Guiri Guest Stephanie Dosch has lived in Madrid’s bohemian Malasaña district since 2005. Originally here for a one-year Master’s program, she fell in love with the city and never left. Stephanie is an English teacher, tour guide, and writer. Check out her blog theViatrix to read more of her expat adventures, from making tortilla to eating her way through Logroño. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
After six years, it’s strange to look back on my first months in Madrid and try to remember what they were like. For one thing, back then my life revolved around balancing my Master’s program with going out too much, whereas now it’s all about paying the bills and day-to-day living. In addition, the fact that I came here straight out of college means I’ve spent my entire adult life in Madrid. Things that strike newcomers as strange, mystifying, or even absurd, seem totally normal to me now.
But there are a few things that spring to mind when I examine how my attitudes and overall Spanish experience have changed over the years—apart from the fact that I recently married a Spaniard and now have honest-to-God suegros. That’s a big one, but the rest are a bit more subtle. Here are five ways Madrid has changed me.
I eat a lot more
I’m not talking about quantity; in fact, in terms of portions, I eat a lot less. Rather, I’m much more adventurous about trying things than when I first came, and now enjoy things I swore I would never put in my mouth. Morcilla? Get in my belly. Octopus? You better hide, little cephalopod. Pigs’ ears? Bring ‘em on (in small quantities). I’ve even learned to love jamón-flavored potato chips, and the world of marisco gets broader every day.
There are a few things I will probably never get into, like sheeps’ brains, or tuna on pizza. And I’m still not really good with raw tomatoes, but I’m working on that.
Buying things has become and adventure
Here’s how I used to shop for pretty much anything:
- Go to Target.
- Purchase item.
- Purchase a million other unnecessary items because they have everything.
Here’s how I now shop for anything other than clothes and everyday groceries:
- Figure out what the thing I need is called in Spanish. Scour the Web to find a few different versions in case the shopkeeper doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Also look up any related descriptive vocabulary.
- Try to think of the place where I’m most likely to find the thing I need, and scour the Web for any potential specialty stores.
- Get on the metro and go to the first option. If it’s a small shop, make sure to say hello. Tell the clerk what I need. If they don’t know what I’m talking about, describe it. Wait for them to tell me they don’t have it. Ask if they have any ideas where I might be able to find it. Make sure to say goodbye.
- Repeat Step 3 ten times or so. Become slightly obsessed.
- Either give up and decide I can do with out it, or bask in triumph when I finally find it by tweeting, calling my husband, and perhaps doing a victory dance.
Walking down the street stresses me out
This is a huge pet peeve for me, so I could easily rant about people who stop in the middle of the sidewalk to chat or check email on their phones (really? you can’t move over to the side?); or people who expect you to move so they can ride by on their bikes (hello, empty street where vehicles are supposed to go!); or people who don’t clean up after their dogs (I don’t care if it’s good luck—it’s gross). Heck, I could even go off on the inconvenience of parking posts. But I will restrain myself.
Spaniards love to complain about “las prisas de Madrid”—how everyone’s always rushing around in this city. Why is it, then, that I’m constantly yelling at people in my head while trying to walk down the street? I remind myself that the paseo is part of the culture here, but I can’t help it. I don’t walk to walk. I walk to get somewhere.
I know I’m not alone in this; just the other day my friend Susan was complaining about the same thing. “You would think that after all these years I’d be used to it,” she said, referring to Madrileños’ apparent inability to move to allow for passing fellow pedestrians. “But it bothers me now more than ever.” Me too, Susan, me too.
I’ve learned how to loosen up
For all the stress of shopping and walking in Madrid there’s a leisurely meal or relaxed glass of vino with friends to remind me why I love it here. The easygoing lifestyle is one of my favorite things about living in Spain and it has come to permeate all parts of my life, from running errands—I’m much more patient about waiting in lines and have learned to work around businesses’ weird schedules—to sense of humor—I’m way less concerned about keeping it PC. [Side note: Don’t get me wrong, certain comments and attitudes still appall me. (Seriously? You can’t find any actual black men to play Balthazar at Christmastime??)]
The big one, of course, is free time. I’m practically forced to take it easy on Sundays because there’s nothing else to do that day. Everything’s closed. No errands possible. Okay, that’s changed over the years, but the attitude sank in before the stores started opening on Sundays (yes, I’ve been here that long), and the mindset stuck. Best are the long weekend lunches that turn into carajillos at a café or cañas on a terraza, run into a tapas dinner, and end up in a bar at 2 am. I love those days.
Spain has taught me to prioritize
Related to long lunches and relaxing Sundays, perhaps the attitude I’ve most come to appreciate is Spaniards’ work-life balance. At first, my American upbringing made it hard to come to terms with the fact that I’ve pieced together an income, rather than having a steady job and a set career track. But I make enough to pay the bills, go out with my friends, and travel a couple of times a year. I never feel bad about taking vacations—which is good because my husband, true to Spanish form, would never dream of giving them up. I’ve learned that I really don’t need the newest, fastest, shiniest things that the US always told me I did (not to mention the low-carbiest, fresh-smellingest, double-dutiest…). And you know what? When I walk down the street, look around me, and reflect on my life here, I always think, “I’m so happy.”
What about you? Can you relate to any of these? What things have you come to love/hate/learn about Spain—or about your life here? Comment below or head over to theViatrix to drop me a line!