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.