However, sometimes the discovery of these differences leads to something very magical. Occasionally, these new alien customs and practices turn out to be BETTER than the ones you have left behind!
I found myself in such a situation last year when I moved from UK to Barcelona with little money and few belongings. I quickly found a room in a flat, and required some furniture and other things to make my life easier and prettier. I couldn’t follow the suggestions from most of the people with whom I discussed my situation, which was to head down to IKEA. I couldn’t shake the image of streets and landfills filled with broken, cheap, unethically-made furniture remnants. When refurnishing a flat in the UK, usually I would head to a charity shop, and hunt down some suitable pre-loved pieces. Having swiftly learnt of the almost total lack of charity shops in Spain, I drew a blank. On the other side of the same coin, what do people in Barcelona do with their unwanted furniture?
In the past in Spain, it was the Catholic Church, with its greater involvement in society, which took on the responsibility for the (re)distribution of unwanted items. And yet, today here in Barcelona (and maybe the rest of Spain) there is a distinct lack, or less involvement in, organisations such as charity shops, EBay and Freecycle projects. These organisations facilitate the recycling and reusing of perfectly good furniture and items in other parts of the globe. However, from the ashes of the decline in influence of the Catholic Church, a new culture of structured sharing and disposal has risen.
Unaware of an official term for this phenomenon, I’ve come to know it as ‘Free Furniture Day’. Every area of the city has a day of the week when you can put out onto the street any unwanted/broken pieces or furniture, or indeed anything else, for the council to come and collect. Naturally the more thrifty individuals choose these days to go ‘stuff-hunting’, before the council trucks sweep away the remnants.
Upon learning of this, the thrifty reusing and recycling fan inside me became very excited. So excited in fact, that when my flatmate told me that it was our barrio’s ‘Free Furniture’ night, I went straight out, literally eight hours too early (10pm is the optimum hour in that hood), on the off-chance that the early bird does indeed catch the worm. It didn’t. But nine months, and three flats later I have definitely learnt to capitalise on these days. A chest of drawers, a decorative birdcage, half-full candles discarded by the cathedral, chairs, a vintage 1950’s Spanish board game: these are but a few of the items I have acquired (quite legally!) with no money and a bit of persistence. Obviously, unlike heading to IKEA, you can’t hit the streets with a shopping list for a wardrobe, sofa, lamp and so on. And although I’m sure, on the whole, ‘Free Furniture Days’ do little to dissuade most of the public from buying new, cheap and ultimately disposable furniture, they do provide something of an alternative for those who are willing to put the hours in to go ‘hunting’. Just remember to hunt in packs, in case that amazing find is too big to take home on your own!