Dos Besos and Other Cultural Differences

girl in MadridOur newest Guiri Guide writer, Sarah Carroll, is California girl gone Spanish who teaches English here in Madrid. She’s an AIL Spanish student, lover of thrifty fun, and top notch picnicker with a lot to share from her two year’s experience living here, so take it away Sarah! Welcome to Guiri Guide!

Bienvenido a España!” It was a hot September afternoon when I stepped off the plane and into my new life in Madrid, where I would start my TTMadrid TEFL training. I had two suitcases, a backpack, and a cheat sheet of all the Spanish phrases I might need to navigate myself to my new flat. Using my rusty Spanish, I got in a taxi and confidently made my way to Barrio Goya: the taxi driver unloaded my bags onto the sidewalk and I thought, “I’ve done it!” I had tackled the language barrier; what I thought was going to be the biggest difference between my home country and my new home. I lugged my bags up the narrow staircase and into my apartment (which I found using Madrid Rent Flat). There I was greeted with a bottle of wine, a plate of jamón (see this fun video on how to cut it), and two big kisses from my landlord. I immediately realized the language barrier was just the tip of the iceberg: at that moment I knew I was in for a cultural awakening. In the two years since then, I have discovered some key cultural differences between Spain and the USA that might be helpful for new guiri’s:

Dos besos 

dos besosIn Spain, it is customary to give two kisses when you meet someone, see friends, return to work after a holiday, on birthdays, and pretty much all the time. Handshakes are reserved for male-to-male contact and even then, dos besos may be in order depending on the relationship (i.e. father to son).

What are you doing in my space bubble?

As you can tell from their greeting, Spaniards have little to no personal space requirements. It is completely normal to stand inches away from someone while speaking, sit right next to someone in a completely empty metro car, or act as someone’s shadow in line at the supermarket. At first this can seem invasive, but after a few interactions you will adjust.

Spanish Time

Everything is Spain is slower; the walking pace, two hour lunch breaks, and you can almost always expect a Spaniard to arrive a few minutes late. Don’t worry, after some time if Spain you will actually learn to enjoy the relaxed mentality.

Cookies for breakfast

desaynoSpanish meals typically consist of biscuits for breakfast, fruit or a bocadillo for a snack, a fairly large lunch, another snack, and something light for dinner (usually between 21:00-22:00). You can still find cereal in every supermarket but you might want to branch out, Spanish style!

Leaving home at 18? You’re crazy!

It is not uncommon for Spaniafamilia tipicards to live at home into their early thirties. In Spain, the “best way,” perhaps, to raise your children is to provide them with as much as you can. Instill them with strong family ties- so much that they are happy to depend on the family for financial and professional support.

These are just some of the many cultural differences I have come across during my two years in Madrid.  While I am still a strong supporter of a heart healthy breakfast, I am learning to adapt to the cultural customs in the city that I have come to know and love and hope you do too!


Join AIL Madrid in Raising Funds for Nepal!

Hey Guiris!

carrera liberty guiriJust a quick update about an important cause from an organization we love: our friends over at AIL Madrid Spanish School are impressing us yet again with their ability to take action and help others! As you can see on the AIL blog, their staff, professors, and students are running the Carrera Liberty on May 31st to benefit victims in Nepal and are aiming to raise 1.000€!

Almost their entire staff and tons of professors and students have signed up, and we encourage all you guiris to join or donate before May 31st (contact: As we all know from reading the news, it’s a worthy cause and, knowing as many AIL students as we do, we feel confident backing this hard working team.

Go AIL Madrid!


Guiri on Wheels

rollerbladesNew guiri writer Jamie Prachar is an AIL Madrid Spanish student and has a great taste for adventure and all things outdoors. Welcome to Guiri Guide, Jamie! It’s all yours:

Wondering how to work off those go-to weekend comforts of binge eating patatas bravas, croquetas, olive oil soaked pan de abuela, and, of course, copious amounts of red wine?  How about if you could do that AND meet new people, all while getting some of the best views of Madrid? Look no further than the popular madrileño sport of… rollerblading! I know what you are thinking, #1992, #KellyTaylor, #BeverlyHills90210, #unfortunatejeanshorts. In actuality, rollerblading has become a popular social sporting activity throughout Europe, regaining popularity in recent years due to its social, health, and ease of city transport benefits.

