“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you’ve not learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” Muhammad Ali
We are meeting in Café Zurich on Plaça Catalunya. I found her on the website www.lingobongo.com where I was looking for a local who wanted to practise their English. I couldn’t think of another way of making friends with a local without walking up to one and saying “will you be my friend?”
I spend ages getting ready, wondering if she will want to meet me again. Hair up or down? Kiss or handshake? Then I wonder if I will like her. It is all starting to become a bit stressful, a bit like a date. And then I realise, technically I am going on a friend-date. My friend-seeking dating profile would read:
Thirty-year-old English woman seeking fun-loving Catalan female friend to share experiences of Barcelona with. Good sense of humour.
I walk into the café and scan the room for someone wearing a red scarf. There is someone wearing a dark pink scarf, but I am too shy to go over. Instead, I sit down and wait for her to find me. Soon, a friendly face asks if I am me, and I say yes. She sits down, we order coffees and the date begins.
Two years later and Mireia is still my only Catalan friend. For every friend-date which went well, there were several others which went less well, either the other person or me never getting back in touch.
Let’s be honest, making new friends in Barcelona (or anywhere for that matter) requires determination, guts and a sense of humour. And for those of us living here as foreigners, a good friend is not just important, it’s essential for weathering the highs and lows of life in the city.
My mother always said if you want to make friends, join a group—that way you can do something you’re interested in whilst scoping for potential mates you’re guaranteed to have at least one thing in common with. I always resisted this sage advice because I romantically imagined friends should just materialise out of thin air. Experience has taught me mother was right.
The good news is, Barcelona is bursting with such groups, and one great place to find them is www.meetup.com which lists an amazing 450 groups meeting in or near Barcelona. Most of them provide their information in English and welcome all nationalities. It is free to sign up to a group and you can see from the group profile if there is a charge to attend. You can also create your own group (fortnightly cake-eating meet up anyone?) but it will cost you €15 a month.
If you feel a bit nervous turning up to a group alone, most organisers will introduce you to the other members on the group page beforehand if you ask.
Groups cater for all sorts, including: movie buffs, business networkers, dancers, photographers, people over 45, amateur musicians, vegetarians, curry lovers, new-comers, poets and bookworms.
Meetup groups range from the conventional get-together to the more unusual. Catalan wine-lover Miguel Figini entices people to his tasting sessions by calling them ‘wine raves’. Apart from enjoying a good party, Figini also created his group to share his passion for local wine with foreigners in the city. “I would like expats who are living with us to discover and enjoy the richness and singularities of Catalan wines, as I have for the last 35 years,” he says.
Other groups centre around a niche interest, such as The Clandestine Arts Community, whose organisers encourage arty types to join by asking the following questions: “Do you, in the bottom of your heart, believe yourself an artist or a true Bohemian? Are you tired of the same old parties? Do you want to be surrounded by actors, painters, musicians and other night birds while sharing a glass of wine? Then, you are ready to be a clandestine.”
Finally, there are the more straightforward social groups, where you can go simply to meet new people. On its group page, Barcelona Culti Group describes itself as existing “for the sole purpose of casual get-togethers in a friendly environment where everyone feels welcome.”
ONLINE FORUMS AND GROUPS FOR FAMILIES
For many families, living a flight away from the grandparents and other relations can be especially challenging and the support of good friends in the same boat can be a life-saver.
Brit and mum-of-two Monica Krüger has been living in Barcelona for 17 years. “A parent’s learning curve is a steep one and it’s reassuring and empowering for them to feel welcomed into the intimacy of a small group who meet once a week,” said Krüger.
There are several free online forums for Barcelona-based families where you can post queries and suggest get-togethers. More than anything it is nice to know there is a whole community of English-speaking families in the city at the tip of your fingers. There are also parent-centred coffee mornings and fitness groups, including the following:
- Barcelona Tots Group forum; Google Groups
- Super Sagrada MamAmigas forum; Google Groups
- Weekly Baby Café at Wellwoman Clinic; www.bcnwellwoman.com
- Mamifit, pre and postnatal fitness group for mums; www.mamifit.es
- Barcelona Womens Network’s ‘Mom and Tots’ group; www.bcnwomensnetwork.com
Practising your Catalan/Castilian is an obvious way to make friends with a local, so why not arrange a language exchange (intercambio in Castilian and intercanvi in Catalan)? Websites such as Metropolitan (Classifieds section) and www.lingobongo.com have dozens of listings from would-be exchangers. For the less computer literate, the entrance of language school International House (Trafalgar 14) has a wall covered with post-its from locals keen to practise their English, French, German and so on.
There are also regular groups where Spaniards and other language speakers get together to natter informally over a drink. English Oasis is one such group, which charges a small fee for its bilingual workshops, walks, dinners, quizzes and social groups. Members choose the language they wish to socialise in—www.englishoasis.org.
For something a bit unusual, on meetup.com you’ll find an ingenious group called ‘Barcelona theatre classes and language exchange’, which gets members to role-play real situations in basic Castilian. If you also like reading in Castilian, there is a book club where members practise their language skills while discussing a book.
Making friends whilst doing your favourite sport is a safe bet—you will always have something fun to do together.
For those into circuit-type workouts, the English organisers of Beachfit meet at Buenas Migas on Barceloneta beach every day. The classes are in English, the first class is free and they also arrange social gatherings. Their information can be found on www.facebook.com/beachfitbcn, while meetup.com also lists the following sporty groups in Barcelona: volleyball, hiking, badminton, table tennis, basketball, cycling, paragliding, paddle (sea), kite-surfing, sea-swimming, sailing, frisbee, martial arts, roller blading, running and yoga in English (my group!).
FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
If none of the above appeals to you, there are plenty of other options for you in town. Take the Barcelona English Choir, which can be found at www.facebook.com/barcelonaenglishchoir. There’s no audition and you don’t have to be able to read music. English organiser Ed Aldcroft now has around 30 to 40 singers in every session. “It’s a great way to relax, socialise with an international crowd, practise your singing and, most importantly, have fun,” Aldcroft told me.
Looking for friendship ‘and more’? Then there is the intriguingly named ‘Intercambio with a Twist’, a group set up in a speed-dating style. Members are seated with a random partner for five minutes before being rotated. The organisers even provide ‘interesting topics’ to keep conversation flowing. To find out more, visit: www.languagezona.com/meetup.html
What about drawing naked people, then having pica pica with the other artists? For a fee, Life Drawing Barcelona provides you with paper, chalk, boards, pencils and a model. After the drawing, a table full of food and wine is unveiled. Organiser Benet Ferrer is a graphic designer when he is not hosting his 329-member group.
“My aim is to provide a warm, supportive and inspirational environment and no need to worry about artistic talent. Just enjoy the journey,” said Ferrer. Get in touch with him on 679 933 331.
With the help of the Internet it is becoming a lot easier to find groups where we can meet like-minded people whilst doing something we love. We may not win ‘em all, but we will have a lot of fun trying.