Culture Shock: Madrid

Culture Shock: Madrid Spanish culture by kphua

This article was written by Zoë Proud, published on 30th November 2010 and has been read 45272 times.

Culture shock affects us all. It’s hard not to be changed by your experiences in a foreign country, considering you’ve uprooted your whole life to more exotic climes. I’m currently spending my year abroad in Madrid, Spain, and I have also fallen prey to bizarre Spanish customs and rituals. We’ve all heard the stories about continental bureaucracy and the mañana culture; but deep down, it’s the little things in the big city that really stand out...
No sleep
So you’re in Spain, where the Spanish like to party hard, and through the night. If you don’t come in past 6am, dancing merrily through the first wave of early morning commuters on the metro, it’s probably been a bad night. Turning up to a club before 2am is a complete no-go, were you expecting anyone to be there before then? Now transpose this attitude to Spain’s capital city, and you’ll have some idea of the magnitude of the sleep debt I’m building up right now. Even the siesta seems to have died out, considering I work in a school and falling asleep in the middle of the school day would seem quite unprofessional, as much as I have to fight the urge not to drop off sometimes. Life is a constant trade-off of sleep vs. work vs. socialising, and seeing as the latter two are obligatory, something’s gotta give. Get used to it. Late night tea at eleven? Of course, amigo, do come round, it seems to be the only gap I have left in my schedule. Tutoring another child at 8pm three nights a week? Sorry, no can do, because that would require the ability to time travel, and I’m not quite that adaptable yet.

English? Oh great
While you’re out enjoying yourself, beware the formidable line: ‘Oh, you’re English? Brilliant, I’d love to practise my English with you. Turns out I’ll be spending a year in England next year, so how about I get in a little practice with you before I move out there?’ No, kind señor, you may not. Flip your situation on its head and you have my predicament – I came to Spain to speak Spanish. I think it’s great that you’re improving cultural dialogue between our two countries, but let’s start on equal footing – let’s set up a conversation exchange at least. Don’t just arrogantly assume that your need to speak English is greater than my need to learn Spanish. I speak English most of the time at work, because as a language assistant it’s my job, but outside of that time I’m all yours, Spain. In the words of the ever eloquent G-Unit, ‘I wanna get to know you.’ And if you’d just let me, maybe the English wouldn’t be constantly parodied as insular and unaccommodating.

Food, glorious food
And getting to know Spain comes in the form of getting to grips with eating. A lot. In England we have a saying that you should eat breakfast like a king, have lunch like a prince and dine as a pauper (it’s good for digestion that way, apparently), but in Spain it’s a regal banquet all day. Several times now I have been chastised for not eating enough, when for a 5’2” girl if I ate much more my waistline would be in serious trouble. I have breakfast before I come to school, there’s breakfast at school (not just standard cereals and milk either – tortilla, cake, even churros one crazy day last week), lunch, merienda, dinner...and let’s not forget meeting up with your friends for a caña, where it would just be rude not to indulge in the complimentary tapas, no? I’m not complaining, but you really have to rein yourself in sometimes. And by the way, don’t forget to peel your fruit with a knife, it’s rather de rigueur in Madrid, it seems.

Now, I’m all for a liberal attitude to life. I’m bemoaning the economic cuts as much as the next person, and indeed the next student. But there comes a time when the British reserve comes into its own. And that time is the time of getting dressed. As readers of my blog will know, three times in the past two weeks I have come up against instances of nudity in Spanish life. At the gym – ok, that’s almost fair enough, you’d just got out of the shower, you were getting your things ready. But you could have hurried up and put some clothes on in the generous five minutes that lapsed before I needed to tentatively try and get past where you were stood in your birthday suit, without a care in the world. Nudity in the gym changing room I can understand. But nudity in both dance shows I have currently attended whilst in Madrid, one of which was a supposedly traditional ballet? A 100% nakedness success rate? Harder to believe. I’m becoming desensitized to the idea of getting one’s kit off during theatrical performances now. Heck, I think I’d feel a bit uncomfortable if the performers managed to cover up all the way through, because surely there would be something terribly wrong...

Public CCTV system
Ever get the feeling that you’re being watched? Don’t feel too concerned if you attract a lot of stares out and about in Madrid. You most likely haven’t gotten too fat from all the olive oil-laden food, it’s just something you have to get used to: people here like staring. They’re a friendly bunch, but sometimes certain madrileñosget a little too interested in looking you up and down. Now, the only antidote to this is to perfect the technique your netball coach suggested when you were ten years old: attack is the best form of defence. Stare them right back, squarely in the eye, and most people will back off without a fight. This includes children; catch them while they’re young and the mutual understanding that it is not appropriate to hold someone’s gaze for more than twenty seconds will develop.

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