Danielle Northcott tells Katie Morley how she found working in this laid-back harbourside city
I spent five months living and working for a translation company in Barcelona as part of my year abroad. It was a fantastic experience. Getting up at 7am five days a week no longer seemed like a chore; I actually enjoyed what I did, and looked forward to the new experiences I would have that day.
I settled in to employment in Barcelona surprisingly quickly. The translation company I worked for welcomed me with open arms (quite literally – the Spanish like to embrace). The training I received was relaxed and interesting and they allowed me to find my feet at my own pace. I was struck by the seeming lack of hierarchy within the business – it wasn’t immediately obvious to me who was in charge and who made the coffee, and there was a sense of balance and equality in the office.
Working culture in Barcelona, as I experienced it, differs enormously to that of the UK. For starters, if you arrive at 9.10am rather than 9 o’clock on the dot, you won’t be met with furrowed brows and a stern warning from your supervisor. Having said that, a standard working day for me began at 9am(ish!), but for many that dreaded Monday morning involved rocking up to the office at 10am or 10.30am with no apologies or flustered excuses necessary.
It is customary in Spain to head out to the local café around 11am for desayuno (breakfast). I feel confident in saying that doing so is fairly unheard of in Britain; we instead chomp morosely on an Elevenses bar when we hit that mid-morning slump as we watch the clock crawl towards midday. When it comes to lunch, the siesta-taking Spaniard is very evident in Barcelona. Generally you are allowed two hours for lunch (sometimes more if the workload is light) and I would be willing to bet that 9 out of 10 people in Barcelona go home for their midday meal. Eating in general is still, to a certain extent, a social affair. There’s none of this grabbing a quick sandwich from a Pret A Manger and shovelling it down at your desk nonsense in the Catalan capital; you’d either go home to eat with your family or flatmates, or head to a local café to share some tapas with colleagues.
However, such lunches are about as far as office socialising goes in Barcelona. In my office, for example, we all would happily yap over a mid-morning coffee, but not once did anyone suggest an after-work drink. Nonetheless, you do develop good relationships with your workmates: people address each other on first name terms and you can rest assured that no-one’s birthday ever goes unnoticed (any excuse for an extra long coffee break).
As for office dress code – there wasn’t one. I arrived on my first day having spent hours preening my hair and scouring my wardrobe for the perfect professional ensemble to find myself surrounded by denim and trainers. At first it unsettled me; it was the first office I’d been into that didn’t look like an M&S bomb had exploded in it. But I grew to love this aspect of working life. Everyone took pride in their appearance and looked smart, but there was no pressure to come parading into the office modelling a new outfit every week.
Getting to work also isn’t as much of a source of stress for people in Barcelona as it is in London. The metro runs like clockwork, the bus services are fantastic, the air is (usually) warm and the city is beautiful enough to want to get up that extra half an hour early to amble through its cobbled streets.