What I Like About You, Madrid
I believe everyone has at least one city to which he is drawn. Maybe you have been there before, seen it in the movies, or read about it, but there’s one city that’s “your city”. Whether it's the language, the culture, the beautiful buildings, or the people, there are certain aspects of a place that make you feel at home or like you belong. For me, that city is Madrid. There are other parts of Europe that I love, but something is holding me here. As each day goes by I’m figuring out what I love about this wonderful city more and more. A shot overlooking Madrid - Photo credit: Amanda Boccardi
Spanish – The Spanish language is spoken with such rhythm that it often sounds like a song. It’s spoken so quickly that I can only catch a few words while eavesdropping on the metro, but whether I understand or not, it’s a very lyrical and expressive language. A Spaniard’s use of intonations and gestures is so specific to each word he says that you can tell exactly how the speaker feels or how you should feel just based off of his tone or volume alone. A conversation in Spanish is so energetic that it often sounds like a performance.
Neighborhoods – Madrid is filled with many eclectic neighborhoods ranging from multicultural to ritzy to historic; there’s a place for everyone. I live in Malasaña, just north of the center of Madrid. It’s considered the young, hipster barrio (neighborhood), housing people in their 20’s and early 30’s, and it’s filled with bars, clubs and cafés on every corner. If you set foot in a bar you’ll most likely hear rock, funk or soul music, and you’ll be surrounded by a crowd of people looking to dance and have a good time. At night the streets flood with people, whether from the overflow from a bar or guitarists having a jam session. During the day the cafés are so full you often cannot find a seat. They are designed with vintage décor, providing you with the perfect “study” environment or a cool-looking place to get together with friends. Malasaña is also home to several vintage clothing shops and the street Calle Fuencarral, which is possibly one of the most famous shopping streets in Madrid. Tribunal Metro Stop in Malasaña - Photo Credit: Amanda Boccardi
Culture – A Spanish co-worker told me that she felt Spaniards were always in a hurry. I laughed and said to myself, you certainly haven’t been to New York. (This is no criticism to New York. NYC is simply just a faster paced environment). I’m sure you have heard that the Spanish culture is very laid back, and it certainly is. For example, when the bell rings at school, nobody moves. We wait at least two to three minutes and then proceed to the next class. It’s like the bell is a pre-bell letting you know that you have a few more minutes to finish up whatever you were doing.
An easy way to spot a tourist is if he’s carrying a “to-go” coffee mug. Tomar un café, to have a coffee, means spending time at a bar and drinking it there. Enjoying the drink for what it is, not to give you a caffeine burst on your way to work or class. At CIEE orientation this summer, we had a Spanish guest speaker and he said a quote that has stuck with me ever since. He said, Spaniards "don't live to work, they work to live." Americans can often be stereotyped as people who work until they overwork themselves. As an American I would say we do work a lot, as it is a very important part of our lives, and we are very proud of what we accomplish. I take pride in the fact that we are perceived as hard workers. But here in Spain, the motto means to work in order to make money so you can socialize after. The 9-5 job is supposed to end at 5, and meeting up for drinks and tapas later is no question. In addition, to the surprise of many Americans, Spaniards in their late 20’s, even early 30’s, generally still live with their parents. This is because the opportunity cost of sacrificing their independence is worth the ability to afford an active social life.
Another thing that makes the Spanish culture laid back is the schedule. Everything starts and ends much later here. For example, most fitness centers offer classes from 8:30 AM to 9:30 PM, whereas most fitness classes in the US start earlier at 5:30 AM and end at 7:30 PM. The later schedule makes you feel like you aren’t in as much of a hurry. If you happen to get home from work late or take a later gym class, it’s okay to start cooking at 9 PM and eat at 10.
Along with socializing, eating and drinking are very important in the Spanish culture. Lunch is the most important meal and is supposed to take 2 hours…Going out to eat is a very relaxing and much slower process than in the States. You don’t feel rushed to pay and leave because the waiters will never bring you the check unless you ask them for it. You have time to digest, finish your drinks and enjoy time with whomever. Often times, I scarf down my meal and move onto the next thing, but here you learn to slow down, appreciate each bite or sip and enjoy it. Comida española
Architecture – Madrid’s historic feel comes from its buildings which follow a Neoclassical style. The structure and size of the buildings are very different from what I’m used to in New York. Although walking down Gran Via, a wide street lit up with bright shining lights, does remind me a little of Times Square, Madrid doesn’t feel as big as The Big Apple. My friend Ben, who studied architecture at the University of Michigan says it perfectly, “The modest sizes and heights of Madrid’s buildings and the compactness of its city blocks make the city feel smaller and give its neighborhoods a more intimate feel.” Another architect friend from the University of Michigan, Hillary, explains that "The stone columns, beautiful foyers, and intricate details of the buildings make you feel like you’re constantly walking on historical ground.” A majority of the streets are one-way with narrow sidewalks that leave only enough room for one person. The apartment buildings are smaller, about 8 floors as opposed to 20 or even 40 in other US cities. I live on the fourth and top floor of my building, and if I open the window, I can still see and hear everything that’s going on below, making me feel connected to this city even when I’m enclosed. Palacio de Cibeles - Photo Credit: Amanda Boccardi
Madrid is a remarkable city in which I feel very lucky to live. The reasons described above are just a sampling of what makes this place so incredible. Above all, I would say the people are what make this place so amazing. They may be blunt, talk over one another and never be afraid to say how they feel, but they have welcomed me and other foreigners into their city with open arms. Although I’ve identified some differences between American and Spanish lifestyles, living in both places has made me appreciate both my own culture and the new culture into which I am immersing myself. I know one day I will return to the United States, but for right now Madrid is where I’m supposed to be.