Can you use Bitcoin in Barcelona?
Is there a Barcelona Bitcoin community?
What’s the deal with crypto in Catalonia? Do I really need to keep capitalizing the word “Bitcoin” in writing? How much alliteration can I plausibly persuade you to peruse?
I know that’s a lot of questions. Now get ready for some answers.
It’s time for some hard-hitting financial journalism – the kind that only Mr Chorizo can deliver.
So buckle up, bad boys… Time to consume some content!
The Ultimate Guide to Bitcoin in Barcelona
The other day, I saw a sticker pasted up in the street: “Buy Bitcoin” it said.
The picture is of a dog – I think he’s supposed to be the dog from the Family Guy cartoon – and he’s holding a sign: an orange sign that says “Buy Bitcoin”.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that night, as I was drifting off to sleep, in my new house paid for in boring fiat currency, I had an idea: I’ll write an article about Bitcoin in Barcelona!
The next morning, I opened up my laptop, and down the rabbit hole I went.
Here’s the thing: I used to think that cryptocurrency wasn’t entirely bullshit.
Even today, I’m not sure. Maybe there’s something valuable hiding behind the wall of tech jargon.
On the other hand, I recently read Michael Lewis’ new book Going Infinite. You may remember Michael Lewis from books like The Big Short and Moneyball.
(Just kidding. If you’re a real Bitcoin Bro you probably don’t read books. Tree pulp bound with glue and printed with inky analog words? Gross! Lucky for you, they’ve both been made into movies, which you can stream on your phone while playing Call of Duty in your mom’s basement.)
In any case, the book (soon to be a movie?) Going Infinite talks about the rapid rise and even faster fall of Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX, and it made me wonder even more about crypto and the people involved.
Is it all bullshit? Meh. There certainly does seem to be a lot of money in the whole thing. And I distrust government and the big banks as much as the next guy.
So I asked myself…
What if the crypto bros are right?
Well, let’s find out.
If Bitcoin is in fact such an amazing idea, shouldn’t there be businesses in Barcelona willing to accept it as payment? You’d think businesses would practically be begging you to part with your precious bitcoin, in exchange for their lousy products and services.
Well, according to “the internet”, there are. From betting houses to bordellos, the list of Barcelona businesses that allegedly accept Bitcoin can only be called short. Also, it must be said, most of the businesses on it appear not to exist at all – and those that do have no mention of bitcoin on their websites.
(To be more precise, the list I found has no actual links to businesses, so I just ended up googling the names. While some of the business listed do indeed have websites, none that I found mention payment in Bitcoin.)
Under “Nightlife”, for example, one of the two businesses listed is called Ultramarinos, which is just the old-school name for a grocery store. There was once a cocktail bar on La Rambla with that name – their most recent instagram post is from nearly 4 years ago. The other night spot on the list is called Harem, which may exist as an escort service. The website is in Italian and while they claim to have physical locations around the city, none of them are actually listed – the site just points you to a WhatsApp number.
Continuing my search, I found Coinmap – a map much like Google Maps, but without a visible search function. If you drag the map to your location in the world, however, you can see a non-zero number of businesses in your general area that may accept Bitcoin.
Around my place up in the Clot neighborhood, that amounts to a couple of Mailboxes Etc and a place where you can rent Teslas. (They’re located in a parking garage on Calle Sancho de Ávila, floor -1.)
Also, Bitcoin the concept is capitalized. Bitcoin the currency is lowercase. Unless it’s at the beginning of a sentence, I guess. Moving on…
Bitcoin’s brutal transaction times
Here’s a fun fact that the Bitcoin bros don’t often mention: transactions in bitcoin take a long time to process.
According to my research on the web, a BTC transaction can be immediate, or take up to ten minutes, or more, depending on network activity. That “or more” turns out to mean an hour or an hour and a half… Or more!
