lot of manipulation on national television,” she said. “It seems like we are killing each other here.”

Some others say the tension is real.

Photo: Adrián Lizanda Herrera

Antonia García, a 59-year-old shopkeeper (pictured above), admits that being against independence has caused her trouble. In 2010 her two sons went out to celebrate Spain’s victory in the World Cup. After that, she claims, people in her neighbourhood became hostile and started stalking her shop.

“They peed, spit and threw cans of beer at my door”, García said.

For David Borén, 55, a manager who says he supports independence, insists no problem exists with those who have a difference of opinion on the matter.  In fact, he explains that a man from his working place votes Ciudadanos, a unionist party that won the most seats (but not a majority) in the last election, and that there are no hard feelings between them. “We do avoid talking about politics though”, Borén admits.

Victor Rodero, 48, who works at Barcelona’s airport, thinks that it is pointless to talk politics with some people as they are “hyperventilated”.

“The situation has worsened since the October 1st,” he said.

Jordi Casabó disagrees strongly with both statements. 

The 66-year-old university teacher claims to be more motivated than ever after the failed referendum -which was met with violence at the polls after police tried to disrupt the vote, which overwhelming saw people vote 

He insists that there is no problem when talking about politics. “Families are not divided, that is a lie made up by unionists parties”, Casabó said. 

Photo: Adrián Lizanda Herrera

Others now feel unwelcome in Catalonia. Ana Gómez, 55, who owns a shop selling Galician produce in the El Carmel neighbourhood in Barcelona.

Gómez admits that she and her husband, who is from the northwestern region of Galicia, are considering leaving Catalonia. “If you do not think like them you are evil”, she said when approached while walking her dog (pictured above).

Photo: Adrián Lizanda Herrera

Dani Fortuño, a 27-year-old athlete (pictured above), considers that the independence movement has taken over the spotlight and overshadowed important issues such as corruption scandals in Catalan politics.

Asked about the future of the independence movement, he does not think that anything will be accomplished.

“Something else will come up that will keep people distracted”, he sighed.Others are equally discouraged by the state of Catalan politics.  

Photo: Adrián Lizanda Herrera

Carlos Cereijo, 47, is a barman that does not feel represented by politicians (pictured above). “Society was stirred up around the vote last year, now it feels like the calm after the storm.”

Gorka Samaniego, a 21-year-old student (pictured below), does see the existence of discord Catalan society. In fact, he claims to have lost friends because of the current situation.

“I've learned that to keep friends and family close it's best not to talk politics”

Samaniego thinks that new politicians are needed to solve the problem, and he compares the current situation with Bill Murray’s ‘Groundhog Day’.

“We're stuck in the same cycle,” he said. “It feels like nothing will change.”

Photo: Adrián Lizanda Herrera

READ ALSO: Pro-independence protesters in Catalonia block roads and railway line

For members


14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain