Culture Shock: Madrid 2
Olivia is studying History and Hispanic Studies at the University of Sheffield, and is spending her year abroad as a British Council Language Assistant teaching in a secondary school in Pozuelo, just outside Madrid. Here she passes on her observations about the culture shock of moving from the UK to central Spain...
DrivingThe 3 pieces of advice I was given before I arrived in Madrid were 1) Take no notice of Spanish men. 2) Don’t walk through parks alone in the dark. 3) Don’t drive in Madrid. As a rule of thumb, Spanish drivers are crazy. Gesticulations, dirty looks, muttering profanities and honking your horn are mandatory. It now seems very obvious why pedestrians wait for the green man when crossing any road. Also, a lot of people ‘park by listening,’ as in when parallel parking they stop reversing when they hit the car behind them, and stop accelerating when they hit the car in front. Everyone seems a lot less precious about their cars, and so because of it you get none of the ridiculously annoying equivalence to the ‘Go Compare’ car insurance adverts.
Everyone is your best friendThe kind of behaviour that would have people moving seats on the bus in Britain is a daily occurrence in Madrid. (NB: I say Madrid and not Spain due to a chat with the teachers at school today, where they assured me that those in Andalucia, and more specifically Seville, would not be so friendly.) These are things where every time you walk in a shop or get on a bus you say Buenos dias, where strangers chat at bus stops, in cafes, in queues. People are nosy, but they also have no issue with telling you their life story and are certainly not afraid to hold back on the details. Terminal illnesses of family members, how bad their period pains are, reasons why they left their wife, sex tips; all things divulged to me so far by strangers from mere minutes of conversation. Using public transport has never been so interesting.
DON’T follow the yellow brick roadFrequently as you walk down the streets of Madrid, especially at night, it looks as if someone has been cleaning the windows of various shops, as there are trails of water running across the pavement into the drains in the road. This is not water my friends. This is piss. There is no fining process for people relieving themselves against walls/in bushes/along dark alleyways like in Britain, so watch your step. This is bad for the pedestrian, but great for the boys (and actually girls too) who have had too many sangrias at home and need a rest-stop as they make their way to a club. There is a good reason why Spaniards take off their shoes as they enter back into their houses after walking through the streets.
Did you just hiss at me?The way that Spaniards attract each other’s attention is by repeating the sound ‘tch’ (like in ‘catch.’) What takes a while to get used to is a) they are not being rude, and b) they actually might be trying to get your attention, so you may need to respond. I kept using this technique when I went back to England to visit some friends, and not only did I not get their attention, but got the asked the above question? In hindsight it is a bit strange.
The siestaWhen you think of Spain you think of the 3-S’s; sun, sangria and siesta. But whilst the siesta is reserved for primary school children and those in the south of Spain during the summer, where it is ‘too hot to do anything else but sleep’, the city does shut between 2 and 4. At least. So do not plan to go shopping, get keys cut, nip to buy a present or grab something from the pharmacy at these times. The majority of larger supermarkets and El Corte Inglés stays open, and you will see companies use the phrase ‘We do not shut during the day’ as a great advertising slogan for how unique they are. But for Madrid - that is not in the south, nor is the majority of its population primary school children - it is less of the siesta taking, and more of the eating. So whilst most shops close in the middle of the day, all restaurants and bars are more than welcome to have you. The middle of the day closure takes some getting used to, but if you also plan to eat during this time then you will be too busy stuffing your face than worrying about the inconvenience this has caused you.
Check out some more things to watch out for in Madrid...