rollerblading girlsConvinced by Spanish friends to try the sport having never done it before, I actually picked it up rather quickly with a few pointers (after loosening my death grip from a nearby tree trunk).  You need relatively little equipment to begin: skating clubs will lend you skates to try or they can be bought secondhand for as little as ten to twenty euros.  If you become hooked, new pairs are very reasonably priced at sports outlets such as Decathlon, where you can also purchase elbow and knee pads for as little as five euros, especially recommended for the gravity-impaired. With a low startup cost, rollerblading is a fun, outdoor alternative to a gym. Skating is a great workout for all shapes and sizes, you will definitely gain some strength in your quads and glutes and a sunny glow just in time for beach season.

rollerblade dance class

Rollerblade dance class in Retiro!

One of the best things about rollerblading in Madrid is the accessibility: there are many places to skate and groups to skate with, for free! Retiro Park and the Madrid Rio are ideal places to practice and, for the super adventurous, there is even a 65km paved route circling Madrid, Anillo Verde that allows for both great views of the city and an escape to nature.  You can skate solo or opt to join a free monthly skating route group, such as Escuela de Patinaje Sobre8Ruedas, who also offer free trial lessons and have groups ranging from beginners to advanced, taught in Spanish or English.  Skating groups are a great way to meet new people, and falling is more fun if there are other people there to laugh with you (or at you).

rollerblading retiroOnce you spruce up your skills, you can even use rollerblading as a practical, abono-free way of navigating the city.  A stuffy, hot metro ride can be transformed into a quick, breezy, above-ground route on skates.  I personally stick to skating in the parks and paved river paths, I´m bad enough on my own feet on Spanish sidewalks, let alone adding wheels to the mix.

Now that you know about the health, social, and practical benefits of rollerblading, get out there and try it! Just watch out for tiny dogs and baby carriages.  For more information on above listed groups and classes, check out



Moving to Madrid: The Ultimate Checklist

suitcaseHey Guiris! I’ve decided to take a minute to get back to the very basics of moving to Madrid in this post: what to pack! This list applies to anyone and everyone, despite the duration of your stay, so read on and feel free to add additional items you seasoned guiri’s have found helpful in the comments.

The following essentials have been discussed and hashed out among numerous guiris here in the city, so you can feel confident when you’re preparing your suitcase that you’ll be ready for any adventure that Madrid may bring you! Let’s get started:

1.    Your passport!

passportYou might be thinking, “this is obvious,” but that doesn’t make it any less important! Even if you’re from a European country, this vital ID is necessary to complete visa processes, take weekend trips to Morocco, and even to check into the occasional hostel.


2.    Smart Phone (unlocked)

This is the easiest way to bridge the gap between your home country and your new life here in Madrid. With all your original contacts, photos, apps and more, your smart phone is a great tool to help you navigate your new home. Grab a new SIM card at one of the many stores in Madrid (Orange and Vodafone offer pay as you go SIM cards, and Movistar offers monthly contracts if you already own the phone), or pick one up at your Spanish or teacher training academy. I know AIL Madrid offers them at the front desk and rents smart phones as well, all you need to do is ask!

3.    Some sweet shadessunglasses

In a city that’s sunny 65% of the year, a good pair of sunglasses will take you far. You’ll find them perfect for days in the park, walking to class or work, or a weekend lunch on one of Madrid’s many terraces.

4.    You favorite bathing suit

This item is easily purchased here, but make sure you have one either way. Madrid’s warm seasons (spring, summer, and winter) bring access to all the city’s public pools, as well as many private ones (motivation to make new Spanish friends!) In addition, the beach is less than a two hour train ride away, just waiting for you and your long weekend!

5.    Light, simple layers

light layersYou can ski or hit the beach within just a few hours of Madrid, so flexibility and layering are your best friends in the varied climates of this beautiful country. A scarf to throw over your shoulders is invaluable when visiting a church or visiting the mountains, as is the ability to take it off and bask in the warm rays in the park or at the beach.

6.    A secure purse/bag

I want to take a moment here to say I’ve never felt unsafe in Madrid. Be it dusk or 5am, my personal safety (as a young foreign woman) has never caused me a moment of worry or distress and I couldn’t be more grateful to have that feeling of security. That said, like any big city, the center has a few pickpockets. The easiest way to combat this is to have a purse with a zipper/magnet or, for the gents, to keep your wallet in your front pocket: yes, it’s that easy!

