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January 25, 2012

You Know You’re In Madrid, Spain When….

by Anne Paddock

Four of the best years of my life were spent in Madrid, Spain and there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about the capital city, especially the climate, culture, and the food. The weather is incredible: there are four sunny dry seasons which means every day is a good hair day. Writing about hair attributes can sound shallow and frivolous but a city with a “hair ease of maintenance” grade of A+ is worthy of page space.

When a city is blessed with great climate, people want to be outside and Madrileanos spend half their lives on the streets walking, eating at outdoor cafes, going to the park, seeing sites (the Puerta de Alcala pictured above and below is eye candy), and enjoying the sunshine. Even in the summer when the temperature can soar to the high 90’s, an outdoor table under an umbrella or a walk on the shaded side of the street is comfortable because the air is dry. Humidity is virtually non-existent in Madrid.canstockphoto16094321

Afternoons and nights are for enjoyment and there is always something going on in Madrid: theater, plays, festivals, parades, parties, lunches, dinners, and more. The food deserves a whole post or more of its own but suffice to say the ham (jamon), turron (a nougat sweet made with almonds and honey), olives and olive oil, fish, almonds, potato chips (fried in olive oil), and the pears are the best I’ve ever had.  The cheese selection is impressive also and my husband learned to truly enjoy a glass of rioja with a plate of cheese, chapata, and sliced fruit.

When we lived in Madrid, our home was in the center of the city. We opted not to live in an American community on the outskirts of town because we wanted to really experience the Spanish culture.  As an American expat, the Spanish culture was unique so when I write the following words, they are written with affection for a country that I fell in love with and still pine for.  With that in mind, you know you’re in Madrid, Spain when…..canstockphoto10272218
  • Most people don’t go to the office before 10:00 am; at 11:00 am, everyone goes out for coffee and then it’s back to work from 11:30 – 2:00 pm. Lunch is from 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm and office hours resume until 8:00 pm. Tapas and drinks follow and then dinner starts at 10:00 pm;
  • Many families have live-in help (which is affordable) to take care of the house and assist with the children; live-in help also allows parents to go out to dinner at 10:00 pm;
  • If you go to a restaurant before 10:00 pm for dinner, you will be the only person in the restaurant;
  • No meal is considered complete without at least three courses;
  • Serving chicken or cornbread to guests is considered rude; these foods remind Spaniards of the difficult years after the civil war;
  • Everyone is expected to drink wine with lunch. If you order chamomile tea, the server will ask if your stomach is upset;
  • You order coffee to go and the server looks at you as if you’re from Mars. Coffee is meant to be enjoyed with a pastry and friends or co-workers, not on the streets;
  • Coffee is “cafe” which is expresso with hot milk. If you want coffee black, you have to ask for “cafe americano.”
  • Madrilenos put chocolate sauce and nata (whipped cream) on apple pie and pancakes;
  • Most stores close between 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm for the mid-day meal;
  • A sign above a building for “Tio Pepe” does not mean the building is the building of “Uncle Joseph.”  Tio Pepe is a spanish liquor and the sign is a famous landmark in old Madrid;

  • Doctors make house calls for 50 Euros and they give you their home and mobile phone numbers;
  • Your phone doesn’t ring before noon – calling anyone in the “morning” is rude;
  • People say “Buenos Dias” until 5:00 pm: “Buenos Tardes” until 10:00 pm and “Buenos Noches” from 10:00 pm until sunrise;
  • Upon meeting or greeting someone, you are expected to kiss them on each cheek (air kisses are preferable);
  • Mothers, fathers and children all have different names; The first name is the given name, the second is the father’s surname, and the third name is the mother’s surname;
  • Spaniards don’t walk on the right and pass on the left (this drives the Swiss nuts). It’s a free for all. Personal space is not as valued in Spain because people like to be physically close. Sometimes, I would pretend to almost sneeze just to have space on the sidewalk;
  • You see a family of six (2 parents and 4 children) and all the children are impeccably dressed with matching outfits and shoes;
  • Anything can be delivered to your piso (apartment);
  • Everyone hangs their laundry out to dry because the climate is so arid and most pisos (apartments) don’t have dryers;
  • Girls wear dresses to birthday parties and the playground, however impractical;
  • Children, especially girls never wear black;
  • 90% of the country is Catholic but only 25% go to church regularly;
  • Some older people still fondly recall Franco;
  • Men go shopping with women and appear to be enjoying themselves;
  • Bears at the zoo in Madrid will motion for visitors to toss apples;canstockphoto10433737
  • The Prime Minister can appoint his successor to the party;
  • Many women walk arm in arm (thankfully, my daughter has not stopped doing this);
  • Going out in a pair of sweatpants and sneakers is the equivalent of wearing pajamas in public; people will stare;
  • You’re the only woman running and people stare at your sneakers (I just don’t know if it’s because I wear size 41 or if it’s the style);
  • Many women go to the gym with full makeup and they don’t sweat;
  • Gyms don’t open until 7:30 am in the morning and even then, there are no crowds. Most people go to the gym after work;
  • School is typically from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm;
  • Most children start school by 3 years old for socialization reasons. Of primary importance is networking, even for the young;
  • Teachers become concerned over a child who favors books over playing, more so than a child who prefers socializing over studying;
  • Teens and kids freely mix with adults at parties and sit at the same tables (this I miss);
  • At the supermarket, there are products called Bimbo Bread, Nuclear Bebe (concentrated detergent), and Colon Detergent:
  • If you have a cold, someone may ask “estas constipado?” which isn’t “are you constipated?” but instead “Do you have a cold?”
  • Orange juice is always fresh squeezed;
  • The supermarket carries dozens of different varieties of pork and few cuts of beef;canstockphoto6419376
  • Most sports require a license including golf. My husband joked that Franco eased unemployment by adding government regulation to everything which requires staffing;
  • Sales (rebajas) occur twice a year, after the winter holidays in January and in early summer; a sale is 10-30% off normal prices; 50-70% is unheard of;
  • No one under the age of 18 has a driver’s license;
  • Cars will park backwards, forwards and sideways on the streets;
  • The car horn is the preferred method of expressing road rage. Most streets are single lanes so delivery trucks often block roads. The Spanish are generally non confrontational except behind the wheel of a car;
  • Queuing in line is not an expected behavior in Madrid. People will always try to skirt a line and walk to the front because no one speaks up;
  • Everyone reads “Hola” magazine which never seems to have a bad word to say about anyone. “Hola” is the Spanish answer to a nice “People” magazine;
  • The women are beautiful but often the men are even more beautiful;
Madrid is a fabulous city – one of my favorites in the world – a place that has that rare combination of great culture, food, climate, and people.

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