Adapting to the Spanish lifestyle and living like a local in Madrid is anything but difficult. Madrid is ranked to be one of the world’s most livable cities both by Business Insider and Deutsche Bank economists, and every day going about life in Madrid I am reminded by this. Before our classes started, students at the GI had a cultural experience where we learned the high-value Spaniards place on food, family, and fun. Traditionally the Spanish do not entertain or host in their homes, and thus there are café’s, bars, and restaurants found on almost every block. On a normal day, a madrileño could have coffee for breakfast, a large lunch that they took an hour or two hours to eat with their coworkers anywhere from 1-3, a drink around 5, and then dinner between 9 and 11pm. Very quickly my roommates and I learned that dining is more a social experience than a feat of necessity, and meals together typically two hours or longer. This helped us connect quickly not only to each other but to the city as we engaged in the larger community by quickly picking up this cultural practice.
Madrid is home to numerous parks including “Oeste Parque” which literally translates to the park in the west which is five times larger than Central Park. One of my favorite activities was taking a cable car overhead the park where on the right you could see a botanical garden, and on the left see an amusement park. In late August and early September, the weather is still especially hot, and many Spaniards take their holiday during this time, fleeing to the cooler coastal regions. As a result of the brutal 90-degree days, parks and their tree cover become a refuge in the city and are always packed with people. In my favorite park, Parque Retiro, I went on separate occasions to write a paper, enjoy a picnic with my roommates, go boating on the man-made lake, and rent bicycles following the numerous paths. For a budget-conscious student or really anyone at all, Madrid’s parks are a fabulous way to spend time in the city away from the hustle of the streets.
One of the larger differences I noticed is that the selection of foods available in Madrid was considerably smaller than what is available in America. In American grocery stores, there is a multitude of options for the health-conscious, vegetarians, different ethnic foods, and assortments of frozen foods. For the most part, these were all scaled down significantly in Madrid markets, and my vegetarian roommates had difficulty finding accommodating menus at some establishments. For pickier students, there are American stores all over Madrid and they supply typical snack foods such as Goldfish, Poptarts, and Gatorade that are not available in normal grocery stores. The opportunity to take a local cooking class with my fellow classmates helped me embrace the cultural dishes that accentuated many popular ingredients such as potatoes, eggs, and bread. A pro tip: ordering paella and sangria are very quick ways to show you are a tourist, and a Spanish omelet and tinto de verano are infinitely tastier at a fraction of the price. I’ve learned and continue to learn that the decision to be a madrileño comes with many benefits.