The selfie project from Chicago to Barcelona entailed a transition from snarking at tourists that were blocking my shots to being that very tourist. My expectations were that actually being the tourists in Barcelona would make the project easier. While in Chicago, it felt unnatural and awkward to regress back to the obnoxious selfie-taker getting dirty looks when I typically would also be rolling my eyes at the sight of any selfie stick. I thought that in Barcelona my looks and my attire would already label me as an outsider so snapping these pictures would be expected and predictable of me, feeling less unnatural. I was wrong.
In Chicago the awkward feelings of judgment were superficial; the physical act of selfie-taking was being judged, that’s it. People surrounding me would giggle or stare for a few extra seconds and carry on. In Barcelona the feelings of judgement went much deeper and the problem didn’t stem from the selfie-taking action but from what was in those selfies with me. Responses from locals to my taking of pictures with historic locations and monuments (that I had limited, premature knowledge on) made me feel as if I was stealing from them, stealing a part of their deep-rooted culture that they work so hard to preserve. These feelings were heightened at the monuments that were outside of the buzzing Barcelona streets in smaller, quieter towns. No matter our attempts to blend in, we stuck out like sore thumbs. Local residents would stare with dismay as we stole pictures with their monuments. A classmate told me that one man near the statue of Antoni Gaudi asked him if he even knew who that statue was. Another classmate told me she was yelled at for not speaking Catalan while on the bus to the Antoni Gaudi statue located in the Sarrià neighborhood.
Part of our education through the study abroad program here in Barcelona has taught us how much tourists negatively impact and alter their community. In a documentary produced by Eduardo Chibás titled Bye, Bye Barcelona, a local expressed, “this is not a city to live in, it’s a theme park.” Another interviewee explained, “we’re reproducing touristic itineraries, habits and activities that are very repetitive, and sometimes far from what this city is all about.” Perhaps my exposure to these angry and stressed residents in the classroom and through this video has made me hypersensitive in my feelings described above. I do know that the modifications to Barcelona are stripping traditions and history away so I do not disagree with the inhabitants’ reactions. Their effects have simply made me restructure my goals while here; I will strive to further immerse and learn the true Catalan ways in attempt to be viewed as a voyager exploring over a tourist consuming.