Barcelona in Phase 2: moving towards the new normal

Well hey…

How’ve you been?

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks here in Barcelona.

We’re now officially in Phase 2 of the transition to the “new normal”. The state of alarm should – if all goes well – soon be over.

And things are much better than they were before. Barcelona is starting to look like a city again, and not a scene from a zombie film.

We can go to terrazas for a beer, or even to a restaurant. The beach is hoppin. No time restrictions. Sunbathing is no longer illegal.

In other words, we can just go out and do stuff. Much like before.

And it’s great. Let’s not take it for granted.

Let’s not forget that most fun things were recently prohibited.

Anyway, there’s a lot to think about as we move towards this new situation. And I’ve been thinking about it.

Here are a few things to ponder.

The small things matter… a lot

It’s funny how things I barely thought about before now bring me strange amounts of joy.

This week, it’s seeing some of the people who I’d forgotten all about during “confinement”.

The old nudist guys waving their dicks on the beach. The rickshaw bikes and the guys selling beer out of plastic bags.

The tiny old bald dude who hands out fliers for one of the big restaurants.

Usually, they’re just part of the landscape. People you’ve been ignoring so long you almost forget they’re there.

I wasn’t thinking about any of them when I was stuck at home for two months.

But suddenly they’re back, and it’s great.

It’s also funny how the most mundane of experiences seem better, after two months locked inside.

A few days ago, for example… Morena and I went to the police station so she could renew her ID card.

And it was the most boring experience. Standing in a socially distant line outside a government building. Yippee.

barceloneta neighborhood

On the other hand, it was a beautiful spring day, the trees were flowering, and we were outside.

In fact, it was probably the longest we’d been out of the house since March.

We walked back home afterwards, and even though most things were still closed, the feeling of fear was gone. Kids were playing and birds were chirping.

And once again, it was great.

Where do we go from here?

It’s easy to go through something like that and then say “our lives will never be the same”.

But I’m guessing that for the most part, they will be the same.

Except for a few small changes, I think people will mostly be happy to get back to normal.

In any case, there are a few new health measures that might – or might not – be here to stay.

barcelona te molt poder sign

Of course, the face masks: this season’s hottest fashion accessory.

Hand sanitizer at the front doors of restaurants. Plastic sheeting to keep people from breathing on each other.

I’m no epidemiologist, but I’m guessing that putting a little plastic divider between me and the bank teller isn’t gonna improve public health that much.

But what do I know?

Going to “new normal” restaurants is fun too. Suddenly having a paper menu that a lot of people have touched is unfashionable – or perhaps illegal. Instead, you scan a QR code on your phone, and try to read the menu that way, on your tiny screen.

Then, they bring you the salt and olive oil in tiny packets, to avoid people touching a communal salt shaker.

At the same time, the waiters are touching your fork, your plate, and probably everything else.

And I’m sure we’ll (mostly) be fine, despite everything.

We’ve been exposed to viruses our whole lives, and we’ve largely lived to tell the tale. But hey, let’s prohibit salt shakers till there’s a vaccine. Why not?

I’m just happy I can go out again.

Will the tourists ever come back?

Seeing Barcelona without tourists is interesting too.

Because even without all the “foreign” people, it turns out that Barcelona is still shockingly diverse. We have, according to this article, residents from 175 countries speaking about 300 different languages.

175 countries. That’s almost all of them.

Some people see Barcelona without tourists and say, “This is great, the people are taking back their city!”

But I have my doubts. “Take back the city” sounds like a nice slogan, but it’s not a solid economic model.

sagrada familia sin turistas

Spain’s economy relies on tourism. It’s hardly the only industry, but it’s one of the biggest. And losing it will affect everything else.

So if someone has a plan that’s based on real math and that will allow us to:

  1. Keep the tourists out. And…
  2. Bring those many, many billions of euros into the economy some other way.

…then I’m all ears. Let’s talk about that plan.

But so far I have heard no such plan.

(And how do you keep tourists out anyway? Totalitarian control of the borders, North Korea style? That’s hardly the kind of country I wan to live in.)

In any case, I have to admit: walking around the center without all those tour groups and random gaggles of guiris is pretty relaxing.

It’s enjoyable. But at what cost?

Losing 15% of GDP, as Banco de España has predicted might happen this year, doesn’t sound relaxing at all.

Finally… who are the locals anyway?

Last thing for today.

I got called a racist and an idiot for a comment in my last article saying that I hate the expression “the locals”. (Poor reading comprehension for the win, but whatever.)

Anyway, let me clarify what I meant.

As an occasional travel writer, I hate the typical guidebook advice to try to “live like the locals”, “dress like the locals”, etc.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but staying in an AirBnB doesn’t make you a local. For the most part, you’re not going to live like a local if you’re spending a week in a place, or a month. Stay for a year and then we’ll talk.

But further than that, I have the issue that in Spain, anywhere I go, I look very unSpanish.

Spain is the only home I have, at this point. I’ve been here longer than I usually care to admit.

In my mind, I’m a local.

But anyone who sees me walking around thinks, “Look… A foreign person!”

Basically, the whole “locals vs tourists” conversation completely leaves me out – and leaves out most of my friends as well.

And hey, I might not be a native barcelonés, but after going through all this, I love Barcelona more than ever.

So, cheers to the locals! Or not.

I’m going to the bar.

Fucking finally.

Phase-twoically yours,

Mr Chorizo. (Or Mr Butifarra, if you prefer something more local-sounding.)

P.S. My other articles about this whole Covid-19 situation are here: Life on Lockdown, Social Distancing and Grand Re-Opening. Enjoy!

P.P.S. Update: Okay, so it took a lot longer than I thought to get to the new normal… if we’re even there now. Here’s New Normal, August 2021 Edition if you’d like to know more about that. Also, I’ve got a newish article about how to live like a Barcelona local, which you might enjoy. Have fun!


How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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