There are only a few hours’ difference between here and there, which in the States often doesn’t make a big change in experience; but here it is a world of difference between the two cities.
(1) One of the most noticeable differences is coming into the city. Toulousains don’t really lay on their car horns much. A little beep in France really gets your attention in part for its rarity. Barcelonans use car horns like a conversational tool. The blare of a horn is frequent, loud and long. They also employ them toward pedestrians as much as other vehicles.
(2) Speaking of transportation, in Toulouse, bicycles are everywhere. Scooters and small motorcycles are plentiful, too, but not nearly to the extent of bikes. In Barcelona, scooters crawl like ants through the city. They park in large packs. I saw relatively few bikes. I blame the VERY hilly terrain of the city. On the positive side, so very many scooters meant my husband felt comfortable suggesting a scooter rental for ourselves! woohoo! Yes, we rode a scooter through Barcelona! And yes, we got honked at several times.
(3) Ok, Toulousains love their dogs. I concede this; they are walked all over, and appear at cafes and the mall. But Barcelonans? They must be CRAZY for dogs. It was like every third person had a dog! Dogs of all sizes and shapes. Multiple dogs being walked at a time, often. They were everywhere! And not quite as well behaved as the French dogs, too, it seemed, but that is probably neither here nor there.
(4) Language. Toulousains pretty much speak French. As you walk around the city and interact, you may hear a little German, a little English, even a smattering of Spanish, and you can often (though not always) find someone to speak a little English with you. Barcelona is filled with a concert of language. You are surrounded by Catalan, Spanish, English, French, and you can hear German or Dutch, probably Italian, and languages I’m sure I didn’t recognize, including Asian languages. It was delightful! And Barcelonans themselves often seemed multilingual. Many people we interacted with would seamlessly turn from speaking one language to the people in front of us to English to us, to Catalan to the coworker beside them.
(5) The dress. Toulousains are very well put together. Really, pretty much all the time, everywhere. Cute shoes are the norm, and the women rarely wear their tennies out and about. Sweat pants are almost never seen in a non-workout setting. The guys usually look pretty sharp, too. There is plenty of color and casual clothing, but especially in downtown Toulouse, black is a strong contender. Barcelonans, however, look…comfortable. Don’t misunderstand, they aren’t sloppy dressers. Not at all! But most folks just looked comfortable and loose in whatever they were wearing. I considered at first that this might be the high tourist population, but since our hotel was in a much less touristy district and still teemed with well- but comfortably dressed people, I feel safe extending this as a generalization. It’s enough of a difference to invade your consciousness within a few hours of tramping around town.
Frankly, I really enjoyed Barcelona. It was a really comfortable city with an exotic feel. But Toulouse still rules for classiness!