This article over here, from 2022, says that there’s a “99.98% probability” of a confirmation time between 7 minutes and 3:44 hours. Convenient indeed! Why use a bank card to buy bananas in euros instantly when you can come back for them this afternoon, after the bitcoin miners have processed your transaction on the blockchain?
One of the companies making it “easier” for businesses to accept bitcoin is Bitpay, but even they admit that payments take a long time to process: your transaction may go through “within an hour if they have an appropriate fee attached” according to their FAQ.
Apparently, transaction fees vary a lot, but if you pay the crypto miners more, they’ll process your transaction faster. What is a crypto miner? I’m not exactly sure. And it also doesn’t seem important.
(Transaction fees, in any case, are denominated in US dollars, which for some reason Bitcoin bros are still interested in acquiring. Maybe it’s because of their relatively low volatility and ease of exchange. Just sayin’.)
So how much are these fees?
Well, like I said, it varies. But unlike my boring old Schwab stock trading account – which lets me trade shares in actual companies for free – a bitcoin transaction can cost you up to $40. Far from being a no-fee option to help the little guy avoid banks, as promised, it’s a high fee option for the Silicon Valley crowd and their fanboys.
According to an article from a “contributor” over at Forbes.com…
High fees play a crucial role in maintaining bitcoin’s security by preventing network abuse, aligning with its goal of affordable node operation and decentralization. These dynamics prompt network innovation and adaptation, as seen historically during high fee periods. This continual evolution and response to challenges showcase bitcoin’s antifragility, reinforcing its status as a resilient and transformative global digital currency.Susie Violet Ward on Forbes.com
I don’t get much out of that, except that according to crypto bros (and crypto femme bros, like Susie Violet here) high transaction fees are actually a good thing.
Funny, though. That price is apparently per transaction, independent of the amount of money moved.
So if I want to buy $1 worth of bananas, I’m supposed to pay a fee between $10 and $40 to a bitcoin miner and then just wait around for processing?
Apparently, yes, I am.
From a comment on Reddit I got this gem, suggesting that the fees hardly matter:
If I really wanted to send that $1 around the world at the speed of light maybe I would be willing to pay $100. That’s why block space is a free market option.
Okay, but that still doesn’t help me pay my bananamonger, who’s standing right here. Also, there are plenty of services that’ll move a dollar quickly. I don’t know. Try PayPal or something. It’s not “the speed of light”, exactly, but you can save yourself the 10,000% fee on moving that dollar.
(I just checked, and PayPal will send a dollar “in seconds” with no fees. But why are we still talking about euros and dollars when the future is, in fact, in crypto?)
Exploring Barcelona’s bitcoin barrio
The mall down the street at Glòries has a bitcoin ATM.
On a cold Monday in January I head down to check it out. The picture on Google Maps suggests that it’s underneath an escalator. And indeed it is – I find it on the underside of one of the many escalators, next to a place selling candy and kettle corn in bulk.
Tapping the screen, there’s a warning message: “If you’ve received a phone call from your boss telling you to come here, DO NOT BUY. You are the victim of a scam.”
Following that, another warning message: “Investing in cryptoassets is unregulated, may not be suitable for retail investors, and may lose the full amount invested.”
Apparently, I can use the ATM to buy crypto with cash, or to sell crypto for cash. Either way, I’m not too interested. Why buy bitcoin if there’s nowhere I can spend it? I click around a bit, then turn to leave.
Upstairs, I decide to stop off at the Adidas store to see if they’ve got the black socks I like. They do. At the counter, I ask if they accept bitcoin.
The guy shakes his head. “Nope.” Okay, bank card it is. Stupid fiat currency.
On my way out I get a coffee at Manolo Bakes. They’ve been disrupting the croissant space all over Spain for the last several years, leveraging synergies with vertically decentralized puff-pastry distribution network effects.
(If all those buzzwords seem to mean nothing, try this: they make, like, croissants, but smaller.)
“Do you accept bitcoin?” I ask, after ordering my espresso.
