Happy hours: Beer selling in Barcelona - the Pakistani way

Published: July 25, 2012
Bao’s expedition is a modern-day tale, one not commissioned by the Crown of Spain, but one with similar ambitions.

Bao’s expedition is a modern-day tale, one not commissioned by the Crown of Spain, but one with similar ambitions.


Crammed in like cattle, Bao crossed several borders to reach his final destination.

“We were stuffed in containers like sheep in barns,” said Bao, a name he acquired once he reached the alpha city of Barcelona.

“I didn’t know if I would make it alive. My agent would say InshAllah every time I asked him when my journey would end,” said Bao , who refused to share his birth name.

Half a million rupees and six weeks later, Bao finally reached the shores of the historical port city, where the 15th century explorer Christopher Columbus had once returned from a journey of triumph, with  illustrations of his discovery of a new world.

But Bao’s expedition is a modern-day tale, not one commissioned by the Crown of Spain, but one with similar ambitions. Hailing from Sialkot, Bao travelled through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and France before he crossed into Spain. He has been living in Barcelona for four years now, making ends meet as a beer vendor on the streets of the city that never sleeps.

In Barcelona, Bao’s business flourishes after midnight when people begin congregating around public squares around the city, known as Plaça’s in Spanish. The squares, which get rather busy in after hours, are packed with residents and tourists drinking, dancing and enjoying live music, till the party is broken up by the police around 3am.

This is where Bao makes a living. Similar to Pakistan’s very own street traders aka beggars, Bao is a hustler. He sells beer for a euro at these squares in times when even the average European has learnt how to spell austerity.

Fluent enough to sell his alcoholic beverage, Bao has no shame in asking twice, or thrice. Persistence, in this case, pays off as beer at the local bars is usually sold for 2.5 euros. Bao and other South Asian immigrants, who discovered this ingenious way to make ends meet, have divided such public squares across Barcelona amongst themselves.

Just a block away from Bao’s Plaça, Indians handle a bustling crowd at another square.

“We coordinate with each other and do not sell at each other’s square. We even warn them when the police are on the hunt, and they do the same,” said an Indian beer vendor, requesting anonymity.

Using cell phones to coordinate and disperse when the police rush these spots, these beer men have slowly become accustomed to the ways of the Spanish police.

“We taught them corruption,” claimed another Pakistani beer seller, while Bao added that in the few cases where they are caught by the police, their money and beer is seized but they walk free.

Despite the hardships, these black-marketers claim to make enough money to live in Barcelona and even send some back home.

“I make around 100-200 euros a day. And send around fifty thousand rupees home every month,” Bao said as he hid a six-pack of beers beneath a loose tile.

Be that as it may, Bao isn’t an alcoholic. In fact he claims to have never had a drop of the lager he sells to make a living.

“I know alcohol is not allowed in Islam but I have no choice. I cannot find any work here, even though I have a residence permit now but the economic situation is poor,” said Bao, who married a local to get residency at the price of 5000 euros.

According to the Pakistani embassy in Spain, some 470,001 legal Pakistani residents live in Spain, with 33,000 living in the provincial region called Catalonia, where Barcelona is located.

“My neighborhood has many Pakistanis living. Some sell beers like Bao, others drive taxis and some own grocery stores,” said Jordi Torrel, who works at a local newspaper.

Torrel said the Pakistanis worked really hard to survive in the city.

“They even open their shops on Sundays,” he said, adding that such grocery stores have come to be known as ‘Al Paki’ as Pakistanis began the trend.

Bao, who has successfully assimilated in Barcelona, has still not forgotten his home. He plans to visit Pakistan in search of another wife, one from his own village. And even though there’s no saying as to whether his new wife will approve of his daily exploits at the Plaça, needless to say he will be there for many nights to come.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Jul 25, 2012 - 11:19AM

    Alcohol and Sialkot together is a disaster in making.


  • MKZ
    Jul 25, 2012 - 12:50PM

    I saw many indian/pakistani beers/cold drink sellers along the beach when I was in barcelona. Didnt realise it was such a hard journey. good luck to him learning spanish/catalan


  • Farooq Faizi
    Jul 25, 2012 - 12:52PM

    It was a very nice article.


  • Jul 25, 2012 - 1:26PM

    Would be awesome if someday a kid from these Pakistani immigrants ends up playing football for RCD Espanyol or even FC Barcelona.


  • Abbas
    Jul 25, 2012 - 1:38PM

    This article gives a taste of hard life in Europe. People often tend to believe that it’s all bed of roses while working in Europe. May be the one’s planning to go Europe will have an eye opener now after reading the article. If you don’t have enough education and money to survive, you will end up selling one of these items. Think before your act.


  • Big Rizvi
    Jul 25, 2012 - 2:55PM

    The cover picture is awesome. This is how the desi brand of beer might look like if our Probition era comes to an end.


  • Noman
    Jul 25, 2012 - 3:43PM

    Reminds me of ‘Biutiful’. Same city, similar picture.

    Life is hard in Europe but so is it in Pakistan.


  • Maria
    Jul 25, 2012 - 5:06PM

    I don’t think that a beer selling illegal immigrant has to teach the Spanish anything about corruption when we all know what Spanish banks and politicians have been doing for the last decade. Spain needs a bailout from rich Germany for the same reason as Greece. If anything I think the scale of corruption and banking greed in Spain far exceeds anything in Pakistan which is why Spain is threatening to drag down the whole EU.


  • Muhammad
    Jul 25, 2012 - 5:30PM

    @Maria: Two wrongs do not make right.


  • ahsan mehmood
    Jul 25, 2012 - 7:27PM

    brilliant article about hardships of illegal immigrants


  • Jul 26, 2012 - 2:07AM

    Good on em, I’m half spanish and half pakistani born in london so understand what is going on in all the economies. At the end of the day the people do what they have to to make a living.

    In Shallah


  • Kashif
    Aug 1, 2012 - 6:46PM

    Life is difficult anywhere but you people are forgetting one point here!
    An unskilled worker earning Euro 100-200 a day (tax free as well) in Europe. I am sure many would agree that even better off Jobs here won’t pay that much (take home).
    And whatever unskilled job you do in Mideast or Pak/Ind and whatever hardwork you put in, You can’t earn that much money.


  • Shakeel
    Aug 15, 2012 - 2:35AM

    Actually that type of people are mentally sick..if one can sell beer in Barcelona..these type of Muslims hav got more oppertunaties in their homelands..


  • Syed
    Sep 15, 2012 - 4:41AM

    Have been to Barcelona, most of the Pakistanis are from Gujrat, and own lots of shops and Restaurant near the famous beach and the famous La Ramblas.
    And they are happy there, most of them have started their own business, I booked my hostel through hostelworld, and was surprised to see a guy in KurtaShalwar sitting at the reception, in a hostel in the most happening place in Barcelona.
    Only a small minority of them are involved in selling beers but are most prominent because they work on street, even then, its up to them whether they sell bear , Vodka or water atleast they are working hard and getting rewarded from it. There are lots of Pakistani working in shops, I went to one Authentic looking Italian restaurant there to eat pizza, to my surprise one of the waiter there was Pakistani, Got a good discount there :D.
    It was nice to see that even though most of them reached there illegally they have learned Spanish and are earning there living within the society as compared to Pakistanis in UK who are same as Afghanis in Pakistan.


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