Let's take an imaginary poll of Japanese tourists. "What do you think of Barcelona? Answer by filling in the gap in the following sentence with the word that you think best: <<Barcelona is a ___________ city>>." Answers: "Barcelona is a Spanish city." (Yes, but no. It is a Catalan city, above all, even though it is as little Catalan as Paris is French, New York is American, or Tokyo is Japanese.) "Barcelona is a bilingual city." (Yes, in Catalan and Spanish, but in tourist areas it is bilingual in Spanish and English.) "Barcelona is a city of Antonio Gaudi." (Yes, but you should say Antoni Gaudí. He was Catalan.) "Barcelona is a gourmet city." (Yes, as long as you know how to choose from among the many restaurants here. Avoid at all costs eatieries serving frozen paella.) "Barcelona is not a bullfighting city." (Yes, bullfights are banned. I recommend “castellers" —Catalonia’s human towers— even though they don't kill anyone.) "Barcelona is a flamenco city." (Well ... My very Catalan friend's answering machine has flamenco music.) "Barcelona is a city that spends very little on clothes in the summer." (The half-naked young people in the streets are usually foreigners. The natives dress more discreetly.) "Barcelona is a very unoriginal city when it comes to fashion." (If you mean that the brands that you find are the same as you can find in Tokyo, indeed. If you buy clothes by local brands, however, you won't be able to boast to your friends when you get back to Japan. A big dilemma…)
"Barcelona is a city of many drunks." (They're not usually local. I know that it's difficult to tell the difference between Catalans and English or German people, in the same way that Catalans don't know how to tell if we're Japanese, Chinese, or Korean.) "Barcelona is an expensive city." (Yes, it is. Its hotels and restaurants are a case in point. If you sit in a terrace on the Rambles, you might be charged an outrageous amount. On the other hand, fruit isn't expensive. Here it is sold by the kilogram, not by the piece, as in Japan.) "Barcelona is a city where taxi drivers are not very friendly." (You're wrong. You don't have to get angry just because they don't open the door for you. That's not expected here, as it is in Japan.) "Barcelona is a very noisy city." (Unfortunately, it is. So is Tokyo, but there flats have better soundproofing. Here the noise from your neighbors might bother you, even in the best hotels.) "Barcelona is a Barça city." (Certainly. If you're fortunate enough to get a ticket for a game, be careful what flag you bring. The “estelada" —a Catalan flag with a star— has a special meaning, and it's not for foreign fans.) "Barcelona is a politically unstable city." (Not so much. If you happen to be in Barcelona on September 11th, don't be afraid of the demonstration. It's peaceful, and even children and the elderly take part.)
I set foot in Catalonia for the first time in 1978-- that is, almost 40 years ago, and before meeting my wife. If you had asked me the same question back then, I would have answered: "Barcelona is a gray city." It was physically gray. It seemed especially so to me coming from a very colorful Tokyo, when people have an obsession with lighting everything up. It was gray even in the daytime. The Barcelona from before the 1992 Olympic Games and the "Get beautiful" campaign was very different from the city of today. The buildings were gray regardless of their original colors. My mood must have influenced the impression I had. The Japanese bank where I worked had sent me here to learn Spanish from scratch, so that I could begin to work in the Madrid branch after 6 months. Impressions vary according to your circumstances, clearly. I didn't feel integrated into Barcelona at all because the only people I knew were my classmates in the language school who were, logically, all foreigners, plus my landlady.
To me now, Barcelona is a beautiful city. (Yes, both inside and out. But to grasp its inner beauty you need to stop being a tourist and stay for quite a long time and make some good friends.)
At the end of July my wife and I arrived in Catalonia to spend the summer. I couldn't even tell you how many summers we've spent here: more than twenty, at least-- after the 20th time we stopped counting. Until about ten years ago we used to come with our two children, but since they moved out, it's been just the two of us. Our Japanese friends don't understand why we come, when we could spend our time and money being tourists in famous places around the world. We don't know how to explain it to them either. Maybe we do so simply because our time in Catalonia is now a part of our lives.