Sunday, 10 February 2008

Another Day in Paradise

“When will you move home?” is a frequent question to, as well as among expats. Since both my wife and I are native Swedes, there is a strong expectation that we will eventually go back again. Maybe we will, but that is not our plan.

And why would we? According to a recent survey, the area where we live offers the best quality of life to foreign professionals. For the tenth year in a row, Barcelona comes out on top, followed by Geneva and, third, Madrid.

There is a negative side to the same survey. Due to the appreciation of the Euro and the real estate price spiral, Barcelona has seen a fast increase in the cost of living. It is now the 31st most expensive business city of the world (Moscow is number one, followed by London, Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong) but was ranked number 56 as late as in 2006. To make matters worse, salary levels here are among the lowest in Western Europe. A small consolation for us is that Madrid is even worse off – the cost of living is higher than in Barcelona while the salary level ranks one position lower than that of the Catalan capital.

I interpret the survey as a proof that quality of life is not about money. At least our family can make do with less here in Spain. We do not feel the same pressure to wear new clothes, make fancy journeys or drive a BMW as we experience when we visit Sweden. The explanation probably lies in the high exposure to sunshine. Hopefully, it makes us happier and therefore less materialistic, but, who knows, maybe we have only become lazier.


Monica said...

Probably the paradise is also called Vilanova i la Geltrú. Here in Barcelona there are fare to many porshe Cayenne´s and Ralph Lauren shirts to just walk around and feel simple and plain....

Erik Wirdheim said...


Partly you are right. If you want to "belong to" a certain class in society it is obvious that you need to follow its code.

However, partly you are wrong. At least among the foreigners we know here (including many of those from Barcelona) people here are very laid-back and easy going.

And I am quite sure that the avarage Catalan is less anxious about wearing the right clothes for the season than the avarage Swede is.

Monica said...

I can´t agree! But, i can only compare with the north of sweden from some years ago, when tradmarks that "everyone" wears here hardly were not known there. But, maybe it is a class issue. I do not know the catalan lower class very well, i must admit. But for example among the "killos" you also see a considerable amount of anxiety in the dress-code, is my feeling, and a place like La roca village crowded also with them.(to be fördomsfull :-)

Erik Wirdheim said...

My answer from yesterday is terrible. I can not prove a point about Barcelona by referring to the city's foreigners. Here is an attempt to improve:

My feeling is that the difference lies in the pace of change rather than in the brands.

As a man here you can buy a Ralph Lauren shirt and know that you will look Ralph Lauren for quite some time. In Sweden, you know that already next season people will think of you as "old Ralph Lauren". The anxiousness makes clothes go old faster in Sweden than here.

In Barcelona you have big areas (Gràcia, Born) where people are dressed in so "alternative" ways that I do not think we can match it in Sweden. At Söder in Stockholm, people do not wear just any alternative clothes, it must be "recognized alternative" clothes, preferrably with some "correct" seasonal details.

Finally, regarding the cars, there is a BMW "inflation" in Southern Sweden. During the last few years, traditional middle class neighgourhoods are being filled up with them.

Maria, Barcelona said...

I do agree with Erik. It is just so totally different in the aspect of fashion Stockholm vs Barcelona.

Catalans in general might wanna wear expensive clothes, but don't really care if it's the right season or the old one.

This is one of the best things about living in Barcelona. I don't feel that I have to worry about the statuscodes at all. Since I am already different by just being Swedish.

At Östermalm where we used to live, you simply can't ignore the signals. They are in every single thing you buy. I can nearly tell you where a person lives just by looking at their clothes. It's scary.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Thanks for the support with the perspective from Sweden's big city, Maria, and for reminding me about one of the strongest reasons for us not to want to move there.

Personally, I should be honest to admit that I have only lived the "small town-version" of this anxiousness, but that can be tough enough.

Finally, you are totally right that since we are already considered as outsiders since we are foreigners, we can allow ourselves not to get involved in all codes which exist here.

Keefieboy said...

Why would anyone want to go back to live in the 'frozen north' (I include England in this) when they have achieved a life in a mostly sunny and warm place? I've just read a British newspaper poll about the UK's ten greatest historical mistakes - a popular one is that we used to send convicts to Australia, when really, we should all have gone to Australia and left the prisoners behind!

Nice blog Erik, and thanks for the link. Reciprocated.

Erik Wirdheim said...


Thanks for the encouragement - to the blog as well as to our choice of a new home.