I lived in Spain for 8 months while teaching English with the Auxiliares de Conversacion program. I was very adamant and intentional about selecting Madrid as my new home, as I was a big city girl and didn’t want to lose my big city comforts. This, my friends, was a gift and a curse. While in whole, it was probably the best year of my life, I have to be honest and mention the things that weren’t so great, as well.
+ I love that Madrid has a diverse population – Americans, Asians, Africans, Latinos, etc. As a person of color, it’s definitely comforting to see other minorities in a foreign land.
+ Directly related to diversity, the amount of ethnic restaurants was a lifesaver. Since I did not like the Spanish diet, it was really the Colombian, Ecuadorian, Thai, Indian, Senegalese, Ethiopian, and Mexican restaurants that saved my life!
+ One more for diversity (lol), I was ecstatic to have black hair care products and salons at my reach. Lavapies, Cuatro Caminos, and Opanel are good neighborhoods to spot stylists and beauty supplies. I found Shea Moisture, Aunt Jackies, and Cantu products, as well as braiding hair, marley hair, and even virgin weaves!
+ I appreciate Madrid’s public transportation system. I was honestly shocked by the efficiency. From the Metro to the Cercanias, there’s just about no place you can’t get. Plus, you really can’t beat paying only 20 euros for an all-access monthly abono!
+ Madrid Capital is pretty large, so it is fun to take the bus to a random stop and get off to discover a new neighborhood. The aesthetics of the modernizing city are definitely a sight to see.
+ The cost of living is so affordable, especially coming from Chicago! I’m really going to miss paying 30 cents for 2 liters of water, or €2.50 for 4 avocados. The parking was free, tipping is nonexistent, and my favorite bottle of wine was €1.50. Yeah, I’m definitely going to miss those prices.
– My biggest point of culture shock was the lack of what we Americans consider “manners” or “politeness”. You know those phrases like, “excuse me”, “sorry”, and “pardon”? You might as well forget them over here. I can’t count the number of people who bumped into me, stepped on my feet, clotheslined me like I wasn’t even there. Everyone from the hijos to abuelas will RUN YOU TF OVER if you’re standing in their way. This was a really big challenge for me because culturally, I was taught this behavior is rude and unacceptable. It became frustrating to go out and enjoy myself, and I would ultimately end up avoiding crowded areas altogether (like Sol or Gran Via). This may not be a big deal for others, but it truly turned me off on the city.
– Madrid is a shitty place. I mean that literally. There are dog feces everywhere, especially in the less popular barrios. By my favorite library in the city it was so bad you could probably navigate there by smell alone. I honestly don’t know why such a beautiful place can’t get rid of such a nasty habit.
– As I mentioned in my Black in Spain video, I was constantly stared at for my appearance. I was spit at by racist toddlers, accosted by old grumpy men, and propositioned for sexual favors on multiple occasions. Now to be completely fair, this can happen anywhere in the world. I just want to point out that Madrid isn’t immune to it.
– Fortunately I didn’t have this struggle, but the housing market can be complete pandemonium. I was lucky when I finally found my piso, but I remember how stiff the competition was beforehand. I would WhatsApp someone about a potential room one evening, and by the time the morning came it was off the market! I also remember touring 9 bedroom/2 bathroom apartments starting at €500+! If you’re desperate (which most people are), you can end up in a really bad living arrangement. Basically, time and luck must be on your side when looking for apartments in Madrid.
– I’ve never been as dehydrated in my life as I was the 8 months I was in Madrid. Even though the country is a peninsula, the city itself is landlocked. The climate is warm and dry, and I can probably count on two hands how many times it rained while I was there. In the winter I would wake up choking from dry mouth because of the radiators. My skin, hair, and sinuses suffered greatly.
– Lastly, and most ironically, I didn’t feel enough of a lifestyle change while living in Madrid. I was so intent on living in a big city, and I ended up wishing I had chosen a pueblo. It was like I had moved 4000 miles away and it felt like I was still in Chicago. Not to say the cities are one in the same, because they aren’t, but the environment was all too familiar. I decided that if I came back for a second year, I would apply to a new region. I actually received my carta to the Balearic Islands just a few days ago! Am I going? Well, that’s a question I don’t have an answer to yet…
How do you feel about Madrid?