A Dragonfly Abroad: 4 Tips for Working in Spain

Bar del Convent_BarcelonaLet me start by saying that I have the best job in the world.
How else would I be able to spend my summer working from Barcelona, Spain, balancing meetings with clients with trips to the beach?
Not a typical “office job,” that’s for sure.
I’ve been here for about two months now. And in that time, I’ve learned a few things about working in the city’s many sidewalk cafés. Next time you’re in Spain and find yourself needing a place to write, follow these tips:

Understand Spain’s coffee culture.

First off, you can forget about anything remotely resembling American black coffee, either in quantity or taste. Spaniards take their coffee in petite, precise ratios of espresso, milk, and other add-ins. It’s important to know how to order the kind you prefer (I recommend café con leche).
You’ll also want to build coffee time into your schedule. Coffee in Spain is meant to be sipped and savored, not gulped from a travel mug while on the run. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate this relaxing, mind-clearing ritual.

Respect the house rules of the places you visit.

Many cafés in Barcelona offer free wi-fi, although you may have to ask for the contraseña (the password). Keep in mind, though, that the American custom of setting up camp at a coffee shop and working the day away is much less common in Spain and is frowned upon in some locations.
Look for signs or ask a barista about a café’s policy. Some places require that you purchase food or drink each hour you spend there. Others prohibit working on laptops between certain hours. It’s all about shutting the books and enjoying life, people.

If you do plan to stay awhile, look for a good menú.

Lunch, or comida, is Spaniards’ biggest meal. Many restaurants and cafés offer a menú del día, an all-inclusive midday special that’s often less expensive than the sum of its parts. (Not to be confused with the list of all items available to order, which is called the carta.)
A typical menú might include a main course (usually a sandwich or warm baked dish), a side, dessert, and coffee or another drink. A menú of 8 to 10 euros is usually a good deal.

Make the most of your work hours.

If you’re working with colleagues back in the U.S., you’re in luck: you get a major head start on the day’s work. This means you can spend the morning writing in blissful, undisturbed silence before the tide of morning emails rushes in. Or, if you decide to make yourself available in the afternoon and evening for meetings and correspondence back home, you can spend the morning visiting a museum or lingering over coffee and an ensaimada. Either way, you win.
Visiting Barcelona soon? Here are my favorite places to write.

  • Bar del Convent – This spot is tucked inside a 13th-century former convent in one of Barcelona’s oldest neighborhoods. Grab a table on its roomy patio and enjoy shade, a cool breeze, and beautiful surroundings (see photo).
  • Babelia – You could come here to catch up on work—but you might wind up curling up with a book instead. This combination café/secondhand bookstore has a nice selection, including a number of titles in English.
  • Mitte – Plenty of seats, quiet background music, great snacks—what more could a writer abroad want? This space, which doubles as an art venue in the evenings, is a surprisingly serene place to work by day.


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