This past September 15th marked my two year anniversary in Madrid. This milestone (which came incredibly quickly by the way) prompted me to do some reflecting about life and learning since moving to Madrid:
Spanish food and wine have exceeded my expectations in every way. Neither my semester in Valencia in 2001 nor the emergence of Spanish cuisine in NYC exposed me enough to the diversity in the Spanish dining landscape. From the fabadas and sidra in Asturias to the pescaito frito and Manzanilla in Seville, I have never before been so gastronomically stimulated.
Making friends was harder than I thought. Before I came here, I had visions of making loads of new friends at work, whether through happy hours, apartment parties, long nights at the office or what have you. That has not been the case. I learned that (at least at the company I work for) happy hours and apartment parties are not a big thing here (as compared to the States) and people, while extremely friendly, are generally not really looking to make new friends. While I have been greeted with nothing but kindness, the experience was more isolating than I expected. Luckily I was able to connect with some fellow expats (and the amigos of my Spanish novio) and have finally been able to expand my local network and feel much more at home.
Transportation in Madrid (and Spain for that matter) is world-class. The Madrid metro is spotless and efficient (albeit a bit overcrowded during rush hour), the bus lanes should be a model for other big cities (take note NYC), the roads seem to have been designed in hindsight (the way the traffic flows in certain parts of the city is genius) and the national AVE rail always manage to make the proverbial “journey” a pleasure.
Embarrassingly enough, I still cannot say “Hasta luego” and “Madrid” properly (despite my best efforts). I feel like a poseur every time I try to pull it off like a native. I have no idea why these words are so hard for me, but they just do not and will not roll off my tongue. Anyone else have this problem?
Working in Spanish has been easier than I thought (but certainly not easy). As I noted in an earlier post, I was initially terrified of working in Spanish, especially in the high-pressure corporate environment that I was thrust into upon arriving here. I am happy to report that my fears, while healthy, were mostly unfounded. My coworkers and clients have immeasurable patience with me, enough people know English to help me out when I stumble, and even when I make mistakes, people usually get the idea. Due to all of these factors, I was able to get by until I improved, which happened rather organically through the 10+ hour per day trial by fire.
I am finally (finally!) getting used to the vast difference in size of the unspoken “personal space sphere” in Spain versus the US. Take the metro, walk down the street, see for yourself. I have never in my life stood so physically close to people when it is not mandated by a lack of space. This elevator is huge – why are you so close to me?! We are walking right at each other, why won’t you yield?! After two years I have finally come to accept this cultural difference and my daily anxiety levels have decreased as a result. Serenity ahora.
After two years I can confidently say that I feel really at home here. I found a network of people that I can trade stories and spend time with, I am in a good routine at work, I know my way around the city quite well, and I know almost everything on the menu when I go out to eat. For those of you just arriving in Madrid, know that this level of comfort takes time and patience, and the trials and challenges along the way are those things that make you appreciate getting there even that much more in the end.
If you are interested in knowing more about the new legislative changes in law regarding expatriates and residence in Spain, then this informative session is for you. Held on Friday, October 15th at 9:30am. Please follow these directions by October 13th to register.
Tomorrow, June 12th, come out to the Hilton Madrid Airport Hotel for the first “I am not an tourist” Fair. It is a lifestyle fair for expats and working internationals in Spain. The fair features community related resources for the experienced expat. There is also babysitting provided for those with children to allow you to stroll the booths at your leisure. Expect to find information on things like banks, schools, job hunting, clubs and organizations…etc. Go on, attend the fair, it’s intended specifically for you!
Place: Hilton Madrid Airport
Avenida de la Hispanidad 2-4
Madrid, Spain 28042
Date: Saturday, 12 June 2010
Time: 11h00 to 18h00
I know I introduced myself as someone who seemed to find no resources on moving to and living in Madrid or even Spain for that matter. Yes, I found a few resources but none captured in entirety what I needed – and that was a personalized voice giving me the down and dirty on the logistics of moving and settling. Today Guiri Guide is able to supply you with all sorts of information after its been tested. But even we needed a bit of a kick start and other than word of mouth – these were our sources.
For the Expat
Just Landed Madrid – This site has the best information in terms of no frills logistical information and contact information.
Spain Expat – Truthfully, this site doesn’t do much for me but you might find it useful.
Easy Expat – Probably best for job searches/postings.
Anglo Info – Great for information once you’re settled into ‘life’ info on House Improvements, Legal, Financial, Cars, Health…etc.
For the latest in ‘What’s Happening’
AIL Madrid Blog– This blog has info on all major festivals, expat holidays here in Madrid (St Patty’s, 4th of July, etc), as well as articles about learning Spanish and cultural traditions in Spain. They even have Spanish recipies!
esMADRID – This site is great for major city events/concerts/festivals/exhibitions…etc.
InMadrid – This is my go-to site (and monthly newspaper) for all things Madrid…especially those things that people my age may enjoy. The writing style is humorous and they typically have quirky facts about the city that are interesting.
For Madrid/Spain General information
Madrid Insider – Good for the tourist planning a short stop over in Madrid
In a previous post, entitled Obtaining a Student Visa for Spain (from the US), I discuss the difficulties we had with this process, and had thought the worst was behind us, now I can try to find a job here in Madrid. It turns out, however, that what the Spanish Consulate told me in my interview for the Student Visa was true, that finding a job in Spain is quite difficult as a US citizen. In Spain, unlike the US, you are allowed to enter the country and look for work with a Student Visa. The catch, though, is that most companies want you to already have a NIE number in order to apply, especially if you are non EU. Unfortunately, as I found out, this NIE number can take months to obtain, and you can only apply for one after you have received your Visa, another daunting task.
If finding a job in Madrid becomes an impossible task there are some alternatives. Some people who own their own businesses are licensed in the US, while living in Madrid, and get paid in US dollars. Another option is to have your US based company transfer you to their Madrid office. A friend of mine tried this but found the pay was lower over here, and her position wasn’t exactly what she was doing in the US.
There are also a lot of English schools looking for native English speakers, but they want teachers with experience, legal working papers and/or NIE numbers. One great, easy way to obtain all these things easily is to get certified as an English teacher through TTMadrid. They support you through the student visa process, help you sign up for Spanish classes, and give you the distiction and experience you need to make it in the English teaching world here in Madrid. They also have daily emails for alumni with fresh jobs listings. One thing to remember is that as a US citizen you are competing with native English speakers who are from the EU, but with a TEFL certification this won’t be much of a problem.
I found that the Spanish don’t use craigslist.com like in the US to post job listings. Instead, I see most job listings in local newspapers like El Pais or sites like www.spainexpat.com, which also has good information about labor laws. Good luck, and if you do end up working in Madrid, then tell us about your work experiences.