policing tourist tack homepolicing tourist tack home
My husband went to Barcelona and all I got was this stinking T-shirt! Or was it a Gaudí ashtray? Perhaps a Messi towel? A flamenco apron? A bull-shaped lighter? A Puyol jersey? A Brazilian flag? A World Wrestling Federation mask? A plastic samurai sword? Or the granddaddy of all Barcelona souvenirs: a Mexican sombrero?
Since 2001, 86 souvenir shops have opened in Ciutat Vella alone. This does not include Barceloneta, the Eixample around Sagrada Familia and the cross-over ‘euro-bazaars’ that sell everything under the sun, except for products made outside of China. However, this rapid growth has ended. In April, the city council passed a by-law prohibiting new openings, title transfers and the expansion of licensed souvenir shops. This affects all shops that dedicate more than 20 percent of their areas to sale of tourist tat.
The justification for this new law is to protect the city’s “identity and quality of life”, according to a La Vanguardia article. The law was proposed after numerous complaints from neighbourhood groups and private citizens came to the council’s attention.
So will our low-cost, binge-drinking, stag-night punter’s sombrero be wrapped up in more red tape and bureaucratic regulations? Ranjan, 36, originally from India and now a manager of a souvenir shop on Carrer Marina near Sagrada Familia, who asked that his last name not be used, said he was not worried. “Whatever the city says, we will respect it, but perhaps it will be like the bullfights—no one likes it, but they don’t close them down. They could, but they don’t, because it brings the city money, a lot of money.
“Many people think we don’t pay taxes, but we do, we do, we pay too much, my books are good, all my employees are 100 percent legal. We work 14-16 hours every day. We speak many languages; of course we are going to grow. My family arrived in Barcelona 40 years ago, now we are big, we have 40 shops and 60 apartments, we work and know how to sell.”
Ranjan smiled and resumed greeting passersby. “Hello my friend, morning price for you. What size?” A couple of teenagers stopped to buy a shirt depicting a street sign symbol of a man farting, while their teacher yelled at them to hurry up. Fleets of bus, bike and school tour traffic eye his goods every day.
Down the street, past Starbucks, MacDonald’s and a Fotoprix shop, Demur Polat, who came from Kurdistan 15 years ago and started his own shop, takes a more philosophical approach. “The point is to respect the local customs. Many children pass here every day, the disgusting things should not be on display. Not in the street. For me, the problem is not the government, but big businesses; they have capital and power and can charge what they want. They are killing us. A traspaso on this street is now almost €500,000; who can afford that? Not me, especially when postcard sales are almost zero, because of the internet.”
When asked if he worried about the new legislation, Polat said, “Not really. Things in Spain are very relaxed. I don’t think they will tell me what to sell, they can’t do that, can they?”
So, is it the pinnacle of globalisation or an insult to local culture when a lager-lout buys a Mexican sombrero made in China from an Indian salesman on the streets of Barcelona? When Carrer Sardenya resident, Jordi Molina was asked his opinion, he responded, “The problem is not who is selling what. Over there,” he pointed to a local delicatessen, “they sell cheese from Galicia, chorizo from Leon and jamón from Extremadura. The problem is there are too many souvenir shops too close together, and they are very ugly.”