Tourism is booming in Barcelona, despite three notable factors: one, the terrorist attacks of just two years ago; two, the so-called “tourism-phobia” that has gripped the city in recent years and seen local residents’ associations and other organisations protesting against what they perceive to be the ill effects of mass tourism in the city; and three, Barcelona’s service industry not being on a par with that of other major cities. I was provided with evidence of the latter when I recently decided to update my wardrobe.
Entering a shoe shop somewhere near Diagonal, one of those where you have to ring the bell to be let in, and clearly locally owned – my guess is it was a family business – I was regarded with suspicion and not even afforded a hello by the one middle-aged lady serving in the shop. I picked a shoe from the shelf only to be met with a barked “Don’t bend the shoe!” in Catalan. “What if I want to try it on?” I replied, only to have it removed from my grasp and replaced on the shelf. I left immediately, my words of disbelief ringing in the shopkeepers’ ears. I headed for Corte Ingles in Francesc Macià, looking for a specific shoe I’d seen online. Unable to find it, I asked the assistant if they had it in stock. “It’s only available in Corte Inglés Plaça Catalunya or Maria Cristina,” I was informed. “Could you call there to see if they have it in my size?” I asked. “No, you’ll have to go there,” came the curt reply. Further disbelief on my part. Later, I headed for Plaça Catalunya, and stumbled upon a bag and wallet section among the downstairs departments. I had a specific brand in mind, “Do you have bags by Tumi (an American brand)?” I asked. The answer was yes, it turned out later, but “I work for Piquadro,” was the reply I received before the assistant turned away to look at his phone.
My desire to spend money in these places was diminishing by the minute. I then found that there was a Tumi store on Passeig de Gracia. And what a contrast: they let me try the bag out, bend it, play with it, swing it around my head, and generally fiddle with all parts of it for five minutes without saying a word, just waiting to see if I had any questions and then answering them politely. “Wow, these staff must have actually been trained in serving customers, what a novel idea,” I thought. Then, when I bought the bag, they stamped my initials on a leather tag for free and told me I could change it (also for free) any time at any Tumi store around the world.
I walked out of there so happy, that I went straight into a Geox store across the road. In case you don’t know, Geox is an Italian shoe brand. After an hour of trying on various shoes and having a lovely chat with the beaming and charming Italian sales assistant, I bought a lovely pair of shoes and left there again a happy customer.
Pleased with my American and Italian purchases, I headed to a local eatery for lunch with a friend. “Can I change the salad that comes with the fish for some steamed vegetables?” my friend asked. “No,” came the reply... for “Nothing is to much trouble,” read ”Everything is too much trouble” in the Barcelona service industry.
So I have a message for all the residents’ associations trying to keep tourists away from Barcelona: don’t waste your energy – the local service industry will end up doing the job for you.