It’s a curious thing, local culture. When you’re traveling outside your country, or even outside your region, it can turn an otherwise pleasant day into a visit to the Twilight Zone. [queue music] If you don’t know what that is, this blog is probably not for you. Mainly this is a blog about an American trying to figure out how to get around in a strange city in Europe with a bare handful of the local language.
It’s no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Uber’s history of blunders and bad press, that not everyone thinks they’re the good guys. I for one changed over to Lyft after all the stories of a culture of misogyny and the poor handling of a video of a driver raping a passenger in India came to light. So I’m not an Uber fan girl.
I am however a BIG fan of apps that allow me to use my phone to request a ride. I’m willing to use whichever driving services the city prefers. But I have no desire to roam around trying to flag down a taxi in bad weather or an unfamiliar (and therefore potentially dangerous) neighborhood. I’m a woman, and in all my years of travel I’ve been pretty careful about the kind of risks I take. To any man who may sneer at this, let me educate you. This is wisdom, not cowardice.
As a big planner, I started to do research on how to get around in Barcelona. I do intend to use the Metro and actually booked an AirBnB based on its proximity to a Metro stop. However, I’m older and gimpier than I was the last time I explored that fabulous city and I wanted backup options. After reading an article about Uber departing Barcelona after the city instituted a law that required the driver to wait 15 minutes before accepting the request (which Uber reasonably enough pointed out was kind of the opposite of an ‘on demand’ service) I attempted to learn what ride apps would work.
Based on previous experiences I chose to go to Trip Advisor’s Barcelona forum to ask the experts . In the past I’ve written many reviews, and asked and answered many questions about local sights, getting around, and where to eat in places I’ve lived like Los Angeles.
But it’s been a few years since I was active there and the culture seems to have taken a sharp turn.
When I posted a question asking folks ‘in the know’ what ride service apps worked in Barcelona I got a veritable barrage of shade. Why anyone would want to use a ride service was beyond them. There are buses and the Metro. (which I’ll admit is well lit and easy to navigate, based on my experience in 2008) Uber was evil. I was completely unreasonable. There’s a taxi on every corner. Blah blah blah.
My explanation of the communication and safety benefits of using a ride app was literally ridiculed by several men (based on their pictures) with an attitude and too much time on their hands. I even had one person say that “at least here even criminals had rights” in response to my explanation that background checks on drivers improved the safety for (female) riders. Here being either Europe or Spain or Barcelona? So apparently rapists, murderers, and other violent offenders are a protected class? I don’t know. It was ridiculous and I washed my hands of them with a polite thank you for the information.
It was quite the oddest experience I’ve ever had on Trip Advisor. But it did give me insight into a cultural quirk of Catalonia (I think, or it may just be the trolls lurking in that part of Trip Advisor). Be forewarned… the locals in Barcelona are very very protective… of taxi drivers and the process of physically hailing a taxi. I’m not sure if this is a stand-in for all things technological or all things American, but it did seem to be an excuse to pick a fight… my inexplicable desire as a tourist to have the convenience of an app to get a ride when my companions and I got worn out from walking around.
The funniest part? I don’t care if the ride app calls me a taxi. But I want to use an app. Call me crazy but I want an electronic record of who picked me up just to encourage the driver to take a direct route (and not make me disappear in a shallow grave. Too much Hollywood, I know, I know) I want to hail my ride from the comfort of the chair where I’m enjoying a small coffee, or a glass of wine. I don’t want to roam around in the dark in an unfamiliar neighborhood on cobble stone streets with my knee complaining and my feet hurting, searching for a taxi.
I am looking forward to doing a bit of wine-and-tapas bar hopping in the land of all things delicious. Is that too much to ask? No. It’s not.
Was all that spiky commentary really about ride apps and taxis, or did I just bump into some ableist-ageist bullshit? Maybe all that helpful advice about finding a taxi on a nearby street was simply the unconscious assumption that everyone is fit and fully capable of strolling a few extra blocks regardless of the hour or the terrain? Are my fair suite of trolls simply operating from the belief that if you are a bit mobility challenged, you should just stay home and enjoy the TV and your rocker, or for fucks sake at least stick to places that are close to a bus stop? Maybe. Maybe not.
I suspect that my experience is part of a larger problem that happens to online communities originally intended to be useful (with a fringe of monetizing the traffic that eventually turn into one large advertisement venue) It stops being about people connecting, and turns into a wild-wild-west platform for a certain kind of person to exercise their true selves. I went to Trip Advisor looking for some basic information. I did not get it. Shame on Trip Advisor for investing so little in the Forums where random strangers provide free content (and a large chunk of the value of the site). Shame on the forum admins for allowing the culture of the forums to curdle so badly that bullying is considered an acceptable form of “advice”. It was obvious that these folks hang around and regularly contribute. If you want to keep people coming back, you need to make sure their contributions add value.
All that being said, I don’t intend to allow this experience to dim my excitement over visiting Spain and showing my friends all the wonderful things there are to see there. What about you? Any ‘Twilight Zone’ experiences when looking for travel advice? Do you love Barcelona and/or know what ride apps are presently in use? Do tell… in the comments!