How to Talk, Live, and Eat like a Local While Studying Abroad in Barcelona

Aug 4, 2023 2:04:09 PM / by Grace Pyron

This popular city is a worthwhile destination to learn new things about culture, cuisine, language, and a way of living. Let Grace give you an introduction to Barcelona with tips and tricks along the way! From knowing what to expect from "Spanish timing" to using common phrases, this post will enlighten you about local life and how to fit right in.

Hola a todos! Study abroad is right around the corner and I’m sure you are all just as ecstatic as I am to get started! While living (and interning) in a new place might be nerve-wracking to many, it comes as a chance to experience an entirely new culture. As CEA CAPA students, we have the chance to see the world and enjoy its wonderful splendor. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler, or have never left your couch, your time in Barcelona will shape you for the rest of your life. In this blog post I’ll be touching on the language and culture of Barcelona, to help you live and explore like a local.

The city of Barcelona is home to over 1.7 million people (with another 5 million in surrounding areas), 17% of whom originate from other countries. Because of this, Barcelona is incredibly diverse. Whether you’re in the mood for some good ole’ Spanish tapas, some Peruvian cinema, or an American grocery store (yes, there is indeed one of these) you’ll be able to find something that’ll make you feel right at home in this wonderful city.

The first important thing to know about Barcelona is they are a part of the autonomous region of Catalonia. Spain is divided into 17 autonomous regions which all have their own cultural identities. Like the Basque Country in northwestern Spain, Catalonia also has their own language called català or Catalan. Catalan as a language could easily be described as a mix between French and Spanish. While essentially all locals speak Spanish, it's important to know a little Catalan as the majority of signage, whether it be when you're buying tickets, going to the grocery store etc..., will be in Catalan.

Buskers on Las RamblasBuskers on Las Ramblas.

Most will be in Spanish as well, except for the grocery store, so don’t tell you I didn’t warn you when you’re not sure what formatge means.

Talking Like a Local

If you want to experience Barcelona like the locals, you first need to talk to the like locals. Now I’m not referring to the infamous Barcelona lisp or speaking in perfect Spanish, but there are certain phrases and words that you will hear a lot during your time abroad.

Here are just a couple of phrases and words to get you started:

Buenos/Buenas — Slang for “good day.” This is normally used when leaving a store or restaurant. It is basically a replacement for saying "thank you and goodbye."

¿Que tal? — Similar to “what’s up.” ¿Como estas? is acceptable but you will most commonly hear ¿que tal?.

Bon dia — Hello. Bon dia is the Catalan version of the Spanish phrase Buenos dias. Many Catalan phrases have worked their way into day-to-day conversation and are highly appreciated by locals.

Vale — Pronounced "ba-ley", which means “ok”. You will probably hear this word the most. Vale is used when you’re in agreement with someone or are planning something. For example, if someone says “vamos a la playa hoy” (let’s go to the beach today), you could simply say “vale.” Just treat it the same as you would treat “ok.”

While you will almost always be able to find someone who speaks English, this trip is about getting out of your comfort zone, so any words of phrases you can pick up during your time abroad will only help enhance your trip. Locals will often try their best to assist you (whether in English or Spanish), but using local phrases will be highly appreciated.

Living Like a Local

Barcelona is a very active city. On a sunny day you can find locals playing volleyball at the beach, rollerblading down the sidewalk, or hiking in nearby parks. If you’re looking for a place to hang out for the day and soak in those rays, I would suggest Platja de la Nova Icària. Located next to La Vila Olímpica del Poblenou neighborhood, the Nova Icària beach features many activities and restaurants that’ll help you enjoy your day like a local. Another beach to check out is Barceloneta. However, this beach does tend to be more touristy so make sure you get there early so you can find a spot.

The Beautiful Parc de la CiutadellaThe Beautiful Parc de la Ciutadella.

Barcelona is also a very laid-back city. Locals like to take their time getting places. If you are planning on meeting someone at 10AM, chances are they won’t even think about showing up until 10:15AM. So don’t be upset when whomever you’re meeting doesn’t show up on time. If you need help fixing a faucet or getting your wifi up and running, you should expect it’ll take about twice as long as it takes in the US. However, don’t expect just because locals like to take their time you can show up to work late. On a professional level you are still expected to show up on time.

Spanish “timing” tends to be very different from other countries. Because of Spain’s laid-back nature, people tend to wake up later, take breaks during the day (this is called a siesta), and go to bed late. This is also very apparent on Sundays as, even in bustling tourist-packed Barcelona, grocery stores, malls, and other businesses are completely shut down. So don’t think that you can just pop to the store and pick up that frozen pizza when you realize you have nothing in the fridge.

Locals taking a siesta at Platja BarcelonetaLocals taking a siesta at Platja Barceloneta.

Eating Like a Local

Food is a huge part of Spanish culture. Spaniards use meal time as a chance to catch up with friends, or meet new people. Whether you are making food at home or getting tapas at a bar, food is the center of daily life. You can expect to spend up to two hours sitting and chatting with friends at a local bar.

You should know that breakfast is not very important in Spain. While in the US you may have a full breakfast with eggs, bacon, toast, etc..., most Spaniards will opt for a coffee and a croissant from a local panadería or bakery. If you are looking for something a bit more substantial, I would suggest trying a pan con tomat (bread with tomato) which can be found at pretty much any Barcelona bakery.

Lunch tends to be the largest meal of the day as locals don’t even think about dinner until 9-10PM. You’ll definitely want something to tide you over while you work or attend classes. Many restaurants will have a menu del día (menu of the day) which normally consists of a starter, main course, dessert, drink, and sometimes even a coffee for around €10. Choices are usually limited, but it will often be fresh and authentic Catalan cuisine.

As mentioned above, dinner is often very late. Dinner is normally as simple as tapas or paella. Dinner is a great time to get together with friends and enjoy the wonderful nightlife around Barcelona. Since dinnertime is so late, it tends not to be a huge meal. I would suggest getting some patatas bravas con chorizo at a local bar. Barcelona is also very big on gastronomy so make sure you check out some of the local restaurants for some interesting options.


Barcelona is a wonderful city. There is absolutely no confusion why Barcelona is the #1 tourist attraction in the world. Whether you’re looking for amazing food, exciting nightlife, or eclectic art, Barcelona has a little something to please everyone. It is the perfect mix of old and new, and walking down the streets of El Born and Raval, it is apparent why Catalans are so patriotic and proud of their city. I hope everyone is excited to start their adventure overseas. Hasta Pronto!

Thanks, Grace!

Grace Pyron


Grace Pyron was an official CEA CAPA blogger for summer 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on our blog. A Global Studies major at Arizona State University, she studied abroad in Barcelona. 

Grace's journey continues all semester long.

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Topics: Language, Barcelona, Spain

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