7.    A practical pair of shoesShakira+Antonio+visit+Madrid+8k0H209etMZl

The first day I arrived in Madrid I was given a copy of Hidden Madrid, a book full of walking tours and historical information about the nooks and crannies of this expansive city. This book, combined with a good pair of walking shoes, has exemplified more than anything what almost everyone who visits Madrid says: “the best way to get to know the city is by foot!

8.    Converter

If you arrive in Madrid without the ability to plug in your electronics, don’t worry: just stop by a ferreteria and they’ll set you up with what you need. But it’s definitely easier to arrive with at least one converter so that you can stay charged and in touch throughout your arrival and have one less thing to think about.

9.    A camera/phone

For those of you who have already lived here for a while, I’m guessing you feel the same as I do: some of my most cherished memories now belong to Madrid and I have the photographic evidence to prove it! Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a photographer, you’ll want something to start documenting your new life and adventures in Madrid.

10.    A kindle (or whatever form of book you prefer)

reading metroI recommend a kindle simply for easy transportation: when you’re traveling or commuting, having a compact entertainment source with a variety of books can be hugely helpful! I joined the hundreds of readers on the metro right after my move here and have never looked back. It can also be the perfect companion for a sunny afternoon in the park or at a café, or lend a helping hand when it comes to practicing your Spanish: try reading a book you’re familiar with in your native language, but in Spanish!I started with Pride and Prejudice; the translation is simple and the vocabulary is useful in everyday life.

11.    A weekend bag

weekend bagMadrid is one of the best connected cities in Europe, with high speed trains reaching every desired destination within the country and cheap flights available to all the neighboring countries. Whether you want to hit the beach in Malaga, walk the streets of Avila, or take a quick weekend trip to Paris or Rome, having an overnight bag can make the decision to go that much easier (and help you avoid problems with RyanAir baggage regulations!)

12.    Something to share from home
maple candy

Bringing a small treat, a style of music or dance, or even new mindset to share with others is one of the best ways to make new friends and expand your new life in Madrid! Every time I visit home, I come back to Madrid with a bag full of maple candies, chocolates, and various arts and crafts to distribute among madrileños and guiris alike. What’s your country or state known for?

My final note regarding packing is this: don’t over think it and pack light! Madrid has great shopping opportunities for all budgets, and you’ll be able to find anything you meant to bring but forgot. Whether you want to avoid baggage fees or feel like discovering what all the Spaniards are wearing before selecting your own wardrobe, going light is always the best option!

So, get packing and come to Madrid: we’ll be waiting for you!

Meet Joan! An AIL Madrid Featured Student

> Joan is a 19 year old AIL Madrid student from San Diego, California, USA.

> She has been studying at AIL for nearly three months so far.

> Joan just earned a two year professional degree in dance, an art that is both her passion and her work.

> In San Diego, she teaches children´s ballet, as well as gymnastics and ice skating.

Joan on AIL Madrid:

“I love this environment because there aren´t formal tests, except the one at the very end. It´s not about the grade, it´s about actually knowing [Spanish] …. I just have to do what I need to actually learn the material, not to pass a test, so I feel like I’m learning way more in these three months than I did in school. I have a much more positive feeling about language learning now.”

Joan and her Host-Family:

“Family is so important here and that’s really nice. They always eat dinner together, and I spend Sundays with the family.”

“After class I´ll go over all my stuff with [Lucia, my host-sister] and we play the same games that we play in class… it usually clicks when I go back home and talk to the family and go ´oh ok, that’s what that was´. It compliments my class time.”

Joan on Being a Local:

“I feel more local than when I did my other [Europe] trip; we were going everywhere and it was very touristy. But because I’m kind of living here, I get to do local things and just live the daily life, which I really like…I go salsa dancing every Monday,  I was surprised that people were just so serious about it! They just took you and started dancing with you and speaking in Spanish!”

Joan´s Advice:

“I like that every day is a challenge because I don’t speak the language; going to the store I have to pump myself up and think ‘you can do this!’ … So that’s what I would suggest. Get out there and try it!

Joan on the Future:

“I am coming back. I already want to book my flight, I already miss here and I haven´t even left yet. I´m coming back!”