The barista looks confused. She hesitates a moment. “No estoy segura… No creo. Lo siento.”
Bummer. I would expect such backwardness from a dinosaur of a company like Adidas, but Manolo Bakes? Quite disappointing. I sip my coffee and think about my next moves.
Surely Barcelona has crypto startups, right?
Why yes it does.
One is called Rand.app and it was founded by a 21 year old named Pol Martín. He may be 22 by now. He’s from Mataró, up the coast from Barcelona, and he was named to last year’s Forbes 30 under 30 in Spain.
The Rand app (not affiliated with RAND Corporation, the think tank) apparently offers users a 6% interest rate on their savings. How do they do that? Looks like you send them money, they trade crypto, and then give you “up to” 6 per cent out of what they’ve earned. Unregulated, may lose the full amount invested, etc.
I hop on their Telegram group, and message a couple of employees on Linkedin, but get no response. Their Instagram profile has posts like “how to retire with 300,000€”. There’s that damn fiat currency again.
I slide into their DMs to see if anyone will answer my questions. No luck.
“I’m lookin to spend some bitcoin”, I say. No takers.
Is Bitcoin bigger than the Beanie Baby boom?
When I was a kid, people were “investing” in Beanie Babies.
People far smarter than me were making bank, all over eBay, exchanging tiny pellet-filled toys for boring fiat currency. When the bubble burst, it turned out that Beanie Babies are actually worth – get this – basically nothing.
That was a long time ago. But there’s a 2023 movie about the whole thing called The Beanie Bubble if you need a refresher. It has Zach Galifianakis of Hangover fame, and looks to be pretty bad.
Now I’m not saying that Bitcoin is completely worthless, just like Beanie Babies but with a lot of important-sounding tech jargon. I’d never say that. For one thing, because the amount of money involved in Bitcoin (and other crypto tokens) is just huge.
In fact, according to Cointelegraph, “Elon Musk won’t be the [world’s] richest person if bitcoin goes above $1 million.”
It’s currently at $41,000, up from about $16,000 a year ago. According to bitcoiner logic, it’s just a short 25x hop from here to a million bucks per “coin”. And I can’t exactly argue with the math.
But hear me out: if belly button lint someday becomes several thousand times more valuable than diamonds, I’ll be pretty well-off, too. And you’ll wish you’d gotten in the market a lot sooner.
Warning: you may be the greatest fool
Investing is something I’ve thought about quite a bit over the last dozen years or so. And one of the theories I like in the world of investing is called the Greater Fool Theory, which says that sometimes, it doesn’t particularly matter what an asset’s worth, as long as you can find a bigger idiot than yourself to buy it when you’re tired of it.
At least part of the run-up to the Great Recession was the Greater Fool Theory in action. I always think of a coworker of mine, telling me that it didn’t matter that he’d paid half a million euros for a two bedroom flat in a working-class neighborhood, because in two years, someone would surely come along and give him 750,000€.
Last I heard that guy was bankrupt and leaving the country. Because you can always find a greater fool, until suddenly you can’t. Poor guy. Turns out he was someone else’s greater fool.
Bitcoin may be the same. Or maybe not. If you read Rob Dix’s book The Price of Money – and you should – he explains exactly how fiat currency works, and it’s a depressingly flimsy system. But it does, apparently, work.
People just can’t get enough fiat currency – even the stuff that’s only represented by pixels on screens.
And I, your humble author, enjoy the stuff, too. In fact, if you’ve got any fiat lying around that you don’t want, you can donate to this blog right here. I promise I won’t spend it on bitcoin, or on Beanie Babies.
Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.
P.S. If you’re reading this and thinking “But what about El Salvador?” you should probably take a minute to google the country’s recent history. El Salvador, unfortunately, has never been a shining beacon of hope among nations, and it isn’t one now. Also, the BBC recently reported that their Bitcoin experiment is most likely still losing money, and that almost nobody’s using BTC as currency despite plenty of government investment. Oh well.