By Remy M., Auxiliar de Conversación in Madrid 2019/2020.
In addition to the transition to my role as an Auxiliar de Conversación, my move to Madrid has opened my eyes to many Spanish customs and norms. Some are extremely different from those in the United States. Living in Spain has been a truly eye-opening experience in many ways.
I have undergone several cultural acclimations. Some of them are language barriers, time differences, lack of appliances, new appliances, food, transportation and so much more. I am sharing here some of my own personal experiences to help any future expats with their move and transition to Madrid.
The most noteworthy things I have learned so far while living in Spain are:
1. Public Transportation
When I arrived in Madrid, one of the first things I decided to tackle was learning how to use the public transportation system. In my case, the underground train, or the “metro”, is what I use every single day as a primary source of transportation around Madrid. It is SUPER cheap and pretty reliable. But it can also prove to be a little confusing if you’ve never had to use a similar system before. If you (unlike me) have ever lived in a big city before, I am sure you will get the hang of it quite quickly. I have heard it is much easier to navigate than the subway in NYC.
When I first arrived, I often got lost within the large metro stations and wound up on the wrong andén (platform). But after a while, I became better accustomed to navigating the different train lines. In addition, I made it a primary mission to retrieve my abono de transportes, or public transportation card which costs me only €20 per month. I would highly recommend getting an abono as soon as possible upon moving here!
2. Language Barrier
Setting up a daily routine and proper apartment situation was definitely a challenge as well. I took 4 years of Spanish in high school, but upon arrival, I felt like I had retained none of it. Figuring out how to set up wi-fi, buying a decent phone plan, and retrieving my many (MANY) required Spanish government documents was a bit of a struggle at first. If your Spanish is anything like mine, Google Translate will be your best friend.
3. Spanish Supermarkets
While the food scene in restaurants is great and plentiful. Grocery shopping has been something that all North Americans I know living in Spain have had to adjust to. Obviously, there are no Walmarts, Krogers, Targets, or any name-brand supermarkets like there are at home. Eggs and milk do not come refrigerated, peanut butter is a rarity, and hot sauce costs twice the amount it would at home.
4. Two Besos
Upon first greeting my landlord when I moved here. I was startled to immediately receive two besos, or kisses, from her, one on each cheek. She laughed and thought I was silly for even sticking out an arm for a handshake. I have come to find that the double-kiss is very typical for even first-time introductions all throughout Spain, and the strangers here might just be more intimate than your friends at home. Be prepared to have your personal boundaries pushed a bit.
5. Spanish Food
Spaniards eat ridiculous amounts of bread, seafood, and pork. Usually finding a way to incorporate at least two of the three into every single meal. Some common variations of pork include jamón iberico, jamón serrano, lomo (tenderloin), and salchichón. Spanish people often ate into tapas, or smaller appetizers, and raciones, or larger portions. While one tapa or ración is typically not enough food for an entire meal, people usually order multiple to share with friends as social snacks.
The single largest difference between Spanish and American culture, that I originally struggled with (and honestly still have yet to become fully adjusted to), is the funky schedule of Madrid’s daily life. While most jobs here still start at 8:00 or 9:00 am, the eating schedule is extremely skewed. People typically eat tiny breakfasts around 11:00 am, decent-sized lunch between 2:00-4:00 pm, and large dinner between 8:00-11:00 pm. When I first started working, I found that I was super hungry all the time because my body was confused with the time shift. Don’t get me wrong, I still am, but it’s not as much because of the schedule.
In addition, during lunchtime, many small businesses completely shut down for a siesta, or time after eating where many people pause their days to take a nap. While I’ve found that this tradition is only really practiced by older people, siesta time really messed with me at first when I could not find any open shops in the middle of the day.
Because the Spanish eating schedule is shifted, its nightlife schedule is significantly pushed back as well.
All in all, it has been a crazy few months adapting to my new life in Madrid. While I have to admit I do occasionally miss my Skippy peanut butter, early bedtime, and even speaking English at home. It has really been an incredible experience so far.
I have found that adjusting to all of these challenges and cultural differences has made me appreciate living in Spain even more, and my overall comfort zone has expanded ten-fold. I am really looking forward to exploring and learning even more about Madrid in the coming six months. I hope you are able to enjoy spending time in this amazing city as well!