Every culture has its peculiarities, but let’s face it – there’s a point where the “culture” and “traditions” are just plain weird! Don’t get me wrong, I love living in Barcelona and all my Catalan friends, but seriously, they do some weird crap here! Speaking of sh*t, the first on my list is…
1. Obsession with Poop. Let’s start with the Caga Tio.
A trunk with a harmless, jolly face. I first saw a pile of these in a street fair of the Catalonian town of Vic, deep deep in Catalunya. What does it have to do with poop? Well, my Catalan friend enthusiastically explained to me that the caga tio is the Catalan version of the Christmas tree or Christmas stocking. The days leading up the Christmas, the children have to give the Caga Tio milk and oranges to eat every day. Then, on the day of Christmas, the parents put a blanket over it stuffing the presents under the Tio. The kid comes along with a stick, and literally beats the “crap out of” the Tio. “WTF?!” was my reaction. “Yeah, I guess it is a strange tradition…” said my Catalan friend sheepishly.
2. To continue with the poop obsession: The Caganer
Almost as curious as the caga tio, the caganer is, said plainly, a pooping figurine. This pooping figurine is typically put somewhere within the nativity scene of Christmas. No Catalan could answer my question of how this tradition began, but apparently it is a very important one, as the nativity scene in the Plaza de Sant Jaume, where the Barcelona and Catalan government is located, has a high profile nativity scene over Christmas, with a caganer tucked away in the bushes.
A fun touch is that you can find caganers around the city of all sorts of different characters! My favorites are those of Obama and Homer Simpson.
3. Have I gotten the point across that Catalans love Poop as much as the Japanese love their poop emoji?
If you haven’t realized already, “caca” means poop, and the Catalans, much like my elementary school self, are obsessed with poop. At the Feria de los Reyes, a large Christmas fair along Gran Via (one of the important streets in Barcelona) every single candy stall sold poop in a cup. Great gift idea for Christmas!!
The Catalan tradition of building human tours is quite a sight to behold. To my incredulousness, the cherry on the cake and the finishing act of the casteller construction is of a 4-5 year kid climbing up 6 levels of humans, at least 3 stories high. Why are kids allowed to be in this kind of danger?? Why do their parents allow them to climb?!
A child fell off a casteller a couple years ago, and died. This is why children are required to wear helmets now. But still, the fact that they they allow minors to participate in this tradition, with the most dangerous role, baffles my mind…
Despite my dismay, I did notice a couple interesting things with this tradition. They say that a foreigner becomes fully assimilated and welcomed to Catalan culture when they join a casteller team. I know an expat that joined a Casteller team, and really enjoys the sense of community. It was interesting to observe for me Asian and black children participating in the casteller. For the “new immigrant” communities, it must be a fantastic way to feel connected to the culture.
Did you know that there are Indians in Barcelona and Catalunya (its state?). Our Tourism class had a field trip to the town of Arenys de Mar to see the Indian mansions there. How shocked was I to find out that there were “Native Americans” here! But wait, having “native” people here doesn’t make sense, Europeans are “native”… Turns out, Catalans call those who went to the New World centless, and came back to Catalunya a rich man, to be “Indians”.
6. Mushroom hunting
Mushroom, or Bolets in Catalan, is a food that the locals go crazy for. Every year, when it is bolet season in the fall, families head into the woods to gather mushrooms. This is an activity that is taken very seriously.
Catalans are very demanding about their gastronomy, and have very peculiar gastronomic traditions. One of such traditions is eating calçots in the winter. The tradition of doing a calçotada is to gather with your friends and family, and basically have a barbecue, where the most important dish is not meat, but spring onions (calçot). You set the spring onion in the fire and let the root part burn and cook till it is black. Then, you peel off the burnt part, dip the calçot into romesco sauce, lean your head back, and lower the calçot into your throat. The top, green part is not eaten. As you can imagine, this tradition always gets quite messy, with charred-black hands, romesco sauce everywhere, and a pile of green onion stems on the table.
8. Wine drinking from Porron
Another food and drink related tradition that will get messy unless you have perfected the skills (through having failed a couple times in the past!). Catalans drink wine out of a porron:
When drinking out of a porron, the goal is to pull the flask away from your mouth as far as possible, and create a perfect projectile of wine!
I have been living in Barcelona for more than half a year now, so I suppose that some things that used to seem strange to me are not so odd anymore. I will add more as I think of them, though!