Well as of yesterday I have officially been in Madrid one whole month! Crazy how time flies. Now that I am finally settling in my new piso and new job, I thought it was about time I began blogging! So to start it off, here are my 5 first impressions of Madrid and Spanish Culture...
1. Even Strangers are Friendly
One misconception I had about Madrid was that more Spaniards would speak English because it is a big city. Boy was I wrong. I can count on one hand, maybe two, the amount of Spaniards I have met that speak even a tiny bit of English. And this is not a post criticising the locals for not speaking English but rather a blessing because it is forcing me to improve my Spanish which was one of my goals of moving here.
You might call me crazy, but I moved to Spain without knowing any Spanish. I have tried and failed in the past to learn Spanish on my own and figured the best way to learn would be to immerse myself in it. Well I have been here a month and I am nowhere near fluent yet but each day I am picking up a little bit more.
I moved here speaking NO Spanish except for the occasional spoken "hola" or "gracias" to a Spanish speaking stranger. But this has lead to one of my favorite things I have learned about the Spanish locals, even strangers are friendly! Pretty much everyday that I have been here, I have found myself in a situation where I am attempting to communicate with a Spanish speaking local. The funny thing is, I don't speak Spanish and they don't speak any English.
This can lead to some interesting and entertaining interactions but no matter what they are always friendly! There becomes this mutual understanding between myself and the local that we just can't communicate using words and have to resort to gestures or google translate (which only seems to get translations right half of the time). In all of these interactions, never once has a Spaniard become frusterated or rude with me. They always want to help me and are always kind and friendly.
Besides my day to day friendly interactions with the locals, I have also noticed more than once, a kind Spaniard rushing to help a stranger in need. One of my first nights in the city I was in Gran Via, one of the busiest touristy areas, and I saw a blind couple trying to find the entrance to a restaurant. A nearby club promoter stopped passing out his cards, and rushed over to the blind couple and helped lead them to the door. I was astounded by his kindness because as sad as it is, I have never seen a stranger so willingly help others in the US. This was only one example but I have also wittnessed many other strangers going out of their way to help others. The U.S. definitely can learn a thing or two from the Spanish about being friendly and kind to one another.
2. Eating Meat is the Only Acceptable Way of Life
In Madrid there only seems to be 4 types of food that matter: bread, cheese, wine, and jamón (ham in English). For a Vegetarian, this makes eating out a little bit more difficult. The Spanish prove their love a jamón by pairing it with anything and everything, in their eyes you can never have enough jamón.
They also are known for selling the jamón by the leg...yes you read that right, they sell it by the leg, hoof and all. I can't go 5 blocks without passing a jamón shop displaying huge pig legs in it's windows. To some, this might be an apealing advertisement; to a Vegetarian however? It's a pretty gross...
Luckily for me I have already discovered one Vegetarian restaurant in this city that arguably makes the best veggie burger I have ever had. It's from a place in the La Latina area of Madrid, and is called Viva Burger. I have only been here a month and I have already been back twice!
3. Wine is Cheaper than Water
I love wine! But you probably already knew that ;) and luckily for me, the Spanish love wine too! Now I don't know the first thing about Spanish wine. But what I do know is that when at a restaurant or bar, wine is cheaper than water!
In Europe when you order water, the waiter almost always brings you a bottle of water. When the bill arrives many Americans will be shocked to see that one small bottle of water cost €2, while that glass of wine they had only cost €1,50. The broke teacher in me loves this because it makes going out to socialize over wine affordable! Buying a whole bottle at the supermarket is even better because you can easily find a decent bottle of wine for €3 (No Two Buck Chuck for this girl!).
4. Working to Live...Not Living to Work
The Spanish know how to take the time to slow down and enjoy life. Most Spaniards begin their work day around 9 and finish around 5 or 6. However, between 12 to 2 they take a siesta, and no they do not actually all go home and nap, but they do often grab a coffee with friends.
And once 8 pm rolls around restaurants and their patios come alive with the locals. Even during a week night you will always find the city alive and awake until at least midnight. People will be sitting out enjoying Tinto de Verano with their friends and family. The Spaniards are never rushed when they meet up with friends for tapas and drinks; they can easily spend a good 3 or 4 hours sitting on a patio socializing over a glass of vino.
Spaniards totally and completely live by the philosophy of "working to live" vs "living to work" which is the idea many Americans are encouraged to follow. I love that the Spanish culture focuses on taking the time to slow down and enjoy life. This is something I plan to fully embrace while I am here, and plan to practice when I move back home to the states.
5. Dog Lovers Unite
Madrid sure does love dogs and welcomes them pretty much everywhere with open arms. I can't walk more than 2 minutes without seeing at least one dog and their owner. And often the dog is not on a leash! Just trotting along with their human smelling all their favorite trees and cars along the way. It is seriously shocking how many dogs walk so well behaved without leashes here. As a dog lover myself, I love seeing all the friendly dogs around because they remind me of my fur babies back home! Just have to watch out for the innevitable dog poop on every street....