Expat Interview: Madrid, Spain
1. What made you move to another country? Work? Love? Adventurous spirit?
I moved to Madrid, Spain in June of 2010 for a job for one year. I was working as a VP for an NGO called AIESEC that had offices all over Spain. I guess my adventurous spirit helped me apply for the job in the first place!
2. Did you speak the language of the new country? If yes, did you learn it before moving, or you started it there? Do you like it?
I took Spanish when I was in University for 4 semesters, but that was 2 years before I actually moved to Spain! Needless to say, I had forgotten everything when I got there. But I do feel the foundation I had helped me pick up the language a little quicker. I never took a formal class when I was living there; I just forced myself to speak and tried to learn as I went along. The people are very helpful with language as long as you make an effort. Some of my Spanish friends even wrote down a list of slang vocabulary on a napkin in a bar for me! Luckily, my job was in English, but by the end of my time there, I was doing my work in Spanish about 60% of the time.
3. What was your first impression when you stepped on the new land?
Hot. When I got off the plane, I remember being a sweaty mess. Even though it was June when I got there, it wasn’t that warm in Canada so when I arrived in Spain in the heat, I melted like the Wicked Witch of the West! Once I got over that, I was in awe of the architecture and the carefree lifestyle of Southern Europe.
4. What did your new home have that your old one didn’t?
Madrid provided something new every day; whether that was discovering a new street, a new restaurant, a new cultural quirk or learning Pilates in Spanish! But the thing that stood out to me was Tapas: free food when you buy a drink? That is just unheard of in Canada! I still don’t understand the business model of a tapas bar, but it works and it definitely worked for me!
5. What was your favorite dish there? Can you describe it?
My favorite dish is called Tortilla Patata or Tortilla Española. It isn’t a tortilla that most people think of that is made of flour; a tortilla patata is made with egg and potato. It is like a very thick pancake that can be the size of a pizza. You cut off a piece and eat it with a little bit of bread. It is so simple yet so delicious!
6. What neighborhoods/landmarks did you especially like?
I loved the area around Puerta de Sol because of all of the stores, restaurants, bars and little streets you could discover. There are always a ton of people there and an energy that just sucks you in with street performers, sales and liveliness at all hours of the day.
Another awesome thing in Madrid is El Rastro market that happens every Sunday morning. The street is closed down and there are stalls and little shops that crowd the street along with thousands of people. You can find everything from DVDs, clothing, souvenirs, antiques or cords for your random electronics. It is a sight to see all of these people waking up early on a Sunday just to get their bargain on.
7. What was appropriate/inappropriate while talking/hanging out with locals?
I found that almost everything was appropriate in Spain. The only thing that I would shy away from was talk of regionalism or separatism as it is a very touchy subject with many Spaniards because of its volatile past.
8. Did you hang out with other expats? What’s the best way to meet them?
Because of my job, I was able to hang out with a lot of other expats without much effort. If I have another expat experience, I would use Expat Blog or Internations to connect with other expats. I would also use Twitter as a resource to see who else was around.
9. Which local tradition interested/disappointed you the most?
Meal times in Spain really confused me and it was hard to adjust to the timings. Lunch was usually eaten around 2pm and dinner around 10pm. The dinners were especially difficult, as you would eat large, heavy meals so late at night. I felt like I never fully digested my food!
10. What new hobbies did you pick up there?
One of my roommates and I joined a gym and took a Pilates class. I learned how to ride horses in Spanish. I also started blogging and documenting my experiences abroad more when I was in Madrid.
Nithya, originally from Canada is an avid 20 something traveler and serial expat who has lived in Spain and India in the last year alone. She is the creator of a website that is aimed at the 20 something woman expat and traveler. She is passionate about travel stories and adventures and is collecting tales from all over the globe. You can read about her adventures and find out more at www.LifeOutofaSuitcase.com.