Deal With It
It is to be expected that every country has certain customs and quirks which make it unique. These differences give places their distinctive feel when first experienced, but come to be odd and sometimes tedious occurrences. When I first came to Madrid there were aspects of the culture I found annoying and ones I embraced. Two and a half months later, the following practices are second-nature, enjoyed by some and endured by others.
Meals are long-term engagements. In America we are accustomed to take-out and to-go boxes. Waiters usher you to seats, take your order, serve you and then try to get you out as fast as possible. Restaurants are just another way to make money. However in Spain you have to get a waiter’s attention just to put in a drink order and to get the bill. Unless the establishment is closing you can stay as long as you like. Even a simple stop for coffee can take an hour when pastries and conversation are added in. I love that food is given its proper amount of praise in this country, but others find having to constantly flag down a waiter to be a nuisance.
- A sunny day means laundry. Dryers are an unnecessary commodity in Spain which means clothes hang outside to dry. When I first tried to do laundry my landlady gave me a confused look. She wondered why I would wash my clothes if it was raining because there wouldn’t be anywhere to put them when they came out soaking wet. Now when I see the sun shining I don’t plan a stroll or shopping trip, I grab my hamper.
- Crosswalks do not mean safety. Granted, in Boston they aren’t exactly a guarantee of an easy walk across the street. However in Spain cars seem to speed up when you get in their way as if to force you to move along. How dare you try to use a crosswalk when people have places to go in vehicles? Luckily the hulking city buses do not want to waste the time running you over so they respect the sanctity of the crosswalk. Be wary of stepping off the sidewalk.
- Nightlife doesn’t start until morning. Clubs are empty and bars are quiet at midnight. Doormen snicker when young Americans come to the dances at one. By 2:00 a.m. free bars end and people slowly start to fill lounge areas of discos. It is not until three, or sometimes four, in the morning that the real party gets started. A good night means returning on the metro when it opens at six. Oh, and classes and businesses do not care how late you stayed out. Work begins at its regularly scheduled time.
Pepsi drinkers beware, Coca-Cola is king. I had quit drinking soda many years before coming here and was down to a glass on special occasions. But when water becomes more expensive than a Coke, and you’re on a college budget, choices are limited. Most places only offer Coke and Fanta as soft drinks. You are expected to order coffee or bump up to alcohol when out to eat, not waste your time on soda or water.
- Personal space is a luxury. On the metro this is to be expected; everyone has somewhere to go and we can’t be considering everyone’s comfort. Walking on the streets however is a whole other matter. Running on the city streets turns anyone into a parkour master. If someone bumps into you they will rarely stop to say sorry. Living arrangements can be tight as well. Madrid is a city like any other; apartments are costly and it’s best to sacrifice some room to save a little money (so you can get water with lunch).
- Everything is closed on Sunday. And I mean everything. Unless you go to the tourist area where stores are far more expensive, be prepared to spend the day at home. Even grocery stores, a typical Sunday destination, close around noon, far earlier than a typical college student wakes up on the weekend. The further away from the city center you get, the less options you will find. Not to fear, restaurants are serving up their usual delicious selections.
- The metro is a gift from God. After suffering through the unreliable Boston T, it brought tears to my eyes to see a subway train arrive exactly on time, clean, with televisions and a pleasant intercom announcing each stop. The metro opens at six in the morning and runs until around 2:00 a.m. to service all the night owls. Aside from the occasional “performer” playing a tune for coins, metro rides are pleasant endeavors.
It’s true: every country is odd and unique. They have ways of life that can seem inconvenient to fortunate, resource-rich Americans. However if you give their customs time and approach them slowly with an open-mind, they can come to be a part of your regular lifestyle. Once that happens, you start thinking of yourself as a real world traveler.