¡Hola! My name is Andy, and I’m very excited to be a part of the Spotahome team. I am an American student studying here in Spain until December and have only been here for a month. During this time, I’ve gotten used to many Spanish customs that initially shocked me.
Today, I’d like to share some of these personal experiences that my fellow expats can relate to and that anyone moving to the city for the first time might find useful. Also, if you’re planning on living here, you may want to check out our Madrid go-to guide and a list of Spain’s best websites and blogs.
And here are a few good things to know about life in Madrid:
Upon first greeting my host mother, I was astonished to immediately receive two besos (kisses) from her, one on each cheek. This is typical when meeting people for the first time. Madrileños (people from Madrid) are very intimate people, so be prepared to have your personal boundaries tested a little.
If you are invited into a Spaniard’s home, be aware that it is considered rude if you walk around barefoot. Make sure to either keep your shoes on or wear slippers. Spain is also environmentally conservative. Water and electricity are used conscientiously. Limit your showers to once a day and for less than 10 minutes. And whenever you leave a room, be sure to turn the lights off after you.
On the street
Yawning and stretching indulgently are also considered rude, as is eating outside. Yes, there are countless outdoor cafés called terrazas where people eat and drink throughout the day. But you rarely see Spaniards eating while walking or taking public transportation.
Using Madrid’s Metro
Madrid’s public transport system is straight-forward, and if you’ve lived in a major city before, you will quickly get the hang of it. Compared to the T in Boston and the subway in New York, the sleek metro in Madrid is much more user-friendly and cleaner. When I first rode it with my host mother, she described it with excitement and pride. However, unlike the New York subway, the metro closes at night from 1:30am to 6am. What surprised me about the metro in Madrid was that all the train doors have latches or buttons on them. Commuters need to actively open the doors when the train stops in order to get on. Be sure to lift the latch or press the button, otherwise you’ll miss your train while waiting for the doors to open! (check out our Madrid go-to guide for more info)
You can easily buy metro tickets at the many machines available at each station. However, if you are planning on living in Madrid for a while, I recommend investing in an Abono card, which gives you unlimited Metro trips for a month. The Normal pass for Zona A, which is the center of the city, costs €54.60. The price varies depending on which part of the city you’re in, increasing the further you get from the center. Zona E2 costs the most at €131.80 each month. But with each metro ride costing €2.20, you will easily get your money’s worth if you commute every day. With a deal like that, you’d have to be loco not to buy one!
Paella. Photo source: dondeviajar
Spaniards eat inordinate amounts of bread every day, with each meal including it in some form. Another Spanish staple are embutidos, or cured pork products*. Chorizo (sausage) is prevalent, as is jamón ibérico (Iberian ham), a special kind of meat savored in Spain and Portugal. Jamón serrano (Serrano ham) is common as well, along with lomo (tenderloin) and salchichón (another type of sausage). It is also typical to have a drink for lunch and dinner. Beer is always popular, but while you are in Spain, you should try Spain’s famous sangría. Made from fruit, wine, and soda, sangria also has a lesser known but equally delicious cousin called tinto de verano. Introducing these into your diet will bring you one step closer to being a true Spaniard!
In restaurants here, it is inevitable that you will come across tapas and raciones, staples of Spanish food culture. Tapas are small snacks or appetizers, frequently made with bread, cheese, and meat, while raciones are plates of food with larger portions than tapas. Individually, they’re not enough for a meal, but you’ll usually order a few tapas and a couple raciones to share with a group of people. This gets you full and lets you eat a variety of food in a fun way.
The most drastic change I had to adjust to was the daily schedule of los Madrileños. Like in the United States, most people wake up around 7 or 8 to go to work or school. But from there, our schedules differ drastically. In Madrid, people eat a sparing breakfast in the morning and don’t eat lunch until around 2-4. Then, they’ll eat dinner anywhere from 8 to 11 at night, finally sleeping around midnight. Throughout the day, they eat smaller meals, including a media-mañana (mid-morning) at around 11am and a merienda around 5. My first week here, when I was adjusting to this extended schedule, I was extremely hungry all the time. Brace yourself for this when you arrive.
The meal schedule affects Madrid’s nightlife as well. Since people eat dinner at late hours, they accordingly go out later as well. On the weekends, people go out around 1-2am and stay out at bars and clubs until 5-7am! Get ready for exceedingly long, but equally memorable nights out in the city.
During the day, many small businesses close from 2-5pm. This is due to the siesta, which Spain is well known for. After eating massive lunches, Spaniards sleep for 1-2 hours. In my experience, the siesta is typical among older people, such as my host mother and her son. But younger people in their 20s and 30s seem far too busy with work to take any sort of break! Regardless of its prevalence, feel free to lie down after lunch, if only to experience the siesta’s novelty.
It’s been a crazy few weeks here in Madrid. Although occasionally I miss American things such as hamburgers and English, it’s been an incredible and exciting experience. It was difficult having to adjust to the customs, but embracing them only improves your experience here. I look forward to learning more about this city and hope you all enjoy your time in Madrid as well!
Hope you’ve found this post useful! And if you, too, are an expat, please feel free to share any other cultural tips to know about life in Madrid.
Are you moving to Madrid?
Here are some useful posts:
- Spain’s best websites and blogs
- Great online bank options for expats
- Your go-to guide to Madrid
- How to get your NIE (national identity card)
- BiciMAD Madrid: One Expat's Road to Public Bike Rental in Madrid
- Housing for Students at EAE Madrid
And remember Spotahome can help you find housing in Madrid before you even arrive!
This could be your home in Madrid ?
You can book a home online with Spotahome before you get to Madrid! Have a look at all the rooms, studios and flats available on our interactive map. Our ‘runners’ have handpicked and seen each property in person, so rest assured that there will be no surprises once you unpack your bags. Get in touch with us if you have any questions; we’d be happy to hear from you!
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