An American in Madrid
I came to the sudden realization this week that I've already been in Madrid for a whole month now. Crazy! Time has been flying by so far. Since this isn't my first time around living in Spain, some things I've just taken in stride, forgetting how different some of it is. Other things I had forgotten about or had to readjust to. Since those of you reading this might be considering your own move to Spain, or perhaps even just a visit, I thought I'd share with you some of the differences that might catch you by surprise when you come.
1. Almost everyone here smokes. No wonder they are so thin. Thankfully, the last time I was here they banned smoking in doors (to my asthmatic relief), but it's still a struggle for my lungs walking past all that 2nd hand smoke on the street all the time. Being indoors or at the park can be quite a relief, unless my window is open and someone else is smoking with their window open in the same building.
2. This one is kind of gross, but one of the things I definitely didn't miss about Spain when I was in the U.S. was the dog poop, everywhere. Yuck. You really have to watch your step! It definitely depends on the area. The center and the parks usually don't have as much, but the more residential areas are typically worse. In my opinion it's because there isn't enough grass for the dogs to do their business on.
3. Ham legs. Like, the full leg, hoof included. This is jamón ibérico, which is very delicious and quite common in Spain, but a little odd for Americans to see just hanging like that in grocery stores or restaurants. See below for one of the pictures I took at a friend's grandmother's house last time I was in Spain. This is a little more conservative since it was partially covered, but you get the point.
4. Everyone walking wherever they please on the sidewalk. This can get pretty annoying and frustrating, particularly when the sidewalk is only so wide and people are walking three across. Also, there's no rhyme or reason to which side they walk on. They just pick a path and go for it. There's no walking on the right side of the sidewalk here!
5. Piropos. The Spanish version of a catcall. These are pretty typical. If you standout as a foreigner, you might get some extra. If you do get them, just keep walking and ignore it.
6. Pickpocketing. Okay, this is found all over the world, but with all the tourists in Madrid it can occur fairly often. Thankfully my friends and I haven't had this happen to us, but we have all heard stories of friends of friends that it happened to. Yesterday I went to the Starbucks across from the Prado Museum (known for its pickpockets) and saw 4 little thieves getting kicked out by one of the baristas, who then warned some of the Americans to watch their phones. As long as you are careful and pay attention, you should be okay.
(If you need a taste of home, do not fear, there are plenty of Starbucks here! I only use them for their free wifi and outlets since the coffee and food is much better at pretty much any other cafe.)
7. Things happen when they happen, and how they happen depends on the person. Spain is on a different timetable than the U.S., and trying to open a bank account or apply for government documents can be an interesting process. One person might tell you one thing, another person might tell you something else. Case in point, while trying to open an account, one bank sent me to another because of my age, one told me I needed a utility bill in my name, and another was fine with everything, except that they wanted my official foreigner card as my foreign number on my visa and letter from the government of Spain wasn't enough (note: this was the same bank, just different branches).
8. Smaller portion sizes. I actually love this. I don't have to worry about how much of the meal I eat or trying to take the rest home with me. I've already lost 5 pounds between that and walking everywhere! It's refreshing coming from the land of bigger.
9. The daily schedule. Breakfast is at a pretty normal time, but lunch is around 2 and dinner around 9 pm. Also, if you are planning on going out, be prepared to be out for the whole night! It's pretty common to head to a discotec around 2 am and not leave until at least 6 am.
10. Hospitality. In the U.S., it's common to split the check if you've invited someone to go to lunch with you and to have people in your house fairly often. In Spain, it's the opposite. If someone has invited you for a coffee, lunch, etc., it usually means they are paying (always bring enough to pay for yourself, just in case though). It's also fairly uncommon for Spaniards to have people over to their homes. This obviously depends on the person/family, but don't be surprised if you live with Spaniards and they don't want people coming over or spending the night.
In spite of all the differences, of which these are just some, I highly recommend living in or visiting Spain. It is a beautiful, culturally rich European country with much to offer. More on that in later posts.
Until next time!