When I used to live in Lisbon, I would marvel at my colleagues (mostly British), who would remark on how dirty the city was, and how cramped, and how generally inhospitable. I didn't agree...but when I'd go somewhere else, back to the States, for example, I'd find that for the first day or two after my return, I'd notice all of that...especially the dirt. As if the whole city, every building, could stand a minor sandblasting, just to clean it up.
I'm feeling the same way now about Barcelona, and I must confess, I adore it. It makes me feel at home. It also reminds me of a factoid I once heard (I'm sure if I had more internet time, I could find a reference or two to link to) about outside cultures and inside cultures. According to this theory, Portugal, and Spain, and of course there are others, are more concerned about appearances inside the circle of friends and family. What this means is that it's not so important how dirty things are in public spaces, but if you go into someone's house, you can expect immaculate, you can eat off the floor, levels of cleanliness. By contrast, in an outside culture (I believe the example I heard was Germany), it's very important to present a good appearance, so public spaces are very very clean, but inside homes, it's not such a big deal. I can only vouch for my one German roommate, who definitely only cleaned for company, but beyond that, couldn't really say.
What I have grown to realize is that I like the dirty on the outside way of doing things. I'm fond of dilapidation. It looks like somewhere where people actually live. Maybe it's because I fit into a totally separate criteria, that of the not too fussed about cleaning either outside or inside.
I'd welcome other opinions on this. Any thoughts? Anyone?