We went to Barcelona in mid-December and spent three days there. The first SMS that I received when I landed in the city was “Beware of mobile phone thieves in Spain”. Needless to say, this did not give a good impression of Spain. Most of the friends I had spoken to also didn’t speak highly of the safety in the country. With this perception in my mind, I went about my trip with my family, starting with the famous Barcelona FC stadium.
After the visit, we went into a roadside kiosk outside the stadium to have some pastries and coffee. My son asked for a hot dog and once he started eating, he asked me, “What meat is this?” The shopkeeper, in his unclear English, said it was pork. My son spit the food out and told me that he would not eat pork. The shopkeeper took the hot dog from his hands and said it was okay. I told the shopkeeper that it was my fault that I didn’t check which meat it was and that I would pay for the hot dog. The shopkeeper said no and even though I tried to press him to take the money for the hotdog, he refused, saying it was for a child. We’re talking about € 3.5 here, which for a roadside kiosk operator is not a small amo
unt. His generosity and caring attitude made such a powerful impression that I bought two additional bottles of soft drinks to “compensate” for the loss that I caused for him. My opinion of Barcelona had already changed.
After visiting Plaça d’Espanya, we visited the Picasso Museum. After spending a good 90 minutes in the wonderful museum, we went to the museum shop to buy some souvenirs. I told my kids that they could have € 10 each to buy a souvenir. My son came to the billing counter with a small diary, saying, “This is for € 6. Can I take it?” I said okay, but when he gave the diary to the billing staff, they said my son would have to give them € 19. This was not within my son’s budget and I told him as much, but he insisted that the diary was tagged with a label that said it was for €6. The billing staff went to check and when they returned they agreed to give him the diary for €6 because they’d made a mistake in the labelling. My son quickly went and picked another book for € 6, and this time to the price upon scanning turned out to be €19. The staff checked out this anomaly as well, and came back with a smile saying that the whole shelf had some wrong labels. He asked me to take it for € 6 as he didn’t want to disappoint my son but I said that I would pay the € 19 Euros. He refused and I insisted, but even as our exchange continued my son picked up another small book for €6. Fortunately, the price was right this time and there were smiles all around. I had already started liking Barcelona and its people.
From there we went to La Rambla for dinner and then to our hotel, which was a little away from the downtown area. I called the hotel reception to get the address and a gentleman asked me to get down at Marina station and walk for five minutes in a certain direction, take a right turn at the junction after crossing two streets and then walk for 200m. I ended up crossing the junction and lost my way. It was 8pm and there were not many people on the road. I tried talking to a few people but they didn’t speak English and then called the hotel again. He tried to guide me and he realised that I was not able to figure out the route. He asked for the names of the buildings around me, made his own estimate of where I was and asked me to wait there. Within five minutes, he came with his car and took all of us to the hotel. Once we reached there, we realised that he was the only staff at the reception but still took the risk of leaving his desk and help us out. He took my respect for Barcelona to a new level.
We form our perceptions about any place based on our experiences. Whether a perception is good or bad is shaped by the acts of the various people we encounter in a city. The small acts of kindness and generosity that we encountered on the first day of our trip made such a powerful impression on us and we really fell in love with the city. We were also able to overcome our former biases, which were based on the experiences of a few other people.
When I talk about my trip to Barcelona, I am not just talking about my experience in the city but rather, my experience in Spain. Those three people are going to be our data points when we talk about a city and that city alone is going to be our data point when we talk about Spain, the country. Each of us can make a difference by being an ambassador for not just our city, but for our country, our culture through small acts of kindness, humility and generosity.
Happy New Year! Be an ambassador!
You can read the article in Huffington Post India via