“Siempre yo tengo veinte años,” she said to me, smiling and taking a drag of her cigarette. I asked my host mom, Gloria, why she likes to host university students studying abroad. We sat outside a bar, eating calamari sandwiches and drinking a beer after seeing Picasso’s Guernicas in El Museo Reina Sofia.
Before my arrival, I considered the term “culture shock,” but it didn’t scare me. Madrid isn’t in a third world country, and the language isn’t from an unfamiliar alphabet. But each city has a certain vibe, a signature essence that no other place has. And it was my thought that, immediately after deplaning, I would be hit in the face with it. I was wrong.
After being here for almost a month, I’m gradually noticing what makes Madrid, Madrid. First and foremost, there is the greeting kiss. Two pecks on the cheek— Gloria greeted me in this way when I stood on the stoop of our apartment in Pacífico, suitcases in tow.
The concept of time is blurred here, almost nonexistent; as an American, I didn’t realize our rigid nature until I started being “on time” for things— which, if you know me, I’m not always so punctual. Even a few of my classes start around their posted times. This is reflected in the meal structure here; breakfast is a small portion, and lunch is the main meal. After the meal, it is traditional to rest and take a nap. Stores close for a few hours, and one retires until the evening. Dinner is tapas in the neighborhood bars. Unfortunately, in a house of American boys, that isn’t the case. We eat dinner around 9 p.m. and it’s substantial. Gloria is a fantastic cook and prepares authentic Spanish food like paella, cocido madrileño, and lentajes.
Initially, I was quick to judge America. Most students stepped off the plane and went straight to the bar, making downright fools of themselves. The drinking age is 18 here, a very suitable age in my opinion. However, combine that with college sophomores with 20 years of age and the US’s restriction until age 21, they tend to overindulge. This isn’t to say that the Spanish are refined and tame when it comes to beverages— but the approach to alcohol consumption is more relaxed.
I’m a proud American and have plenty of respect for what our country stands, mostly. But it wasn’t until I was dancing in a completely Spanish bar that I noticed all the music was American. Even the most authentic cervecerías cook hamburgers and fries. We have a massive global influence and presence— we should recognize and consider that.
Several evenings ago, I was stuffing my face with Nutella (the supermarket had collectible Snoopy jars; mine has him flying— how could I not?). Gloria walked in to say good night, and I mumble “hasta mañana” through hazelnut breath. Yesterday, she bought me a big jar of it. I told her that she was going to make me fat. But she said, “Comimos y bebimos bien. Pero caminamos mucho.” And that’s fact— walking is highly encouraged if not expected here. Very few people drive their cars as much as we do in the states, mainly because public transportation is superb. Everyone takes the metro, from the gypsies asking for money to the elderly couple with authentic Burberry scarves.
A note on the fashion: I dress well. But the Europeans put me to shame. Somehow, through their odd combinations of pattern and textile, they pull off the most bizarre outfits like it isn’t anything.
Overall, I think Madrid is fantastic. I’m enjoying the subtle changes to everyday life and will attempt to adopt them upon my return to the states— even if it means arranging my schedule for a siesta.