Tag Archives: language

Amsterdam vs. Barcelona

Right just got back from a little hols in Amsterdam and I must say, damn that’s a fine city! It’s also a travel writer’s dream what with the colourful goings on of the Red Light District, the chilled coffeeshops (this is where you can smoke weed legally in case you’re out of the loop), romantic canals, bikes, boat houses and seemingly infinite supply of cool restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Of course my current home of Barcelona boasts more than its fair share of attractive qualities (hence why I came here in the first place!), but even so it did get me thinking whether I’d be tempted to ditch mincing about on the beaches of BCN for a life of trundling around canal-side paths on my city bike, crawling around cafes and coffeeshops enjoyably intoxicating myself, and no doubt ending the majority of my nights in the bed of a 6ft-tall Sylvie van der Vaart look-a-like. (After watching Black Book, I’d also settle for the more modest charms of Carice van Houten. Hopefully she’s listening – Carice?).

Time to bring the two heavyweight cities together in an epic battle, to decide which of these two metropolises will claim me as one of their honoured citizens…


Whilst I did enjoy the melancholy skies, humid air and autumnal smell of damp leaves that greeted me in Amsterdam, it really did rain a hell of a lot. Then it got cold. My ears nearly fell off on one bike ride. Overall, whilst Amsterdam’s climate wins points for atmosphere and romance, only a masochist would opt for that ahead of the glorious weather in Barcelona, with its nearly perma-blue skies, well-behaved temperatures and general LA vibe. First blood to BCN!


It’s hard to judge from just a long weekend, but if what I saw in four days of Amsterdam’s nightlife was representative then it boast much more variety and invention that the often two-dimensional Barcelona nightlife (which is basically either posh house club, or alternative student rock/cheese rubbish). Yes the bars mostly close at 1am (although some continue til 3) and the clubs from 3.30 to 5am, however as the Amsterdammers go out a full two or three hours earlier than the Barcelonins then it’s just the same amount of partying – only done earlier. The jury is still out on this one, as Barcelona does have its hip places lurking in hidden corners and surprise events…. hmmm we’ll call this a draw until I get to do more ‘research’ in the ‘Dam!


A hands down win for Amsterdam! The Dutch people are actually friendly. Dear Catalans you should try that sometime! But seriously, whilst foreigner-ennui has killed any interest that the Barcelona locals might once have had for their guests, it is still possible to make friends with the locals of Amsterdam who are open, unsnobby, helpful and just damn nice! Oh and the girls are all tall, thin and cute. What is it about girls on bicycles that is so sexy???


Whilst my local Dutch host assured me that bicycles get stolen all the time and he had been mugged twice, I have to say Amsterdam felt like the safest place in the world. At least compared to a nighttime walk in El Raval. I saw plenty of unlocked bikes and people even daring to hang up their coat on a coatstand… instead of the paranoid clinging onto possessions that is necessary in every bar and restaurant in Barcelona. Plus, despite its reputation for sleaze, I was accosted by far less prostitutes, drug dealers and thieves in Amsterdam’s Red Light District than I usually am in Las Ramblas – plus at least the prostitutes are good looking! (A bit too good looking… just what does happen behind those red windows???). Another victory for the ‘Dam.

Things to do

Well Amsterdam has museums aplenty, canals to cruise down, a great park in Vondelpark for hanging out in during sunny days, plenty of cool markets and naturally loads of bike paths…. but still can’t really touch Barcelona in this respect. What with the city beaches, Park Guell and Park Ciutadella (to name the biggies), a constant stream of fiestas and festivals and concerts and events (many free!), not to mention an abundance of day trip possibilities and even the Pyrenees mountains if you fancy skiing, Barcelona really is the dogs’ cojones when it comes to entertainment and cool things to do! Oooh it’s getting tight…


I’d rather learn Spanish, Catalan and ancient Greek than take on the Dutch language! I couldn’t pronounce a single word, despite my host’s patience. Advantage Barcelona? Not necessarily, as everyone speaks fluent English! But then it is nice to think that one day, even if it takes five years, as an expat you will be able to speak the local dialect at some stage. If I went to Amsterdam that would almost certainly never be the case… I’m going to award this one to Barcelona!

Its Amsterdam 2.5 points vs. Barcelona 3.5 points! Looks like I’m staying put for a while yet. You lucky lucky people.


Learning The Lingo

There are two types of ex-pats. Those that learn the language of their adopted country, interact with the locals, appreciate the customs and culture and generally make the most of their time abroad, and those that don’t – or ‘scum’ as I prefer to call them. The latter are invariably British, Irish or American expats who have somehow got undeservedly rich by some exploitative capitalist pursuit and spend their whole time complaining about how you can’t get a decent fried breakfast, pint of ale, or spicy curry ‘in this fucking country’ as they rake in the euros, most of which they then spend on sex workers – the only time they interact with the locals.

Suffice to say, I’d rather be part of group A. Which is why I consider learning Spanish a very important part of my new life in Barcelona and signed up for some lessons last November. After passing one module (pre-intermediate), I have got back into the swing of things after Chrimbo. I must confess, I love the idea of speaking foreign languages much more than the process of learning them… in fact, despite 7 years of learning French at school, 1 learning German, 10 years learning Latin, 3 Ancient Greek and 3.5 years of on/off learning Polish (mainly off) I have yet to master a foreign tongue! Am I incredibly thick, I hear you ask? Well naturally that doesn’t help, but – sad to say – I am also guilty of those most terrible English-speakers’ trait… knowing that I can (almost) always get away with English. No matter how hard I try to force myself to speak Spanish the minute I can’t express myself (normally about 5 secs after ‘hola’) a flick in my brain says ‘this is fucking ridiculous, just switch to English will you and spare us all!!!’ Which is what I do!

Anyhow, despite my poor efforts I have made a bit of progress… and maybe being tortured by Gran Hermano (Big Brother) and other ‘telebasura’ every night isn’t all bad as I seem to be able to understand a little bit these days. Sadly Spanish isn’t quite as easy as everyone tells you…. ok, it’s no Ancient Greek or Polish, but there’s a confusing number of past tenses to grapple with, plus a subjunctive mood (so unnecessary!) that irrrrrritating rolled ‘r’ which you seem to need in every language I pick up and I am physically incapable of reproducing, and lots of words/letters that – to the linguistically challenged – just sound the same. There are some good points I suppose. A large number of Latin-based nouns are virtually the same in Spanish as in English… posicion/position etc etc and there’s little trouble learning new vocabulary in general… which I suppose is 80% of learning a language!

And despite my grumblings, the actual process of learning is rewarding in as much as it gets me out of the house and into my language school. When you spend 90% in front of your computer at home you can’t overestimate the importance of getting out and doing something which involves talking to other people… even if it is in a language you speak like a retarded hobgoblin.

I picked the language school that was nearest to my flat in Barcelona, but if you fancy doing a bit more research then click here for a list of Spanish language schools in Barcelona.

For some handy phrases check out this blogger’s guide to twenty essential Spanish expressions.